Trudeau’s visit could possibly end up intensifying the problem, and turn out to be “the worst diplomatic disaster in India since Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1997”. says analyst C. Raja Mohan in his column in the Indian Express.
What happened in 1997?
The India and Pakistan tour in October 1997 was the British Queen’s first public engagement since Princess Diana’s funeral, The British Queen planned to mark the 50-year-anniversary of Independence of the two countries. The newly formed Labour government was eager to smooth sensitivities over the colonial legacy, and the Queen included a visit to Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the massacre in April 1919.
Due Labour Party, the UK’s Kashmir policy at the time was very sympathetic to the idea of ‘self-determination’ in the region and supported a plebiscite in Kashmir, which was directly opposite to the Indian stance on Kashmir.
The Queen visited Pakistan first, which is where the first gaffe was committed. Robin Cook, the new Labour foreign secretary, reportedly told Pakistani journalists informally that Britain would “take up the issue of Kashmir with India” and help mediate the conflict.
Cook’s comments sparked outrage in India. Then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who was in Egypt at the time, responded in anger: he called Britain a “third-rate power” at a conference of intellectuals in Cairo.
The Queen’s arrival in India was faced by Sikh demonstrations in central Delhi against “the British army’s ban on the wearing of turbans”. On 13 October, the Queen referenced the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in a state banquet address. “It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past — Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example,” Queen said. Many parties did not think that it was a fair apology, while other parties thought her statement was contrived, the New York Times reported.
I.K. Gujral had said earlier that year that the royal party need not even visit Amritsar.
“The Queen is doing everything she can to make India like her. But so far it does not seem to be working,” The Independent reported on 13 October, 1997.
It didn’t work for the rest of her trip, either.
On the next day, 14 October, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went to Amritsar to pay obeisance at Jallianwala Bagh, where she placed a wreath at the memorial.
The next day, the Queen woke up to angry Indian headlines back in Delhi. The Hindu said there had been a “whiff of the Raj”, while The Indian Express said “the colonial attitude lingers on”.
The next leg of the tour was in South India, where the royal contingent was met with lukewarm responses, compared to previous visits.
A fight between reporters broke out at the Chennai airport as the royal aircraft prepared to take off, and was unfairly blamed on the Chennai Police. Frontline reported that the fight was instigated by a photographer at The Daily Telegraph who “evidently believed white people, unlike ‘natives’, do not need security permits”.
All in all, the royal visit in 1997 seemed jinxed before the Queen even landed on Indian soil. The same sense of foreboding is hanging over Justin Trudeau’s visit. The Canadian PM who is known for his humanitarian and soft-hearted nature finds no hospitality from the PM of India and analysts say, it could possibly end up intensifying the problem, and turn out to be “the worst diplomatic disaster in India since the Visit of Queen Elizabeth’s in 1997.