NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has once again become a target of hate as Canadians head toward federal election.
A white nationalist openly told him to cut off his turban in Montreal so he would look like a Canadian. And two right-wing People’s Party of Canada candidates tweeted an offensive cartoon of Singh with a bomb tucked into his turban.
Singh, who is the first turbaned Sikh to become a leader of any national party in Canada, has been heckled in the past by a white woman fearing the imposition of Sharia law in Canada.
Following the incident in Montreal, political leaders of South Asian ancestry came to his defence.
Among them were Liberal candidate and Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, as well as Neelam Brar, a Liberal candidate running against Singh in Burnaby South.
Sajjan made history by becoming the first turbaned Sikh defence minister in Canada.
It's great that Sajjan and Brar have shown openness by expressing their solidarity with Singh.
However, there has been silence over the vilification of the NDP leader by a Surrey-based Hindu activist with allegiance to the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India.
Parshotam Goel, who is associated with the Laxminarayan Hindu temple in Surrey, described Singh as “mentally retarded” for raising his voice in support of the people of Kashmir during a press conference held on August 15.
Goel is a prominent supporter of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. His government has turned Kashmir into an open-air jail after revoking special status given to the state.
This disputed area of northwestern India has been turned into a centrally governed union territory without any dialogue with local leaders.
This is despite India being seen internationally as the world’s largest democracy.
Phones and Internet service aren’t working, as the region remains cut off from the rest of the country, which claims Kashmir as an integral part.
Kashmiri politicians have been detained, while physical violence is being inflicted on dissidents with impunity.
Modi and his supporters claim that this is necessary to contain terrorism and a violent struggle for an independent Kashmir.
They have gone to the extent of labelling anyone who criticizes such an undemocratic move as "anti-national".
Notably, Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India. The BJP is trying to scapegoat Muslims to polarize the Hindu majority all across the country.
Even otherwise, attacks on religious minorities have grown in India since Modi became prime minister in 2014.
The Laxminarayan Hindu temple that welcomed Modi in 2015 hosted a news conference in August to support the Indian government’s decision on Kashmir.
At this event, Goel smeared Singh for making a strong statement against the repression of Kashmiri people.
No South Asian elected officials, including NDP MLAs in Surrey, reacted to this in the days that followed.
It isn’t surprising though, as some of the NDP MLAs are close to the Indian consulate and the group known as Friends of India. They've been frequently seen at public events where Goel and agents of the Indian government were present.
These politicians also unashamedly participated in a recent series of events organized and sponsored by the Indian consulate. Yet they remained away from rallies and demonstrations held in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
All of this suggests how deeply the pro-India lobby has entenched itself in the Canadian political system.
It is easy to denounce the racist act of one individual, but when it comes to standing up against a state that openly condones violence against minorities, these politicians have failed completely.
In comparison to the man on the street in Montreal who humiliated Singh, Goel can be seen as much powerful and influential, given his connections to the temple and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It's a right-wing Hindu nationalist volunteer group that's seen as a parent of the BJP.
The silence around Goel's insult of a national Canadian leader needs to be broken, considering that the BJP has an agenda to turn India into a Hindu theocracy and that attacks on religious minorities have grown under the watch of Modi.
Perhaps, those concerned about growing populism and bigotry in Canada need to do some research.