Vancouver: Long before Justin Trudeau became Canada’s Prime Minister and sprang to the limelight as the world’s latest political heartthrob, a video circulated on the “Youbiqutous” YouTube of him dancing the bhangra at an Indian community event in Canada, jocularly referred among accent snobs by its Punjabi name “Kannedda”. The dance, to the song “Dil Bole Hadappa”, at an event organized by the India-Canada Association of Montreal when the young politician was still an MP, also earned him the moniker “Justin Singh Trudeau”.
So it came as no surprise when Prime Minister Trudeau inducted four Sikhs in his 30-member cabinet soon after coming to office last year given his comfort level with the community. This week, the affable Canadian leader pointedly mentioned the fact at a public engagement in Washington DC during a state visit, going as far as boasting (in a playful way), “I have more Sikhs in my cabinet than Modi does.”
Indeed, the Modi cabinet currently has only two Sikh ministers — Maneka Gandhi (who is Sikh by birth) and Harsimrat Kaur Badal. But India has done one better overall — with a Sikh Prime Minister among the 15 who have occupied the office so far. Sikhs constitute about 2 per cent of India’s population; Canada is about the same, but in an overall population of 36 million.
Whether it was intended to tease India or twit the United States, which has had a spotty record with Sikhs in the post 9/11 days, Trudeau succeeded in reminding the world that he has managed to compose the almost perfectly representative cabinet, notwithstanding the (over) weightage of Sikhs: one that he says “looks just like Canada.” As much as the Sikh element in the cabinet is the gender balance — it has 15 men and 15 women. Arguably, no country in the world has managed that.
“It’s 2015 (that’s why),” Trudeau replied crisply when he was asked about it, earning him universal admiration, particularly from women.
Sikhs in the Trudeau cabinet include Harjit Singh Sajjan, who is the defense minister; Amarjeet Sohi, minister of infrastructure and communities; Bardish Chagger, minister of small business and tourism and Navdeep Bains, minister of science and economic development.
Sajjan and Bains are turbaned Sikhs, and the fact that a bearded, turbaned Sikh heads the military of a western country, an ally and neighbor of the United States, is a matter of pride for many Sikhs, who are having a rough time South of the border.
A Sikh heading the Canadian military should be of no surprise either. The first Sikh settler in Canada is said to be Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major in the British India Army, who arrived in Vancouver on board Empress of India in 1897.