The recent announcement by Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh to run for the NDP leadership is great news.
A dedicated social justice activist who is known for his advocacy for “fair trade” over free trade in defence of human rights across the world, Singh has become the fifth candidate in the race to become the New Democrats' next leader.
If elected, he could become the first turbaned Sikh prime minister of Canada. Whether that happens or not, only time will tell. But Singh can speak both English and French and has the potential to lead the country.
An MPP from Peel region, he was deputy leader of the Ontario NDP.
Born to immigrant parents from the Indian state of Punjab, he endured racism while growing up in St. John’s and Windsor. His great grandfather, Seva Singh Thikriwala, was a towering figure among revolutionaries who fought against the British occupation of India. He died while fasting against the ill treatment of political prisoners after being interned in jail in 1935.
Singh’s political ideas were clearly shaped both by the legacy of his great grandfather and firsthand experience with racism.
He first got elected as Ontario MPP in 2011 after beginning his career as a criminal defence lawyer. His alternative politics earned him a lot of respect among grassroots activists, especially those belonging to the Sikh community. He has constantly raised the issue of human-right abuses in India. Not only has he been an outspoken voice for political prisoners, but also for victims of the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984.
That year thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered across India following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Thanks to Singh's efforts, the Ontario legislature recently acknowledged the anti-Sikh violence as genocide.
He has also been talking passionately on behalf of so-called untouchables in the caste-ridden Hindu society in India. In a statement against the caste system and to show his solidarity with victims of caste-based oppression, Singh chose not to display his surname of Dhaliwal—which in India often indicates membership in an affluent community of well-to-do landowning farmers.
His activism is not just confined to his own community. He has been speaking out for Muslims, indigenous groups, women, and the LGBT community. He's never pulled his punches while criticizing U.S. president Donald Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
He told Straight that he strongly believes in fair trade and not free trade and thinks it’s important to intervene in a situations of injustice anywhere in the world.
But everyone is not impressed, as he has rubbed apologists of the Indian state the wrong way. Indian agents and their supporters will be keeping an eye on him. At least that is what one of the media reports that appeared on an Indian daily website indicates.
Notably, Singh was denied an Indian visa in 2013 because of his advocacy for the rights of religious minorities in that country. In fact, the attacks on minority communities and untouchables have grown under the right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India. There is a good possibility that the pro-India lobby groups will try their best to defeat him in the leadership race.
Apart from Indian agents, Singh faces a challenge from racists in the alt right who have become emboldened in Canada ever since Trump got elected.
Those who believe that other candidates will do a better job have every right to support them, but there is a need to remain united against bigots who will be deliberately trying to target Singh. Their nefarious designs must be failed for the sake of truth and a just society.