Canadas first Cabinet minister of Indian origin, Herb Dhaliwal, says the focus of the on-going visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India has been derailed by the Khalistan issue.
"It is very unfortunate that the media in India has overblown this Khalistan issue. This has shifted the focus away from trade -- which is what the two countries should be discussing," Dhaliwal, who in 1993 became the first Indian to be elected as an MP in the Western world, told IANS.
Dhaliwal, who served as Canada's Minister for Revenue and Natural Resources from 1997 to 2003, said the sticking issue between the two countries is "about human rights and not Khalistan".
He said, "When I was the Cabinet minister, I had met Prime Ministers (I.K.) Gujral, Manmohan Singh and (A.B.) Vajpayee and raised the issue of punishment for those behind the 1984 riots. I had told them it is about human rights and they had no objection."
Dhaliwal said the vast majority of Sikhs in Canada have nothing to do with Khalistan. All they want is that human rights must be respected and the culprits behind the 1984 killings should be brought to justice.
"There is only a very small proportion (of Sikhs) in Canada which is blowing up the issue of Khalistan for their own purposes. This issue is about human rights," said Dhaliwal, who was instrumental in the opening of the Canadian consulate in Chandigarh in 2003.
About Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh's charges against two Sikh ministers in Trudeau's cabinet, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, as being Khalistani supporters and denial of visa to him by Canada, Dhaliwal hoped that Trudeau will discuss these issues with him.
About denial of Canadian visa to Amarinder Singh in 2016, he said, "It was the result of some misunderstanding at the bureaucratic or some other level. It shouldn't have happened. Canada should apologise to Amarinder Singh for this error."
Urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trudeau not to let this issue divert their focus from trade, Dhaliwal said the economic interests of India and Canada are complementary.
"Canada is rich in oil and gas and we can help meet the energy security demands of India's fast-growing economy. We can also be a major supplier of agricultural products for India."
Despite all the issues between the two countries, Dhaliwal said, "The huge inflow of Indian students into Canada and direct air connections are big pluses which will help build future relationships. I think this is an important development which people should emphasise."