After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his family, and a delegation of cabinet ministers touched down at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport on Saturday for a week-long state visit, observers were surprised to see the visiting dignitaries were not given a red carpet welcome by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi's absence from the welcoming party, which consisted of Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh and Indian Ambassador to Canada Vikas Swarup, had publications all over the world asking whether the move was intended to be a snub to the visiting head of state.
It must be noted that Modi was in Delhi at the time of Trudeau's arrival, and today (Monday) the Canadian PM will be paying a visit to Gujarat, the Indian PM's home state, where he will visit the Sabarmati Ashram and the Akshardham Temple. Modi, more often than not, escorts dignitaries visiting Gujarat.
India's NDTV noted that Modi had accompanied other world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, during their visits. Modi once even broke protocol to greet a United Arab Emirates crown prince at the airport.
A Canadian journalist at the Toronto Sun, Candice Malcolm, pointed out the stark difference in how other visiting dignitaries were greeted by Modi by sharing photos of world leaders' visits to India.
The Indian government appears to have taken notice of speculation, and some government sources quoted by NDTV have dismissed the reports, saying it is not necessary that PM Modi accompany visiting dignitaries everywhere.
BBC reported that India's former high commissioner to Canada, Vishnu Prakash, denied that Trudeau was being snubbed and said that India had closely followed diplomatic protocol when receiving him.
"According to protocol, it is a cabinet minister who receives a visiting foreign leader, and this courtesy was extended to Mr Trudeau," Prakash told BBC, adding that although Modi had in the past broken protocol to greet foreign leaders, he could not be expected to do so each time there was a visitor to India.
"It's not like the prime minister is not going to meet him at all. There is a ceremonial welcome that will be held for him on February 23 and he will meet him there," he added.
Modi and Trudeau are set to meet to discuss bilateral relations during "wide-ranging talks" on Friday.
Reasons for 'snub'
One of the reasons behind the snub, it is speculated, could be the Indian government's concerns over Sikh separatists in Canada and Trudeau's perceived support to the Khalistan movement, Indian media reported. Trudeau once famously remarked that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than Modi did in his.
Columnist and economist Vivek Dehejia, while speaking to BBC, said: "Yes, this is a major snub. The fact that a junior minister was sent to receive Mr Trudeau and his family is most definitely a snub."
Dehejia pointed out in the BBC report that the reason behind the lukewarm reception could be that several members of Trudeau's cabinet are allegedly linked to the Sikh Khalistan separatist movement, which seeks an independent Sikh homeland in Indian Punjab.
However, former diplomat Kanwal Sibal, while speaking to BBC, said that it would be politically and professionally "wrong" for India to kickstart Trudeau's week-long state visit with the "prejudice" of Khalistan, when Delhi could utilise the opportunity to raise India's concerns about Khalistan with the Canadian PM.
He added that India-Canada ties had improved "dramatically" in recent years, with the signing of a nuclear deal which showed they had "common interests" now.
The Hindustan Times in the run-up to Trudeau's arrival, published a report titled: "India to raise concerns on Sikh radicals during Justin Trudeau’s visit".
The report references a recent meeting in Delhi between the national security advisers (NSAs) of both countries ─ an apparent follow-up to a January meeting between their deputy NSAs ─ during which sources cited by HT believe India raised concerns over the activities of Sikh supporters of the Khalistan movement in Canada.
HT goes on to say that Trudeau is expected to affirm his government's belief in a "strong and united" India during his visit as acknowledgement of these concerns.
It is pertinent to mention that Trudeau has a number of speaking engagements in India, and will also be paying a visit to the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar, one of the holiest Sikh sites in the world. His trip is being viewed as a kind of outreach to the 1.4 million citizens of Indian-origin settled in Canada.