Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will not attend a Canada-hosted virtual summit of foreign ministers to discuss common global strategy for the coronavirus pandemic in a show of displeasure over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments on the ongoing Indian farmers’ protests, multiple Indian media outlets reported on Monday.
Although the official reason provided to Canada for Jaishankar's unavailability is a scheduling clash, local media reports suggest the external affairs minister's absence from the summit is a deliberate snub by India to express its displeasure over remarks by the Canadian prime minister.
Trudeau, speaking to the Indian community last week in Canada, said that he was concerned about the farmers, most of them from the Sikh-dominated state of Indian Punjab, camped out on the outskirts of Delhi in a protest against farm reforms.
"I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognising the news coming out of India about the protests by farmers. The situation is concerning, and we are all very worried about family and friends. I know that’s the reality for many of you," he had said.
That prompted a rebuke from India's foreign ministry, which termed these remarks as "unwarranted [interference], especially when pertaining to internal affairs of a democratic country".
This was later followed up by a formal protest with Canada’s ambassador to India where he was told the comments were an interference in its domestic affairs and would seriously hurt bilateral ties.
India and Canada have warm ties, but in recent years there has been concern in India that some Sikh leaders in Canada have ties to separatist groups hostile to India.
Canada is home to an influential Sikh community and Indian leaders say there are some fringe groups there that are still sympathetic to the cause of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan, carved out of India.
The Indian foreign ministry said comments made by Trudeau and other leaders had emboldened radical groups and they were a risk to its diplomatic staff based in Canada.
“We expect the Canadian government to ensure the fullest security of Indian diplomatic personnel and its political leaders to refrain from pronouncements that legitimise extremist activism,” it said.