Justin Trudeau’s recent trip to India saw the Canadian leader make a series of embarrassing gaffes that appear to have worsened already declining relations between the two countries.
The Prime Minister became the target of scornful headlines from the Indian press after awkwardly declining a handshake with India’s PM Narendra Modi, and snubbing multiple invitations from the leader to key events.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mr Trudeau’s flight home was grounded – only for his replacement plane to itself be diverted, leaving him stuck in Delhi days longer than he had planned.
During a wreath-laying ceremony at Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation site, Mr Trudeau was seen deliberately avoiding a close encounter with Mr Modi.
The Indian leader went to take Mr Trudeau’s hand, only for him to pull away and break contact in a clear moment of division.
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According to the Canadian Press news agency, Mr Trudeau was the only leader to pull away from an extended handhold with Mr Modi.
Quizzed on the awkward moment at a press conference at the end of his visit, the Canadian PM curiously replied: “I’ll let you read into it what you like.”
In a similar mistake-laden trip in 2018, commentators noticed that Mr Modi failed to give Mr Trudeau one of his customary bear-hug greetings until seven days into his visit.
Further pictures of the pair, after a brief meeting, showed frostiness between them, with both expressing sullen looks.
Indian newspapers were quick to lay into the Canadian leader, with the Tribune of India describing Trudeau as “a slightly forlorn figure,” and highlighting “his loneliness”. While India Today said he was “overstaying his tepid welcome”.
The Hindustan Times went so far as to say that Mr Trudeau had been given the “cold shoulder”.
The PM dodged multiple event invitations from Mr Modi, failing to attend the official G20 gala dinner and missing the launch of the Global Biofuels Alliance, an initiative of his Indian counterpart.
Meanwhile, a curt Indian press statement made after a private meeting between the two suggested Mr Trudeau had failed to impress on his stance towards Khalistani elements in Canada.
It read: “He [PM Modi] conveyed our strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada. They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.”
Indian external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in June: “India fails to understand why Canada gives space to separatists and extremists, other than vote bank politics.”
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Mr Trudeau’s statement on the Khalistani movement – which seeks to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing an ethno‐religious sovereign state called Khalista – during his trip did not commit to direct action.
Instead he vaguely asserted: “Canada would always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of peaceful protest.”
He added that he raised the issue of “foreign interference” in Canada. In June, Jody Thomas, Trudeau’s national security adviser, accused India of being one of the countries behind foreign interference in the country.
This has been compared to Rishi Sunak’s stronger stance, in which he stated that the UK was working with India to tackle pro-Khalistani extremism, adding: “Let me just say unequivocally that no form of extremism or violence like that is acceptable in the UK.”
The awkward trip was also unfortunately prolonged, with Mr Trudeau left stuck in Delhi after his plane was stranded due to technical issues. Two days later, the replacement aircraft, on its way from Canada, was diverted to London, CBC News reported.
No reason was given for the unscheduled diversion.
The trip came at a time of collapsing relations between the two countries, with Canada unexpectedly announcing it would be suspending trade talks with India just days before Mr Trudeau headed over there.
And since he returned home, Mr Trudeau has said there is “credible evidence” India is responsible for the alleged assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Canadian Sikh leader. Delhi dismissed the claim as “absurd”.
At a press conference, Trudeau was asked about his strained relationship with Modi. He replied: “There’s always a lot of work to do and we will continue to do it.”
It’s not the Canadian PM’s first disastrous trip to India – in 2018, he came under fire for wearing “Bollywood-style” costumes during a visit and spending more time with his family than officials.
That trip also coincided with Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former Khalistani terrorist, being invited to a reception hosted by the Canadian High Commission, further worsening relations.
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