Justin Trudeau’s visit to India suffered another setback when it was revealed a convicted Sikh terrorist was on the invitation list for two engagements with the Canadian prime minister.
Jaspal Atwal a pro-Khalistan separatist campaigning for an independent Sikh homeland in India, was pictured with the PM’s wife, Sophie, at an event in Mumbai on Tuesday and was on the guest list for a dinner in Delhi on Thursday.
The Canadian High Commissioner to India, Nadir Patel, subsequently rescinded the dinner invite to Atwal, but the diplomatic gaffe is the latest unwanted headline in a trip that has seen the Indian government accused of snubbing the Canadian leader.
Despite Canadian diplomats responding by nixing the invitation, the timing of the revelation is problematic for Mr Trudeau, who is due to meet Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, on Friday.
Atwal, a Canadian Sikh based in Canada, was convicted of trying to assassinate Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sondhi while he was on a visit to Vancouver, in 1986. Mr Sondhi was shot twice and survived, but was later killed in India by pro-Khalistan activists.
Mr Trudeau has previously stated that Canada supports only a “unified India” but his close links with the country’s robust Sikh community, among which many pro-Khalistan groups operate, has overshadowed his trip. Atwal was pictured in Mumbai not just with Mrs Trudeau but also the Canadian minister Amarjeet Sohi, part of the official delegation.
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Mr Trudeau visited Punjab, the home state of Sikhs, and was pictured at the Golden Temple where he met with the chief minister, Amarinder Singh – but before his arrival it was uncertain whether the minister would meet him. Mr Singh said he had raised the "Khalistan issue", and had been assured that Canada does not support any separatist movement in India.
Indian media questioned how Atwal got an Indian Visa from the Ministry of External Affairs and why he was cleared to attend official events during the visit.
Mr Modi is known for his exuberant welcomes for some foreign leaders but has yet to meet the Canadian PM, leading to commentators suggesting Mr Trudeau had been given the cold shoulder.
The Canadian High Commission in Delhi has been contacted for comment.