News East West
TORONTO: Canada’s first Cabinet minister of Indian origin, Herb Dhaliwal, says the on-going visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India has been derailed by the Khalistan issue.
“It is very unfortunate that the media in India and Canada has overblown this Khalistan issue. This has shifted the focus away from trade which the two countries should be discussing,’’ said Dhaliwal, who in 1993 became the first Indian to be elected as an MP in the western world.
Dhaliwal, who served as Canada’s minister for revenue and natural resources from 1997 to 2003, said the sticking issue between the two countries is “about human rights and not Khalistan.’’
He said, “When I was the Cabinet minister, I had met Prime Minister Gujaral, Manmohan Singh and Vajpayee and raised the issue of punishment for those behind the 1984 riots. I told them it is about human rights and they had no objection.’’
Dhaliwal said the vast majority of Sikhs in Canada have nothing to do with Khalistan. All that they want is that the culprits of 1984 killings should be brought to justice.
“But there is only a very small proportion in Canada which is blowing up the issue of Khalistan for their own purposes. The issue is about human rights,’’ said Dhaliwal who was instrumental in the opening of the Canadian consulate in Chandigarh in 2003.
About Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s charges against two Sikh ministers in Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Navdeep Bains – as being Khalistani supporters and denial of visa to him by Canada, Dhaliwal hoped that Trudeau can address his concerns.
About denial of Canadian visa to Amarinder Singh in 2016, he said, “It was the result of some misunderstanding at the bureaucratic or some other level. It shouldn’t have happened. Canada should apologize to Amarinder Singh for this error.’’
Urging Modi and Trudeau not to let this issue divert their focus from trade, Dhaliwal said the economic interests of India and Canada are complementary.
“Canada is rich in oil and gas and we can help meet energy security demands of India’s fast growing economy. We can also be major supplier of agricultural products for India.’’
Despite all the issues between the two countries, Dhaliwal said, “The huge inflow of Indian students into Canada and direct air connections are big pluses which will help build future relationships. I think this is an important development which people should emphasize.’’