Prince William might have preferred a snub from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose legendary bone-crushing handshake left the prince’s hand bright red with white lines where Modi’s grip had cut off the blood circulation.
Ditto for U.S. President Donald Trump, who seemed bewildered when receiving the customary Modi bear hug — as has just about every other world leader who has endured that awkward ritual.
But while Justin Trudeau may be relieved to have so far avoided the discomfort of such a greeting, Indian media and Canadians watching from afar are now wondering whether the Canadian prime minister has been deliberately slighted by his Indian counterpart.
The Telegraph of India noted that Modi was not there to greet Trudeau when he landed in India on the weekend, beginning an official trip accompanied by half a dozen of his government’s ministers. Instead, a junior minister of the Indian government met Trudeau at the airport.
While the Telegraph says Modi’s diplomacy is “symbol-laden,” the prime minister has only actually ventured out to the airport to greet world leaders on six occasions, and usually for significant events, like Barack Obama’s final trip as U.S. President. However, the paper also points out that Modi has, so far, declined to send out a tweet welcoming Trudeau to the country.
The possibility of a snub is attracting international headlines — and, if it is a deliberate insult, observers have pointed to one possible motive in particular.
Last year the country’s chief minister, Amarinder Singh, refused to meet with Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan after declaring Sajjan a Khalistani sympathiser. The Khalistan movement is a separatist campaign devoted to creating an independent Sikh state in what is now north-west India, and has been an issue simmering in the background of domestic Canadian politics.
In 2015, Sajjan became the first Sikh to be named defence minister and Trudeau has three other Sikhs in his cabinet.
Two years ago, Trudeau even bragged that his own cabinet had more Sikhs in it than Modi’s cabinet. For that, he was criticized and warned about “stepping on the minefield of the extremely sensitive domestic Indian politics and damaging bilateral relations with this key country,” by Ramesh Thakur, an expert on international affairs.
As Trudeau spent the weekend visiting the Taj Mahal with his family and attending meetings, Singh tweeting that he was looking forward to meeting with Trudeau. Meanwhil, however, Indian media unleashed a torrent of critical stories.
The Hindustan Times took note of Trudeau’s light itinerary on the trip, quoting an anonymous Indian diplomat who said he had never experienced a visit with so few official meetings on the schedule.
In response to reports about the flimsy itinerary and the fact that Trudeau’s family has accompanied him on the trip, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre cheekily wished Trudeau “another wonderful vacation.”
Speaking to reporters after arriving in India, Trudeau said it was nice “to come full circle” and bring his family to India, having joined his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, on a similar trip in 1983.
On Tuesday, Trudeau announced a $1 billion reciprocal trade agreement, which will see Indian companies investing $250 million in Canada and Canadian companies investing $750 million in India.
Trudeau says the deal, which was inked after the prime minister met with six prominent Indian business people, will create more than 5,000 jobs in Canada. Trudeau also tweeted photos from a roundtable in Mumbai about women in business on Tuesday, saying it was an “insightful session.”