CANADA’S handsome, charismatic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks like he’s had a lot of fun during a week-long official visit to India – his first as the country’s leader. In terms of diplomacy, however, it mightn’t have gone as planned.
From the time he got off the plane in the world’s second largest country, the Canadian premier has barely donned a western-style suit – opting for traditional Indian garb instead.
Trudeau and his family did what any self-respecting world leader would do in India – they went straight to the Taj Mahal to get that classic Princess Diana shot.
Sadly for Trudeau, his tour has been overshadowed by suggestions of a lukewarm reception by the government and a series of photo ops featuring the Trudeau family in coordinated Indian attire that have raised eyebrows in both countries.
The trip is partly aimed at shoring up support for Trudeau’s Liberals among the politically important ethnic vote in key regions. In 2016, around 4 percent of the Canadian population were of Indian origin.
Moreover, there were around 100,000 Indian students attending university or college in Canada as of 2017 – an increase from just 31,975 in 2015. Many are choosing Canada over the United States due to the anti-immigration messages of President Donald Trump, reports the Hindustan Times.
But the trip has also been criticised for being light on official government business.
“I don’t know if Justin Trudeau thinks that international trade missions are reality TV shows, but they are not,” Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer, Trudeau’s main opponent, told Reuters.
The PM has changed out of Indian attire a few times, for example at a business forum in Mumbai, but … not for long.
The fam visited the ancient Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in Old Delhi, where Trudeau might have finally had the chance to speak Arabic to Indians.
Last year, the PM ruffled some feathers when he greeted Canadian Indians for the Hindu holiday of Diwali by saying “Diwali Mubarak” – Mubarak meaning “blessed” in Arabic (the language of Muslims).
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 17, 2017
With around 1.5 percent of Canadians being Sikh, Trudeau had to make sure to stop off at Darbar Sahib – the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar.
But things went bad when a convicted terrorist and Sikh separatist was invited to dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s in Delhi – really pissing off a lot of Indians.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former health minister from Trudeau’s own party, told the Toronto Star in an interview that the PM could “perhaps salvage our relationship (with India), but I think it hit rock bottom with this.”
The trip has also encouraged plenty of cynicism from the media, with a VICE article entitled “Justin Trudeau Won’t Stop Putting His Hands Together in a Kurta Until He Has All of the Brown Vote” running the subheading: “Justin Trudeau really, really wants Indian people to like him.”
New Delhi based journalist Barkha Dutt wrote in the Washington Post that the PM’s trip had been a “total disaster” and an “absolute fiasco”.
“Given the seriousness and the sensitivities at stake, it was infuriating to watch Trudeau sashaying out, doing the Bhangra dance, at the same Canadian reception this week that was at the heart of the storm,” she opined. “You could feel the collective groan of Indians: Please. Stop. Enough Already.”
“Indians are also wondering, what is Trudeau doing here for so long? Doesn’t he have a country to run?” added Dutt.
But on Friday, he got a bear hug from his counterpart Narendra Modi. So there’s that.
Additional reporting from Reuters.