Gurpreet Singh: Justin Trudeau's India itinerary sends sharp message to Hindu fundamentalists

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      Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

      If Justin Trudeau’s visit to Taj Mahal is any indication, it is a slap on the face of Hindu fundamentalists.

      The Canadian prime minister, who is currently on weeklong tour of India, started his journey with a visit to Taj Mahal—a mausoleum built under the command of Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan.

      The world-famous tourist attraction is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India. It's governed by the Hindu right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power with a brute majority in the general elections of 2014.

      The prime minister, Narendra Modi, is the leader of the BJP. It has a reputation of being anti-minority, particularly toward Muslims and Christians.

      The BJP government in UP recently removed Taj Mahal from its state tour guide because it wanted to popularize Hindu pilgrimage sites. BJP supporters continue to look upon the Taj Mahal with contempt because of its links to the Muslim Mogul rulers. Some BJP supporters have gone to the extent of describing it as “a blot on the Indian history”.

      Others claim that the site originally housed a Hindu temple that was razed to build the Taj Mahal.

      For years, the BJP has been spearheading a campaign against old mosques and mausoleums, claiming that these were built by Muslim rulers after Hindu temples were destroyed. Using this argument, Hindu extremists demolished Babri mosque in UP in 1992.

      The chief minister of UP, Swami Adityanath, has already started renaming cities with Muslim names after Hindu icons. He has vowed to build a huge temple at the disputed site of the Babri mosque.

      Such was an impact of the Babri incident that it vitiated the social atmosphere of India.

      In 2002, anti-Muslim massacres were triggered after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Gujarat. The pilgrims were coming back from the site of Babri mosque where a makeshift Hindu temple stands.

      More than 50 passengers died in the mishap, which was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by the BJP government in the state. According to human rights activists and survivors of the pogroms, Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat back then, was complicit in the bloodshed, a claim that he has denied.  

      By choosing to go to the Taj Mahal even without saying much about the continued hounding of Muslims in India, Trudeau has shown that the world outside India admires the ancient structure.

      Trudeau is now scheduled to go to the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, and has already paid a visit to Akshardham Hindu temple in Gujarat.

      He will also visit a famous mosque, the Jama Masjid, and the Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is the oldest church in Delhi.

      All this reflects how much Trudeau cares for the diversity and pluralism of India that is presently under threat from the BJP, which aims to transform India into a Hindu theocracy.

      His itinerary also deflates propaganda that Trudeau only cares for Sikhs, who enjoy strong representation in his cabinet. Supporters of the Hindu right have been attacking Trudeau on social media. They accuse him of pandering to the Sikh community and being soft on Sikh activists who support an armed insurgency for a separate homeland in India.  

      His visit to the centre of Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat also needs to be understood in this context.

      Gandhi. who was the leader of the passive resistance movement against British, was assassinated by a Hindu extremist owing allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). It's an ultra-Hindu nationalist organization of which the BJP is a political wing.

      Modi himself is a member of the RSS.

      Last month was the 70th anniversary of Gandhi’s murder, an act of terrorism that continues to be condoned by several Hindu right wing groups who have become emboldened under Modi.

      A few BJP leaders have stirred controversies by describing his killer, Nathuram Godse, as a patriot, and Gandhi as “irrelevant”.

      Gandhi was killed for standing up against violence against Muslims during the religious partition of India and Pakistan. By paying a visit at Gandhi’s former ashram, Trudeau has made it clear that the slain leader will always be relevant to the world for opposing violence against minorities.

      Whether Trudeau will explicitly take a stand against the BJP’s poor human rights record is hard to predict, considering the pragmatic interest of the Canadian government in strengthening its business relationship with India. But his choice to visit these important landmarks clearly sets him apart from political figures like Modi and Trump who believe in scapegoating minorities for political gain.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.