Critics latch onto perceived snub, costume changes, as Trudeau tours India
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 21, 2018 3:11PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:08PM EST
OTTAWA -- A clash of political ideals may be behind a perceived snub of Justin Trudeau that was making international headlines as the prime minister passed the mid-point of his week-long trip to India, one expert familiar with the region said Wednesday.
Those headlines were also writing the script for the Conservative Opposition at home, who pounced on the visit as just another expensive Trudeau family vacation marking an erosion of Canada-India relations.
Media outlets including CNN and Al Jazeera seized on the comments of Indian officials who accused the Trudeau government of backing Sikh separatists known as the Khalistani movement.
"Over the years, the Canadian political establishment ... has been mollycoddling Khalistani elements," former Indian envoy to Canada Vishnu Prakash told Indian news site The Print on Monday.
"Under the Trudeau government, this has increased."
They also took notice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's failure to formally greet Trudeau or even acknowledge his presence in the country as the visit began.
A junior Indian minister met Trudeau when he and his wife and three children arrived in New Delhi late Saturday.
While it isn't protocol, Modi has been known to receive guests personally in the past, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January.
However, when former prime minister Stephen Harper arrived for a visit to India in 2014, he was not met at the airport by the Indian prime minister either.
Officials from the right-wing, ruling Bharatiya Janata party have denied that Trudeau was being snubbed. Moreover, Modi was not in Delhi when Trudeau arrived.
Trudeau has also dismissed concerns about his diplomatic calendar, noting that he met Modi "very recently."
Indeed, Modi personally invited Trudeau to visit his country.
When Modi visited Canada in April 2015 -- the first such visit to Canada by an Indian prime minister in more than four decades -- he was greeted by then-prime minister Harper on the first full day of his three-day visit with a 21-gun salute and full military honours.
But Trudeau and Harper are very different people, making it more likely that Modi has avoided greeting the Liberal prime minister with open arms because the two men don't remotely share the same world view, said Ferry de Kerckhove, a University of Ottawa professor who was once Canadian high commissioner to India's neighbour, Pakistan.
In fact, he said, Modi has a "much greater common soul" with U.S. President Donald Trump than with Trudeau.
"The nationalism of Modi is very much a Trump-like kind of approach," he explained.
"That contrasts with (the Liberal government's) allegedly progressive approach to the economy and all of that."
The Trudeau family's ever-changing attire during their multiple stops in front of some of India's iconic cultural landmarks was also the target of criticism, with online publication Outlook India referring to the numerous culturally sensitive outfits as "too Indian even for an Indian."
The wave of traditional dress was also noticed by the official Opposition, with Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre and others wondering aloud how much Canadian taxpayers are paying for the many costume changes.
However, officials travelling with Trudeau have said the family paid for their own clothing, purchased at Canadian stores. Some of it the Trudeaus already owned from previous visits to India.
But Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said while it did appear to him that the Trudeau visit was geared 90 per cent toward tourism and 10 per cent toward business, he was more concerned about a perceived deterioration of Canadian-Indian relations from when Harper visited India in 2014.
"This trip seems to confirm that the relationship has atrophied in the last couple of years," said O'Toole.
As with the Trudeaus, Harper's 2014 visit brought him to the Taj Mahal and other historic monuments around India, including sites important to the Sikh religion in and around Chandigarh in the Punjab region.
But most of Harper's visit centred on trade as Canada was in negotiations with India for a free-trade and foreign investment agreement.
Harper also made the flow of trade between Canada and India the focus of a six-day visit to India in 2014, when he attended the World Economic Forum in Gurgaon.
O'Toole applauded Trudeau on Wednesday for raising concerns in India about agricultural tariffs, particularly those levied against chickpeas.
"But it almost looks like a trip for domestic consumption here in Canada with very little to accomplish on the ground in India," O'Toole lamented.
"I don't think we can hold that against him," said de Kerckhove.
"He's not the first politician to do (domestic) politics abroad."
Trudeau is expected to meet Modi on Friday in Delhi.