It was a day full of Canadian pundits pontificating about Indian politics around Justin Trudeau’s trip, whether it’s around his use of traditional garb, the “snubs” by Indian politicians, and then the issue with Jaspal Atwal being invited to that reception. While MP Randeep Sarai has taken responsibility for Atwal’s invitation, the dominant narrative was that someone in PMO had to have known who he was, or that they somehow overrode the kinds of screening that the RCMP or CSIS would have put in place for an event like this. That, of course, got blown out of the water when media actually talked to security sources who said that they had no capacity to vet the 700 or so people invited to this event, so there went that theory. And yes, the Atwal thing is bad, and according to an Indo-American journalist that I spoke to about this, that probably set back Indo-Canadian relations by years, so well done MP Sarai. “Senior government officials” are also now pushing the theory that “rogue elements” in India’s government facilitated this, possibly to embarrass Canada for being “soft” on Sikh separatist extremists, so we’ll see if that compounds any damage.
First of all, if you did not do so yesterday, please take the time to read Kevin Carmichael’s look at the trip, and in particular how pack journalism narratives have formed, but he makes very relevant points about the political dynamics and the regional politics of India that the Canadian media is completely ignoring. My Indo-American friend made a few other observations about the coverage that we’re seeing, which is that he’s not actually being treated poorly over there, and it’s more that certain politicians and business leaders don’t want to be associated with members of the Indian Cabinet, which is controversial in large swaths of Indian society. As for the focus on Trudeau’s wardrobe, most of it is coming from the intellectual, international elite of India, who resent outsiders exoticising India, but the fact that Trudeau is allegedly wearing Indo-Canadian designers will garner plenty of positive reaction. She also added that the inside joke is that Indians outside of India have terrible taste, and are over the top and garish, but it’s also related to their own class stratification. Even tweets coming from verified accounts means that they’re coming from the social elite of India, and that journalism and public intellectualism in India, especially in Delhi, is oriented to socialites. So what Trudeau is doing will play incredibly well with many aspects of the stratified society. As for the Atwal issue, there will likely be competing narratives in India between the bureaucratic incompetence that allowed him into the country in the first place, tempered with “gloating over how a first-world country screwed up.” Regardless, I’m glad I reached out to get a different perspective on how this trip is playing out, because I’m not confident in the image being put forward by the Canadian punditocracy.
Meanwhile, back in the Canadian media sphere, Éric Grenier notes that the trip is likely a defensive action to bolster Liberal support in Indo-Canadian-heavy ridings, especially to counter Jagmeet Singh’s arrival on the political scene. Murad Hemmadi notes that the international press seems to have gotten over its crush on Trudeau, while Paul Wells gives a not wholly underserved whacking at the Liberal government over their handling of this trip (though I do note that many of Wells’ points would handily fall into the groupthink that may not actually reflect what will play on the ground in India).