Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has received a barrage of criticism during a trip to India. Canadian and Indian media alike chastised Trudeau for a series of political gaffes and what was perceived as cultural insensitivity.
On Feb. 17, Trudeau and his family arrived in New Delhi for a seven-day trip. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not present at the airport to greet Trudeau or acknowledge his arrival on social media, observers wondered aloud if the Canadian prime minister was being snubbed.
“The optics don’t look good. … He’s not had a single official event,” senior fellow Vivek Dehejia of the IDFC Institute told CNN.
Former Indian ambassador to Canada Vishnu Prakash pushed back on speculation that Trudeau was being given a cold shoulder.
“I’m a little puzzled frankly, by the basis of which this is being said, there’s no departure from protocol,” Prakash said.
By Feb. 23, Trudeau still had not met with a senior member of the Indian government.
Trudeau’s behavior during the trip was heavily scrutinized by social media.
Several Indians expressed annoyance that the Canadian prime minister and his family were constantly garbed in traditional Indian clothes and performing cultural behaviors, Business Insider reports.
“Is it just me or is this choreographed cuteness all just a bit much now?” tweeted out Indian politician Omar Abdullah. “Also FYI we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood.”
On Feb. 21, it was discovered that the Canadian High Commission had officially invited Canadian-American Jaspal Atwal to dine with Trudeau during his trip. The invite ignited outrage across India.
Atwal is a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, which is deemed a terrorist organization by both Canada in India. In 1987, Atwal attempted to assassinate an Indian state minister and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The media also obtained a picture of Atwal posing beside Trudeau’s wife during the trip, further fueling outrage in India.
The invitation was withdrawn by Canadian officials while the Indian government is conducting an investigation into how Atwal was allowed in the country.
“Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously,” Trudeau told reporters. “The individual in question never should have received an invitation. As soon as we found out, we rescinded the invitation immediately.”
The gaffe underscored one of the biggest sources of tension between the two allies.
1.4 percent of the Canadian population is Sikh and four members of Trudeau’s cabinet are Sikh. Indian officials have accused some of these Canadian ministers of harboring ties to the Khalistan movement, a Sikh separatist movement that aims to break away the region of Punjab from India and create a new country, according to The Toronto Star.
In 2017, Trudeau upset Indian officials when he attended a Sikh event that had promotional materials that were favorable to the separatist movement. Some observers speculated that this was why the Modi government had allegedly snubbed the Canadian prime minister.
Prakash said that Atwal’s invitation would deal a blow to the two nations’ relationship.
“It’s a disaster,” Prakash told The Washington Post. “I am convinced Trudeau was blindsided. Whoever drew up the list screwed up and dealt him a fait accompli. But it is also symbolic of how Khalistanis have penetrated the system.”
On Feb. 22, Modi took to social media acknowledging Trudeau’s visit for the first time. If the Indian prime minister was upset with his ally, he did not show it.
“I hope PM [Justin Trudeau] and his family had a very enjoyable stay so far,” Modi tweeted out. “I particularly look forward to meeting his children Xavier, Ella-Grace, and Hadrien.”