Modi ‘screwed’ Trudeau during 2018 India trip — and it’s become a poll issue in Canada now

A new book quotes Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary accusing the Modi govt of 'throwing racks under our tires to help Conservatives'.

Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi | Justin Trudeau's official Twitter account
Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi | Justin Trudeau's official Twitter account

New Delhi: A year after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as an electoral issue in Canada.

At the heart of the row, ahead of elections in October, is a forthcoming book that quotes Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts accusing Modi of “screwing” the Canadian Prime Minister during his 2018 trip to India and helping his opposition, the Conservatives, in the country.

Trudeau’s trip last year to India made news for all the wrong reasons. Miffed at the Canadian PM’s support for ‘Sikh separatists’, Modi had refused to meet Trudeau until he made amends by meeting Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

Trudeau has also faced criticism for dressing in ‘gimmicky’ ethnic Indian wear throughout his stay in the country and was slammed for the presence of attempted murder-accused and suspected Khalistani separatist Jaspal Atwal in official functions.

An excerpt from the book, Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister by National Post political columnist John Ivison, reveals the political implication that the trip had for the Canadian Prime Minister. It quotes Butts accusing Modi’s government of “throwing racks under our tires to help Conservatives”. 

“We walked into a buzzsaw — (Narendra) Modi and his government were out to screw us and were throwing tacks under our tires to help Canadian conservatives, who did a good job of embarrassing us,” the book quotes Butts, who was until recently Trudeau’s advisor and resigned in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, as saying.

Butts also tells Ivison that Modi’s treatment of Trudeau was not the “core issue”. Instead, Trudeau and his family wearing traditional Indian clothes during the eight-day trip, seemed gimmicky and “seemed to resonate badly with the (Canadian) voters”.

“The picture will overwhelm words,” Butts is quoted as saying in the book.

Modi as a Canadian electoral issue 

It is a rare occasion when India becomes an electoral issue outside of South Asia.

Conservative leader Andrew Sheer, who is expected to face Trudeau in the October election critiqued Trudeau about the recent revelations.

“There Trudeau goes again, blaming others for his own mistakes and poor judgment. This time it’s @NarendraModi. Trudeau’s failed leadership is no one’s fault but his own,” Sheer tweeted.

Other politicians have called for restraint. Guy Caron, a foreign affairs analysts for the Canadian National Democratic Party (NDP), cautioned against letting these revelations spoil Canada’s diplomatic relations with India.

“It’s not appropriate for the prime minister’s former principal secretary to be making such comments while both governments are still in place,” Caron said. “This does not help our diplomatic relationships.”

Also read: Sikh militant Atwal was invited to India events by Trudeau’s PMO, Canada report finds

The Atwal invitation

The book also delves into the alleged “accidental” invitation to suspected Khalistani separatist Atwal to one of Trudeau’s public events in India.

It quotes Trudeau’s then national security advisor, Daniel Jean, as having told reporters that “certain rogue factions” in the Indian intelligence may have allowed Atwal to visit India just to embarrass the Canadian leader “for being soft on Sikh separatism”.

Jean’s statements, however, have been previously reported and hotly debated in Canadian political circles. The controversy eventually resulted in Jean resigning from Trudeau’s government.

According to Canada’s National Post, the book also talks about other controversial aspects of Trudeau’s India visit. The Canadian tax payers had to incur $1.5 million on the prime minister’s India visit.

A disastrous trip

The India trip had been disastrous for Trudeau, with the book quoting Butts as having said that in terms of polling numbers, the trip was the end of the prime minister’s honeymoon period in Canada.

Snubbed by Modi over his Khalistan position, Trudeau in an embarrassing public statement had to announce that the Canadian government supports a “United India” and travelled to Punjab to meet Singh.

The row could not have come at a worse time for Trudeau. His popularity has taken a massive beating after the prime minister’s office was accused of interfering in the “SNC-Lavalin” corruption scandal and pressurising former justice minister and then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to settle the case through an out-of-court settlement.

SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based global engineering and construction management company, is accused of paying C$47.4 million as bribes to the Libyan government between 2011-17.

Since the revelations, the Canadian leader has struggled to recover his lost popularity.

Also read: Jaishankar asks UK & Canada why they allowed ‘unfounded’ remarks on Indian press freedom