Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t hidden his fondness for foreign leaders. He has embraced them, tweeted at them, and sent them birthday wishes—all in an effort to make India a global player in international affairs. So when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he of the perfect coiffure, high-voltage smile, and beautiful family arrived in New Delhi this week for a state visit, it should have been a perfect photo-op. Instead, neither Modi nor any of his senior ministers showed up to receive the Trudeaus.
Trudeau has smiled his way through India, however, meeting with business executives, signing billions of dollars worth of business deals, posing for photographs with Bollywood actors, and donning Indian attire befitting his own Indian wedding reception. The Indians, for their part, have denied the Canadian prime minister is being snubbed (one unnamed official went as far as to call it “protocol”). But a snub it is—and the diplomatic brush-off has its roots in an Indian separatist movement from the 1980s and present-day Canadian domestic politics.
In the 1980s, a Sikh separatist movement roiled the Indian state of Punjab, which, as India’s breadbasket, has always been among the wealthiest states. Sikhs are a minority in India. They make up about 2 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people. But in Punjab, they are a majority, constituting about 60 percent of the state’s 27 million people. The militancy—and the government’s crackdown—was brutal. Bombs planted by militants went off in crowded markets, killing civilians. The Indian government’s response came through both its regular and paramilitary forces. Human-rights groups cited gross violations. Many prominent Indian officials, including Sikhs who make up a disproportionate amount of the military and police forces, were killed by the separatists. Top militant leaders were killed in the government’s response.