As Election Day approaches, the surge in popularity for New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh is giving anxiety to the Indian establishment and its apologists within the South Asian diaspora in Canada.
The Indian state sees Singh, the first turbaned Sikh leader of any national party in Canada, as a threat to its sovereignty.
Ever since Singh ran for the leadership, there's reason to believe Indian agents in Canada have been trying hard to get him defeated.
Now as the polls are suggesting that the election might result into a minority Liberal government with the balance of power held by New Democrats, they can be expected to apply every tool in their toolbox to bring Conservatives to power through their supporters in predominantly South Asian ridings.
The reason for their hostility to Singh is rooted in his campaign for justice for the victims of the 1984 Sikh genocide.
Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in the fall. In early November, a massacre was engineered by supporters of the slain leader with the help of police.
For years, the Sikh diaspora has been fighting for justice and closure. Singh vehemently participated in the campaign as an MPP in Ontario. This led the Indian government to refuse him a visa to visit the home country of his parents.
The matter did not end there as Singh remains critical of human rights abuses in India. He had refused to meet right-wing Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Canada in 2015.
Modi was chief minister of Gujarat when it was the site of an anti-Muslim massacre in 2002. The violence followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.
Over 50 people died in that incident, which Modi instantly blamed on Muslims, even though one commission of inquiry had found that it was an accident.
Recently, Singh came out with a strong statement against repression of Muslims in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
For this, the pro-India lobby in Canada has repeatedly branded him as a Sikh separatist. This may be partly because he endorses the right to self-determination by all minorities and oppressed groups anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, this narrative has not only been accepted by the right-wing Hindu nationalists in Canada, but also by a section of pro-India leftists. They have decided not to support him in the election, which is obviously going to help Conservatives and, to some extent, the Liberals.
It is a separate matter that the Indian government is also suspicious of the ruling Liberals, whom Indian politicians have been often accused of pandering Sikh separatists in Canada.
For the record, Conservatives have cozy relationship with Modi whom they see as a strong ideological ally in India.
It’s a shame that the Indian establishment has stooped to such levels and isn’t willing to respect the mandate of Canadian citizens, while at the same time patronizing political figures like Tulsi Gabbard across the border.
Much like Singh, Gabbard is also a Democrat and is seeking to run for U.S. president. Many of her positions in terms of domestic politics are seen as progressive, but her allegiance to the Hindu right in India has never come into question.
A practising Hindu, Gabbard is a staunch supporter of Modi and has gone to the extent of justifying violence against Muslims in Gujarat.
When Modi was denied a visa by the U.S. government because of his involvement in the pogrom, Gabbard came to his rescue.
So much so, she has been supported both financially and politically by the followers of a powerful Hindu supremacist organization, the Rashtriya Sawayamsewak Sangh (RSS), of which Modi is a part.
Recently, Gabbard has tried to rationalize the repression of Muslims in Kashmir. A senior RSS leader attended her wedding few years ago and brought with him a personal message from Modi with one Indian diplomat being present.
If the Indian government can give protocol and respect to such a divisive political figure in the U.S., why Singh is being ostracized?
Singh, unlike Gabbard, is of Indian origin and an elected official who could be a future leader of Canada. He has every right to see things differently.
If Gabbard can be pardoned for being supportive of an ideology that is blatantly racist, why not forgive Singh who has only been asking for justice?
Consider some of these contrasting headlines from the Indian press used for the two leaders to understand this hypocrisy.
"Jagmeet Singh’s rise in Canadian politics could be of concern in India" and "Jagmeet Singh faces criticism for pushing Canada’s parliament to give ‘genocide’ tag to 1984 riots" versus "First Hindu lawmaker in US Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, to officially launch 2020 White House campaign on February 2"
Like it or not, this prejudice has a lot to do with Singh belonging to a minority that makes up merely two percent of India's population, whereas Gabbard is the poster girl of the Hindu right.
This showcases how India remains a majoritarian Hindu state under the garb of secularism and democracy.
It’s time to defeat the nefarious designs of RSS and its followers in Canada on the election day by giving Singh all the support he deserves. This is not to suggest following him blindly, but at least be considerate about the inconvenient truth of him being a marked man.
It also remains important to recognize that he is a victim of foreign interference because of his identity and political beliefs.