Justin Trudeau is having a rough time. His poll ratings are abysmal, there have been vociferous domestic protests against him and internationally, he has burned bridges with an important ally, India, after accusing it of the extra-judicial assassination of a Canadian “citizen”, Hardeep Singh Nijjar . A Zelensky visit guaranteed to bolster any declining popularity became a PR debacle when the Canadian parliament stood up to give a standing ovation to an elderly man accused of serving in an actual Nazi unit during WW2. Still, our boy Justin can do no wrong in the eyes of an adoring press. Excuses and explanations have been swiftly proffered : the domestic protestors are far right scum, India is indeed a fascist wolf in democratic sheepskin, the standing ovation was solely the mistake of the Speaker of the house.
I would like to deal with the India issue because the reporting on it is extremely biased. Accounts in the BBC, NYT, Wapo and the Australian ABC are creating breathlessly exciting but dangerous narratives solely from Khalistani sources, deliberately leaving out relevant information. Nijjar is routinely described as a religious leader, community leader, an ordinary plumber, a family man with a sweet tooth. Yet also a revolutionary hero fighting for his people’s liberation from a hegemonic oppressor. The missing context is there is no constituency in Indian Punjab for khalistani liberation and the diaspora khalistanis (not to be mistaken with the general sikh population) are pretty much as violent and criminal as any terror outfit. They are a minority who have muscled in on gurdwara politics and intimidate (often violently) opposing views. Why does legacy media have this strange incuriosity about what goes on the gurdwaras of these wonderful freedom fighters? The pictures of terrorists hung up as quasi religious heroes? The banners outsides calling for the assassination of Indian diplomats? The firebrands demanding hindu Canadians to leave the country?
How many western outlets ran these pictures of Nijjar armed with an AK 47 at training camps? I found just one Indo-Australian news outfit running these pictures in June 2023. None in the western press. There also videos of him advocating violence to his political enemies.
There were questions raised – not in the legacy press of course- about Nijjar’s opaque citizenship status. He had been denied his asylum request and his marriage of convenience to a Canadian citizen was deemed fraudulent and the Canadian minister in charge seemed unsure when Nijjar had finally achieved citizenship status, either in 2007 or 2015. There was no mention of the Interpol red notice alert issued against him in 2014 nor the fact that he was on both Canada’s and the US’s no fly list on several occasions. How often do virtuous family men get on these lists?
There is a deluge of information in the Indian press in the English language, from all ends of the political spectrum – and yet scarcely any of this information ever finds its way into western media to give context and balance. There is a growing sense in India that there is an ideological slant to western reporting on India. Attitudes have hardened, the Canadian allegations have united the country across political divides (few believe the allegations because it is such a radical departure from Indian foreign policy) and strengthened Modi politically.
To be fair to Canadian journalism, there are honest and informed journalists like Terry Glavin whose substack summary is a world of information you would not find in the mainstream British or American press. Glavin has absolutely no love for Modi and he concedes this :
So there’s all that. But it’s also plausible that Narendra Modi’s government has simply had quite enough of the constant and terrifying background noise of Khalistani violence in India, and with Ottawa’s indifference to the rising spectre of Khalistanis using Canada as a safe haven to drag India back into the horrific bloodshed of the 1980s.
But he also acknowledges that Canada and Trudeau in particular have fed Khalistani extremism and India has some right to be concerned.
Here is a podcast Glavin appeared in with journalist and historian Hindol Sengupta. Hindol’s a columnist with the New Indian Express, and columnist and editor-at-large with Fortune India.
Something that may explain the Hunka and Nijjar incidents is Trudeau’s personal fondness for socialising with edgy characters. On a state visit to India in 2018, a khalistani who had been convicted in a Canadian court for attempted murder of an Indian minister and had served time was invited to a state dinner as part of the Canadian delegation. The Indians were appalled when they found out (imagine Trudeau blithely taking an Al Qaida operative to a White House state banquet) and then Trudeau blamed, wait for it, both Canadian officials and Indian intelligence for this. Similar to how he yesterday barefacedly blamed “Russian intelligence and misinformation” for the Hunka embarassment.