PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, apparently succumbing to pressure from a Punjabi faction in this country, didn’t allow former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, the Congress Party’s president of Punjab state unit, to hold political rallies in Toronto and Vancouver in April last year on a technicality – although many other Punjabi and other Indian politicians had been doing the same for years.
The VOICE had reported online on April 2, 2016, that Amarinder Singh would be visiting Canada and the U.S. from April 19 to May 7, 2016, to try and counteract the influence of the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on people of Indian origin living outside India.
Punjab was being run by a Shirimoni Akali Dal (SAD) government headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, and the AAP was posing a challenge to both the SAD and the Congress parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had an alliance with the Akali Dal.
Besides Vancouver and Toronto, Amarinder Singh had planned to visit Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Famous singer Hans Raj Hans was to accompany him.
But after Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishanker informed him that the Canadian rules, under Global Affairs Policy, forbid foreign governments and individuals to conduct election campaigns in Canada, Amarinder Singh decided not to hold the rallies during his six-day visit to Canada that was to start on April 23, 2016. But Amarinder Singh said he would hold meetings with Canadian Punjabis at their homes and in small groups.
Then suddenly he cancelled his visit to Canada and fired off a strong protest letter to Trudeau (see below).
But now with his stunning victory in Punjab – the Congress party won 77 of the 117 state assembly seats – Amarinder Singh will be the Chief Minister of Punjab once again and the Trudeau government will have to deal with him. It will be interesting to see what happens.
AMARINDER Singh in his letter to Trudeau back in April 2016 stated: “I was scheduled to interact with the Punjabi diaspora living in the two cities of Toronto and Vancouver. Needless to say, it has come as a disappointment that someone representing the largest democracy in the world has been refused to reach out to, and interact with, his fellow Punjabis living in a respected democracy like Canada. It feels like a GAG ORDER that has left a very bad taste, more so when issued by a democratic government like the Canadian.”
He then noted: “I am heading the Punjab state unit of the Congress party, one of the oldest and the largest political parties of the world in the largest democracy. I am a sitting parliamentarian representing the Holy City of Amritsar, the Mecca of Sikhs; the same Sikhs, some of whom you have inducted in your cabinet as ministers and towards whom you recently showed some nice gestures during the Baisakhi [Vaisakhi] celebrations.”
He added: “It is surprising and ironical that the refusal to allow me public interactions has come barely after a few weeks of your personally expressing regrets over the Komagata Maru tragedy.”
Amarinder Singh then claimed: “Let me clarify that I have no intentions of carrying out any “election campaign” here, as there are no elections right now in Punjab. Nor do I have any plans to set up any “political party” or “movement in Canada”. Our country has already given us all such freedoms in letter and spirit and we really don’t need to carry out any such activities anywhere outside. And our country extends such freedoms to others as well and we don’t restrict it to our citizens alone as we believe that the freedom of expression is a universal right and should be respected by, and guaranteed to, one and all. Besides, as of now, I am not holding any government position and I do not represent any government.”
Amarinder Singh also pointed out: “Just a reminder that I have visited Canada in 2005 when I was the Chief Minister of Punjab and addressed gatherings at Vancouver and Toronto, which were attended by the local premiers also. During the last one year, several political leaders including our Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and some opposition leaders also visited Canada and they addressed public functions and nobody objected. I am surprised as why have I been singled out for this “honour” of being denied a similar permission.
“I believed and I still believe that the Canadian constitution under Section 2 guarantees some “Fundamental Freedoms” which also include, “freedom of expression”, “freedom of peaceful assembly” and “freedom of association”.
“Your government’s GAG ORDER undermines these “Fundamental Freedoms”. After all it is not only I who has been denied these freedoms. Being an Indian citizen I have no claims to the freedoms you guarantee to your citizens. But this GAG ORDER has denied these freedoms of “expression”, “peaceful assembly” and “association”, to the Canadian citizens, who are the same people who have immensely contributed towards building up this beautiful country and you have yourself acknowledged that.
“In fact these interactions and gatherings had been organised by the local Canadian citizens only and I was to be there as their, and also your, guest.”