Justin Trudeau welcomed with displeasure in India

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*NEWS DESK: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was given a guarded welcome to India as a way of showing “polite displeasure” over his country’s sympathies with Sikh nationalists, an expert has said, reported The Independent.*

Mr Trudeau touched down at New Delhi airport over the weekend to be greeted only by a junior agricultural minister. He is not due to meet Indian premier Narendra Modi until the sixth day of his week-long tour.

His trip to Taj Mahal was also a small-scale family affair – with most attention being paid to the PM sporting Star Wars footwear in an apparent nod to Mr Modi’s favourite film.

By contrast the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warmly embraced by the Indian leader on the tarmac moments after he stepped off the plane last month.

Tensions between the Canadian and Indian governments have increased in recent years because of the growth in support in North America for an independent Sikh nation of Khalistan.

The Sikh nationalist campaign aims to create a separate country in the Punjab region of northern India .

There are nearly half-a-million Sikhs in Canada and three Sikh-Canadians in Mr Trudeau’s cabinet including defence minister Harjit Sajjan, whose father was a member of the World Sikh Organisation.

Mr Sajjan was branded a ‘Khalistani sympathiser’ by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last year. He rejected the claim as “ridiculous”.

India was further upset when the Ontario Parliament passed a motion condemning the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as “genocide”. Pro-Khalistan groups in Canada are even said to be planning a “Punjab Independence Referendum” in 2020.

Dr Gareth Price, an senior research fellow at Chatham House, said Mr Modi’s decision not to personally welcome Mr Trudeau was “a way of showing a bit of polite displeasure”.

He said: “The welcome will be more guarded when there is a suspicion that a country is not 100 per cent pro-India. It is an issue that has affected the UK in the past, as some of the biggest supporters of an independent Sikh state are in the UK and Canada.

“The UK has taken steps to demonstrate unambiguously we have no sympathies. Denmark also has an issue.”

Captain Amarinder Singh tweeted about welcoming Mr Trudeau to the Golden Temple in Amritsar – even though Canada has said there are no plans for a meeting.

Look forward to meeting Canadian Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau <link> in Amritsar on Wednesday. I’m hopeful that this meeting will help strengthen the close Indo-Canadian business ties as well as the deep-rooted people-to-people relations between our two countries.

— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) February 19, 2018 <link>

The temple was the scene of a controversial military operation to drive out Khalistani separatists in June 1984 which left hundreds dead. Four months later the Prime Minister Indira Gandi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards and more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the resulting riots.

Mr Modi’s failure to welcome Mr Trudeau dominated the Twitter hashtag #trudeauinindia and one user celebrated it as a “humiliation for a terrorist sympathiser”.

The Former Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Vishnu Prakash, attacked the “political mollycoddling” of Khalistanis in Canada but insisted Mr Trudeau was an “esteemed guest”.

“A Canadian political leader will naturally be courting different sections of society to be successful,” Mr Prakash told Indian news website, The Print. “The Sikhs are a dynamic, vibrant and chivalrous community, and courting them is fine. The difficulty lies with appearing at radical platforms. It provides them legitimacy and the oxygen of publicity.

“The Khalistani separatists use such forums to whip-up anti-India sentiments and disaffection. India has been taking up this issue at all levels.

“That said, I completely disagree with the media construct that PM Trudeau is being cold shouldered. He is an esteemed guest and both sides have invested a lot in this relationship. He is here at the PM’s invitation; every courtesy has been extended to him.”

New Delhi