India’s foreign minister will skip a Canada-led coronavirus meeting after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued comments in support of ongoing farmer protests in India, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Monday.
Representatives for Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar say “scheduling issues” will prevent the minister from attending the Canada-hosted virtual meeting to discuss global solutions to the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple Indian media reports suggest that the real reason for his absence may be Trudeau’s comments last week in support of protests against agricultural reforms passed by the Indian Congress in September.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped out on the outskirts of the Indian national capital, New Delhi, since November 25 to protest the three new laws, which they say undermine their traditional labor and farm price protections. A majority of the farmers have traveled to the capital from the Sikh-dominated Indian state of Punjab.
Trudeau expressed support for the farmers’ protests on December 1 while speaking at a virtual event honoring the birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognizing 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 told a largely Indian-Canadian audience.
“Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protestors,” the prime minister stated, adding that his administration had “reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”
India’s foreign ministry responded to Trudeau’s remarks almost immediately.
“We’ve seen some ill-informed comments by Canadian leaders relating to farmers in India,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on December 1.
“These are unwarranted especially when pertaining to [the] internal affairs of a democratic country,” he added.
India’s foreign ministry on December 4 summoned Canada’s top diplomat in the country in a further show of protest against Trudeau’s remarks.
“These comments have encouraged gatherings of extremist activities in front of our High Commission and Consulates in Canada that raise issues of safety and security,” India’s MEA said in a press release.
“We expect the Canadian government to ensure the fullest security of Indian diplomatic personnel and its political leaders to refrain from pronouncements that legitimize extremist activism,” the statement read.
The press release further indicated that “such actions, if continued, would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada.”
Canada is home to an influential Sikh community that has increased its membership in the country’s legislature in recent years. Indian leaders claim the outsized political power of Sikhs in Canada has led to the support of “some fringe groups there … sympathetic to the cause of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan, carved out of India,” according to Dawn.