Canada's Indian-origin Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan arrived in India for a seven-day visit yesterday, ostensibly to explore ways to deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had stirred up a furor by stating in public that Sajjan had ‘Khalistani ties’.
Sajjan is scheduled to attend wide-ranging talks with Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on a range of bilateral issues, particularly on ramping up defence and security ties.
"I look forward to my first trip to India since becoming Canada's Minister of National Defence. This visit will further strengthen Canada and India's bilateral defence cooperation, and expand our partnership in the security and defence sectors," he had said on Twitter, before leaving for India.
Sajjan will also travel to Amritsar, Chandigarh and Mumbai. In Punjab, Sajjan will visit the Golden Temple and civil society organisations, while in Chandigarh, he will inaugurate the new office of the Consulate-General of Canada. In Mumbai, he is due to visit the Mumbai Port, and meet several business and industry leaders.
Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel said there is untapped potential in further strengthen ties between India and Canada and Sajjan's visit provide the opportunity to delve into them.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has refused to meet Sajjan, alleging that the Canadian Minister is a "Khalistani sympathiser".
Sajjan avoided responding to the remark, as did the Canadian media, particularly those with a Punjab connection.
The Sikhs’ highest deliberative body, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), has decided to honour the visiting dignitary during his visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar on April 20.
“It will be a proud moment for all Sikhs in Punjab and across the globe when the SGPC will honour the Canadian minister at the Golden Temple,” SGPC president Kirpal Singh Badungar told the media in Patiala on Sunday.
On Amarinder’s statement, Badungar said, “It’s a political view. But SGPC is a religious body and will stick to its tradition of honouring dignitaries who visit the Golden Temple.”
Meanwhile, radical outfit Damdami Taksal has also decided to honour the Canadian minister during his visit.
Sajjan was born at Bombeli village in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab. He emigrated to Canada in 1976 with his parents when he was five. He is a member of Canada’s Liberal Party and was sworn in minister of national defence in the federal cabinet of Justin Trudeau in 2015. He represents the riding of Vancouver South.
Sajjan is a combat veteran who served in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan three times, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces. He received several military honours, including the Meritorious Service Medal in 2013.
Sajjan was a police officer with the Vancouver Police Department for 11 years.