Guru Sikh Temple, Abbotsford, British Colombia
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What was once no more than an also-ran party in Canada, National Democratic Party,(NDP), stands poised to pose a threat to the hegemony of the right-of- the-centre ruling Liberal Party at the hustings due in about 18-20 months.
This is a big front page news in Canada. Also in India because of the brand of politics the 38-year-old lawyer turned Jagmeet Singh of Indian origin, who has been elevated to lead the party.
Well, he is the first non-white to head a political party in Canada, which, at the core, is a very white -- Christian nation, despite its avowed faith in diversity and pluralism.
It may be too early to declare that the Jagmeet Party would dislodge the 150-year --old natural ruling party in the 2019 general elections but it is difficult to brush aside the local media hype that the son of Indian migrants is a potential Prime Minister.
Founded in 1961, National Democratic Party stands at the third place in the Canadian political sweepstakes. Six years ago in 2011, it emerged as the leading opposition party only to go down the ladder in the next round of ballot. Its fortunes looked bright only between 1972 and 1974 when it shared power as a partner of the ruling coalition at the Federal level.
Many commentators are unanimous that the publicity swirling round Jagmeet Singh's elevation does not guarantee NDP the top slot in the next electoral battle. He is known more for his rather flashy sense of fashion; he lacks experience at the national level in general and politics in particular. This may prove to be a hurdle for him.
India may like to hope that the glorious uncertainties of politics will not push Jagmeet to the driver's seat. In fact, even the Canadian government, headed by the youthful, 45-year-old Justine Trudeau, may entertain such reservations. For its own reasons anchored in local politics.
One thing is clear though.
Only a naive star-gazer will say that Canada is ready to accept a 'coloured' Head of State professing an Oriental religion and sporting an 'Osama'-type turban. Such a possibility looks bleak these days as South Asians are regular targets of hate crime; the Sikhs bear the brunt most because they are taken to be 'terrorists' from their "appearance".
Moreover, if Canada values good relations with India, Jagmeet with all his smart suits and colourful turbans will not be an automatic choice. His India related views will not help him to contribute much to maintaining strong Canada-India ties.
Will he accept the reality that Sikhs are safe in India--certainly much more so than in Canada? Honestly speaking he may not since he has been supporting Khalistanis - Sikh separatists, who want a separate homeland carved out of India. About this a little while later.
The ruling Liberal Party also has shown a soft corner for the Sikh separatists in Canada, defending them on the ground of upholding liberal values, freedom of expression and all that. But its support is somewhat less shrill than that of Jagmeet Singh's probably because of the onus of ruling a nation.
The present Canadian parliament has a fairly large representation of South Asians with the Sikhs, with or without a beard and turban, marking a strong presence for the first time in the country's history. These Sikh lawmakers, if not all, most of them, may not support separatists but there is no doubt that they may have a lurking sympathy for them.
Last summer there was a minor political storm when the Canadian defence minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan, went to India and visited Punjab, the place of his origin. The Punjab chief minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, refused to meet him, throwing allegations of his being a Khalistani sympathizer.
The separatist politicos are more active in Canada than in the rest of the western hemisphere. There are more active Khalistani groups in Canada than in the US or the UK, the two other centres that attract Sikh extremists. Sikh extremists who had planted bombs on an Air India flight in 1985, resulting in the killing of 329 passengers, had found ready shelter in Canada.