India’s Canadian mistake

It doesn’t really matter whether the Modi government sought to snub Justin Trudeau or not. The optics have been such that the impression that he has been cold-shouldered has now been taken to be a fact. This is clearly an occasion when perception matters more than reality. Which means even if it didn’t snub Trudeau – and I’m prepared to believe it did not mean to – it’s not only accused of doing so but convicted as well.

The worst part is Justin Trudeau is aware of this. Even if he doesn’t feel snubbed he knows that many Indians believe he has been and that image has been forcefully communicated to his own country. So, whatever the truth, he could feel belittled even if he hasn’t been. All of which means this is a sad and sorry tale that does neither party any good.

However, today I want to look at the facts and see what they tell us. Do they suggest Trudeau was made to feel less than welcome? Whether intentionally or otherwise, the answer could be arguably yes.

That the Prime Minister wasn’t present at the airport to welcome Trudeau is irrelevant but what isn’t is the level at which the government was represented. A full-fledged cabinet minister was not present. Instead, the government was represented by a mere minister of state and a pretty unknown one at that, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Given that Trudeau was coming for a week and we need to improve our relations with Canada would it not have been wiser for the foreign minister to welcome him?

If this was a slight, there were others to follow. On his visits to Agra and Ahmedabad, the chief ministers of UP and Gujarat made no effort to meet him. No doubt they were otherwise preoccupied but Trudeau is a visiting prime minister and not just the most recent Canadian tourist. The fact that they were recently in attendance on Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, when he visited the same cities, would have been known to the Canadians and, in particular, their media. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing was Prime Minister Modi’s failure to tweet a welcome for Justin Trudeau when he arrived. But was it a failure? Surely not? It has to be deliberate. These things don’t just happen by accident. They are intended. And there was a message behind it, may be not crystal clear but suggestive. But then that’s more powerful because it can be interpreted in many ways.

However, one interpretation is hard to set aside. For a prime minister who tweets so frequently and has made a weapon of his effusive hugs this silence could speak volumes to Canadians. And it is.

The worst part is none of this was necessary. The differences we have with Canada should have been left for the formal discussions. That is where they are best addressed. But if you’ve invited someone to your home it behooves the host to ensure he’s received graciously. Once an impression to the contrary is created, repeated and spread many will believe you’ve treated your guest badly. This is very far removed from Atithi Devo Bhava. I fear the Trudeaus will go home believing they were an exception to this much-touted commitment.

Finally, I doubt if our welcome will encourage Trudeau to mend his allegedly pro-Khalistan ways in the long run. Yet if our hospitality had been more gracious and less formal, it might have been easier to persuade him. We seem to have overlooked a simple lesson: Never hurt a man whose thinking you want to change.

Article Source: Hindustan Times



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