There may be much to celebrate in Jagmeet Singh’s rise in Canadian politics, but there will be plenty of concern in New Delhi after his election as leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
Singh was denied a visa by the Indian government in December 2013. At that time, he was (as he is now) a member of the provincial parliament (MPP) in Ontario. This made him perhaps the first sitting member of a Western legislature to have been barred from travelling to India.
In 2016, he moved a motion in the Ontario assembly seeking to describe the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as “genocide”. A similar motion, brought by a Liberal Party MPP, succeeded this summer and Singh was among those who spoke during the debate, severely criticising the Indian government.
This year, as his leadership campaign progressed, he accused Indian diplomats of trying to sabotage the campaign by exerting pressure on members of the community.
For many of these reasons, he has attracted plenty of support, particularly in his home turf in the Greater Toronto Area, from pro-Khalistan elements. A leading figure among the separatists, Sukhminder Singh Hansra, was present at the hotel ballroom where the NDP leadership race results were announced on Sunday.
Singh’s start in Canadian politics may well be due to these forces. As a publication for his alma mater, York University, noted in a profile on him: “He offered pro bono support to a group protesting a visit to Canada by an Indian trade minister who had persecuted Sikhs.”
He was then a young attorney and the minister concerned was Congress leader Kamal Nath. Those groups were “disappointed” with the “lack of concern” among Canadian politicians and impressed on Singh the need to have representation. Singh was initially reluctant to pursue politics but eventually capitulated and joined the NDP.
That journey has now led him to a position where he is a potential prime minister of Canada. And that’s a scenario that will make many in India uncomfortable.