Trudeau's trump card
Backed by Indo-Canadians, will his stern anti-Trump stance aid or dampen Trudeau’s prospects for re-election, especially in light of recent controversies?
The presence of around 1.5 million-strong Indian diaspora will be playing a crucial role in Canada's federal elections that are going to be held on October 21, 2019. All the people of Indian origin might not have voting rights but they are attentive participants in the election process and a shining shadow of their influence is clearly visible on the country's political sky. The outcome of the federal election is important for Indo-Canadians.
One can find Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, where the population of Indians is sizable, overflowing with debates on the question that who will form the next government? Even the Indians staying in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Labrador are abuzz with the curiosity about the outcome – will the incumbent Liberal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, return; will former House speaker Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives rebound; what is the scope for New Democratic Party headed by Jagmeet Singh; what impact other national parties, like the Greens, Bloc Quebecois and Maxim Bernier's new right-wing People's Party will have on these elections?
338 ridings (constituencies) across Canada will elect a member for Canadian parliament after a month and the magic number of 170 will decide who holds the fort for the next 4 years. Present prime minister's Liberal party came to power with a commanding majority in 2015, but there were 10 seats that it won with as narrow a margin as 1100, 500 or 92 votes. Till a few months back, Liberals were really doubtful about their victory this time. But they have stopped bleeding in the past few weeks and regaining their ground quickly. The liberal party has focused on its weak turfs with utmost sincerity in the past few months.
Canadian media is projecting a hung parliament at the moment, with Liberal as the single largest party with a minimum of 166 seats in its kitty, a loss of 18 seats. As per these projections, the Conservative party is set to win 129 seats, 30 more than the last time. Other parties are minor game-spoilers with around 5 seats to Greens, 10 to Bloc Quebecois and 20 to New Democratic Party. Few major opinion polls have given Liberals 198 seats, that means around 60 per cent majority in the House of Commons.
Despite the fact that India's prime minister Narendra Modi is perceived as someone who does not like Trudeau, huge majority of Indo-Canadians seem resolutely favouring Trudeau in these elections. Modi had given Trudeau a snub when he visited India in February last year. Normally, the moment world leaders set foot on Indian soil, Modi's photo ops begin. His hugs are reserved for all the world leaders – friendly or unfriendly. But when his counterpart from Canada landed in New Delhi on his week-long trip with his wife, he was received by a junior minister for agriculture. Modi did not even care to welcome him on his famous Twitter handle.
It got worse when photogenic Trudeaus went to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. They were not received by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh – Ajay Singh Bisht (Yogi Aditya Nath). They were not even welcomed by a junior minister but by district's administrative officials.
Through this otherwise unpleasant diplomatic exercise, Prime Minister Modi wanted to give PM Trudeau a lesson for attending a Khalsa Day parade organised by a radical Gurudwara in Toronto. Modi's approach cannot be termed decent. Entire half-a-million Sikh population in Canada can't be painted as Khalistanis. There is hardly a handful number of 200-300 pro-Khalistan Indian Sikhs in Canada who get support from Pakistan. Trudeau has four Indian origin ministers in his cabinet and all of them are Sikhs. None of them could be branded as a separatist.
Moreover, during his visit to India, Trudeau made it clear that he supported 'one united India'. He also made his stand known to Modi on Khalistan issue in a meeting with him at the end of his visit and said that he never supports any separatist movement and disapproves any appeasement to Sikh separatists in his country. Modi, perhaps, also realised the need to stop mindlessly sulking over Trudeau publicly after that.
But frowning over Trudeau is in fashion recently because of election days in Canada. Last week, Time Magazine published an 18-year-old photo from the yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a private day-school in Vancouver where Trudeau was a teacher at that time. Trudeau was dressed as Aladdin and had dark makeup on his body during the school's annual dinner that had an 'Arabian Nights' theme. President of United States Donald Trump became eagerness to express his 'surprise' on this photo two days back has now made the photo viral. Trudeau was removed from Lilly Singh show after his black face and brown face photos emerged. International media is calling it a scandal. Poor Trudeau has been apologising for the photos the whole last week as they are giving a racist angle. His election campaign is in turmoil.
Trump, like Modi, has an element of hostility against Trudeau within him. Therefore, it is not unanticipated that American media is high with debates reminding the world that both Republican and Democrat politicians have faced scrutiny and have had to apologise over wearing blackface, the offensive practice rooted in early 19th-century American culture, of white people painting their faces to portray caricatures of black people.
In election debates, including the first in Toronto, Liberals were way ahead of Conservatives. But it is to be seen what would be the future scenario after the recent controversy about Trudeau. Conservatives are generally seen as toeing the Trump-line in everything. Polls conducted in past few weeks show that Trump is deeply unpopular in Canada. Trump is not liked because he has imposed tariffs on Canada and he has ridiculed Canada's prime minister by calling him 'weak' and 'dishonest'. Canadians also don't want to align with a far-right, reactionary and hard-line approach that they see coming out of the Trump administration.
Trudeau is seen as a leader taking the required stand against Trump, not the USA, in the best interests of his country. He does it with the utmost care by not mentioning Trump's name while opposing his policies. The day after Trump issued his 2017 executive order banning entry to refugees and visitors from seven countries with Muslim majorities, Trudeau posted a tweet widely seen as a dig: 'To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength'. After a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand, Trudeau
said some of the blame should fall to politicians who 'routinely fail to denounce this hatred' and who 'actively court those who spread it.'
Do you think, after all this, is it easy for Trudeau to win the election battle? If he does, it will be a victory of Canadians, especially Indo-Canadians.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)