One of the MPs of the Liberal government has leveled false charges to his own party to have been pandering Sikh separatists, threatening Canada’s relations with India in the process
Ramesh Sangha, who represents Ontario’s Brampton Centre riding, delivered the surprising critique of his caucus colleagues during a recent Punjabi-language television interview.
His comments revive an issue that has been an irritant for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more than two years, flaring up during his ill-fated tour of India last year.
Indian officials have previously accused the Liberals of trying to win favour with Canadians pushing for an independent Sikh homeland — known as Khalistan — in the Punjab region of India. Punjab’s state governor even charged that Trudeau’s four Sikh cabinet ministers are Khalistanis. They have strenuously denied the accusation.
It is less expected to hear such complaints from a member of the government itself — two months before a federal election.
“There is no doubt, there cannot be two opinions that the Liberal party is pandering (to) Khalistan supporters,” Sangha said on 5AAB, a Punjabi-language channel based in Mississauga, Ont. “One thing is for sure, when we raise this issue, it will raise an anti-India slogan or demand the division of India on some ground. In that, ultimately our relations, the Canada-India relationship will certainly develop cracks.”
The interviewer asked if he thought the party had a “soft corner” for Khalistanis. “It does,” he responded.
But Sangha seemed to place the blame on those Sikh Canadian cabinet ministers and other MPs, noting that Trudeau himself has made clear he supports the status quo in India.
A statement from Trudeau’s office did not address Sangha’s remarks directly, but firmly denied the government was sympathetic to the Khalistani movement.
“Canada’s position on a united India is unwavering and we are unanimous as a government on this issue,” said the statement. “Canadians have the right to freedom of expression and speech and they have the right to peacefully express their views.”
Sikh-Indian tensions have played an over-sized role in Canadian politics in recent years, thanks in part to the large concentrations of electorally active Sikh-Canadians in several swing ridings in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. Almost all those constituencies voted Liberal in the 2015 election.
The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has about Trudeau and other Liberals appearing at Sikh-community gatherings that also featured tributes to alleged terrorists, and objected to a 2017 resolution passed by the then Liberal-dominated Ontario legislature that declared a 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India a “genocide.”