My article published in the India America Today, Washington D.C.
The last few months have seen widespread protests by farmers in India over the passage of three farm reform bills by the central government. These protests have now gathered enough support and momentum to draw attention from the international community, especially after some allegedly rough handling of the farmers by the authorities.
In this context, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Justin Trudeau, has expressed his concern about the situation and about the welfare of family and friends of the Indian diaspora in his country. “Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest,” Mr. Trudeau said during a virtual address last Monday to members of the Sikh community on the occasion of the birthday of Guru Nanak, the revered founder of their faith. “We believe in the process of dialogue. We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns. This is a moment for all of us to pull together,” he added.
These comments from the head of another country has not gone down well with the Indian government and most citizens of the country. Politicians and media commentators alike have come out with strong statements of protest which if summarized would basically tell Mr. Trudeau to mind his own business. Social media is of course agog with righteous indignation and outrage at this interference in our internal affairs.
But maybe we need to look beyond – and above – Mr. Trudeau’s words.
Indians feel it is their right to comment on the problems faced by Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists in Pakistan as also by Tamilians in Sri Lanka, even though they are citizens of those countries, not ours. India even has an open invitation for these citizens of Pakistan to come to India and settle here. But we deem it right to feel outraged that the Canadian PM has said something comparatively mild about Sikh / Punjabi farmers in India? Canada has a whole lot of our Sikhs / Punjabis there who have family here. Put in that context, I do not see anything wrong in Mr. Trudeau addressing the concerns of a minority community in his country.
There has also been a lot said about Mr. Trudeau’s hypocrisy because he had criticized and challenged India’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) schemes for our farmers at the World Trade Organization and is now supporting the very farmers who are demanding the MSP be continued, among other things. But there is a difference between opposing the MSP and expressing a minority community’s concern for family and friends back home in India, especially since there had been some violence and police action reported at the protests. Why is Mr. Trudeau not entitled to represent the Canadian Sikh and Punjabi community’s concern at the ongoing situation? For all we know, Mr. Trudeau may still be against India’s MSP policy, but at the same time also for the farmer’s right to peacefully protest its removal or change.
More recently in the UK, a group of 36 cross-party parliamentarians wrote to their Foreign Secretary asking him to make representations to the Indian government about the impact of the farmer’s protest on British Sikhs and Punjabis.
Indians better develop a thick hide and get used to hearing criticism, which has rarely been emanating from the United States over the last four years of the Trump administration. Donald Trump himself was indifferent to worldly happenings unless it directly impacted him in some way. But the Trump days are almost gone. India will get to hear a lot from the Biden administration about Kashmir and other human rights issues. Maybe not in public earshot, but hear we will, and in no uncertain terms. You can bet on it.
Most Indians will proudly remember the day in Houston in 2019 when our own Prime Minister, Mr. Modi said ‘Ab ki baar Trump sarkar’? (This time it will be the Trump government). This was said in the United States during Mr. Modi’s visit, a tacit endorsement for Trump and his reelection bid. I would think that supporting one candidate over another in a foreign country’s elections, and that too right on their own soil, is also interference. The other camp can legitimately claim that Modi is using his amazing popularity in the US to influence US citizens of Indian origin there. I am not sure a leader of any other country has so openly provided such an endorsement to any candidate, much less for the US President, on the eve of an election.
Remember also, very few matters are purely internal affairs of a country anymore. The world is so interdependent and so interlaced that we cannot call any country completely isolated, not even the US, much as it may have seemed to be drifting towards isolationism during the Trump years. In actuality, that too is not accurate. Never has been the world – both the physical world and the social media world – been so involved and emotional about the USA! Nevertheless, there is so much emigration and immigration that people of one country are present in almost every other country. You know that joke we used to hear about what happened when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon? An Indian came out of nowhere saying “Coffee! Coffee! Hot Coffee!”. Yeah, that is no longer a joke. We can eat some of the best Indian food in remote foreign cities. This is now a global earth, a true melting pot of many thousand nationalities. No country is just its own country anymore. The age of isolationism is gone forever.
In my opinion, most Indians in the US would have voted for Trump had it not been for a Vice Presidential candidate, Ms. Kamala Harris, who herself has not claimed any Indian-ness, but has had it attached to her in boatloads by my proud Indian brethren! And now, Mr. Biden’s administration team will potentially have people whose origins can be traced to many different parts of the world. What if Ms. Harris were to issue a statement condemning the Indian government’s handling of some social issue? Will we turn around and call her a betrayer of her great Indian heritage and tell her to mind her own business, which we thought was somewhat ours too?
The US may be 8000 miles away but Twitter covers that distance in one split second and causes an upheaval in the next. That is how involved we are with each other. So maybe it is time to stop being petty and jingoistic Mr. Trudeau’s comments and about the world rapping our knuckles and just make sure we behave in a way that it does not feel compelled to.