The Cable

Canada’s Defense Minister Gets Cold Reception in India

The minister, a Canadian Sikh, gets branded a Sikh nationalist by Punjab’s top elected official.


Canada’s defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, flew to his native Punjab on a mission to strengthen Canada’s relations with India but no one official was there to greet him at the airport.

Ahead of Sajjan’s arrival, Punjab’s chief minister falsely called Sajjan a Khalistani, a group of Sikh separatists with terrorism links. “I won’t meet him. There are five ministers who are Khalistanis and I am not interested in meeting any Khalistanis,” Punjab’s top elected official, Amarinder Singh, said.

Khalistanis are Sikhs who want to establish their own independent homeland within India’s borders. They are also associated with 1980s violence and the 1985 Air India bombing, the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this comment was received poorly by Sikhs in both Canada and India. Some suspected Singh was trying to distract from Punjab’s economic woes. Others pointed out that Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also the finance minister, has met with Sajjan and did not accuse him to be a Sikh nationalist.

Sour grapes may also have played a role. Singh also said he was upset that he was not allowed to speak at political rallies in Canada last year, although he did not say why he was not allowed to speak.

“Minister Sajjan is a proud Canadian, with a lifetime of service to Canada.” Sajjan’s spokesperson said in response to the flap. Sajjan was born in the Punjab village of Bombeli but has lived in Canada since he was five.

Sajjan himself said, “I don’t promote the break-up of any country. My job is to promote the bilateral relations.”

In other words, no Khalistani.

Photo credit: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

A decade of Global Thinkers

A decade of Global Thinkers

The past year's 100 most influential thinkers and doers Read Now

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola