We should have fallen head over heels in love with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He was so much like us on this visit. We customarily love this sort of schmaltz and are so good at going the whole nine yards what with our predilection for classical music and dancing girls and flinging rose water and planting tikkas at visitors from foreign shores.
Justin thought this was the done thing and went for it. He was more Indian than the Indians, just a step short from owning an attaché case with a leather covering placed dustily on top of the cupboard and a set of three wooden ducks on the wall for décor with a coir mat carrying the legend ‘swagatham’at the door.
Except there was no welcome. We almost imagined him doing aarti when he finally met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With marigold flowers and incense sticks. It would have gone down well with his swiftly changing fancy dress attire but somewhere in all this, it left us all cold because he was so desperately falling over himself to be Indian that he not only put everyone off but it looked suspiciously like he was patronising us. The line between a polite and involved visitor imbibing cultural nuances and the white man easing his burden with a ‘let’s dress up’ folks and ‘identify’ with the natives is very thin. The genius lies in knowing when to stop. Justin went Hollywood, beat the drums, yummed over Indian food and would probably have embarrassed the Canadians with so much nativity done ostensibly to please the Sikh vote bank in Canada what with his Indianness being beamed back home.
It was just too too muchof healthy breakfast food wholesomeness which might have made Norman Rockwell delighted but left Indians mystified. What was he doing going ‘desi’ on us?
There are three reasons for the general indifference from the government and people. Justin is just too fey and coy and cute and unreal. At the outset, it became a bit ludicrous what with the family joining in and all over Indian people wondering who is this guy, what’s his problem. The result: mildly offensive and certainly not edifying for a world leader. It was so reminiscent of those frontiersmen smoking the peace pipe with native Red Indians and eating their food with fake relish before selling them glass beads.
In Justin’s case, the second strike was a weak gift bag of political goodies. There was nothing powerful in the agenda and the Indian government’s transparent indifference detracted from two major democracies and their traditional closeness what with Canada home to nearly two million people of Indian origin and over 25,000 fetching up to chase a faux American dream every year. Fact is Modi didn’t even fetch up at the airport to greet the Trudeau family. The small but significantly wealthy section of the 4,70,000 Sikh population in Canada profess to support the formation of Khalistan and the Trudeau administration allows the group to have its say. Add to that the snafu of giving a visa to Jaspal Atwal one of four Canadian Indians who in 1991 shot and killed Malkiat Singh Sidhu, a then-member of Punjab's cabinet. Trudeau created a furore when he attended a function in Toronto last year where a pro-Khalistan ambience was rife. Then Sophi Trudeau added to the awkward impasse by being photographed next to Atwal ostensibly unaware of who he was. How this ‘terrorist’ got an Indian visa calls for a separate inquiry.
After which we observe the third dimension. The artificial de-icing with prime minister swinging into a heavy-duty hug mode only underscored the deliberate cold shoulder. Too little too late. With a very light schedule in mutual treaties and MOU’s the seven-day trip has had the consistency of walking in treacle: sticky sweet and cloying and missing substance