A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Canada seemed oblivious to Indian concerns till PM delivered a tough message in Hamburg last year. Changed tone before Davos meet helped finalise visit. 

New Delhi: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s long-duration India visit may have attracted attention for all the wrong reasons, but believe it or not, both governments seem to be betting on an “incident-free visit” to help mend the relationship that Trudeau’s patronage for Khalistan sympathisers has undone.

The visit, informed sources told ThePrint, has been on the cards for about two years. Trudeau was insistent, but India was cold. There was too much noise on Khalistan and a Canadian PM unwilling to distance or disown any of these statements made political conversation at the highest level difficult, if not a non-starter.

But Trudeau, insiders said, seemed either oblivious to Indian concerns or simply didn’t take them seriously despite repeated official protests.

New Delhi, in fact, feels it did not register until his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year on the margins of the G20 meeting at Hamburg, where Ottawa had hoped to seal Trudeau’s India visit. Instead, he got a tough message.

Those familiar with the details of that conversation told ThePrint that Trudeau sought to reason his position on the grounds of upholding freedom of speech in Canada. But Modi was quite direct, making it clear to his Canadian counterpart that India saw pro-Khalistan groups as a security threat.

Modi told Trudeau that he and his government will simply have to change course and be sensitive to Indian security concerns for the relationship to move forward.

This meeting set the wheels of diplomacy moving at a more frantic pace. Canada was upset but it was also left with no doubt that the Modi government will just not do business with Trudeau if he did not alter his ‘freedom of speech’ line.

Between the G20 in Hamburg and last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where the two leaders met again, the Trudeau cabinet had begun to show signs of piping down.

More importantly, Trudeau himself dropped all talk of freedom of speech at the meeting and instead told Modi that he understood and respected Indian concerns. He further hoped that New Delhi would not allow this to adversely impact the health of an, otherwise, robust bilateral relationship.

The conversation made it possible for the two sides to set up the visit. However, officials on both sides remain worried that politically, the trip is accident-prone.

India tried to keep its caution by sticking to the rulebook on protocol, ensuring minimum exposure to high-level politicians until the end. Also, that Trudeau had to honour Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s gesture to have a meeting with him despite his concerns. Singh had spoken out against Trudeau and his support base of Khalistan sympathisers.

Meanwhile, Indian officials are keeping a close watch on what team Trudeau does or says during its stay in India. One thing is sure, while India expects Trudeau to course-correct on Khalistan, the government has positioned itself in a way that it’s not embarrassed or caught off-guard just in case Trudeau or any member of his delegation decides to roll back the Canadian assurance.

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