TORONTO – Canada’s first cabinet minister of Indian-origin, Herb Dhaliwal, on Tuesday said Indian media and government’s focus on Khalistan has derailed the focus of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s India visit.
“It is very unfortunate that the Indian media has blown the Khalistan issue out of proportion. This has shifted the focus away from trade, which is what the two countries should be discussing,” Dhaliwal, who became the first Indian to be elected as an MP in the Western world back in 1993, told IANS.
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”.
“When I was the cabinet minister, I had met Prime Ministers (IK) Gujral, Manmohan Singh and (AB) Vajpayee and raised the issue of punishment for those behind the 1984 riots. I had told them it was about human rights and they had no objection,” he said.
Dhaliwal said the vast majority of Sikhs in Canada have “nothing to do with Khalistan”. All they want is that human rights must be respected and culprits behind 1984 killings should be brought to justice, he added. “There is only a very small proportion (of Sikhs) in Canada that is blowing up the issue of Khalistan for their own purposes. The issue is about human rights,” said Dhaliwal, who was instrumental in opening the Canadian consulate in Chandigarh in 2003.
About Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s charges against two Sikh ministers in Trudeau’s cabinet, including defence minister Harjit Sajjan, being “Khalistani supporters” and denial of visa to him by Canada, Dhaliwal hoped that Trudeau will discuss these issues with Amarinder.
About denial of Canadian visa to Amarinder Singh in 2016, he said, “It was the result of a misunderstanding at the bureaucratic level. It shouldn’t have happened. Canada should apologise to Amarinder Singh for this error.”
Urging Prime Minister Narendra 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 the energy security demands of India’s fast-growing economy. We can also be a 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 that will help build future relationships. I think this is an important development which people should emphasise.”