CHANDIGARH, India — Prime Minister Stephen Harper played politics to the half-million Sikhs back home in Canada with photo ops Wednesday at one of the holiest of Sikh temples.
But while Harper was currying favour with Sikh voters in Canada, the government of India expressed its anxiety this week that Canada doesn't do enough to clamp down on Sikh terrorists and their supporters in Canada who are trying to establish a separate Sikh state — Khalistan — based in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.
"There [is an] area of great concern for us, which was the revival of anti-India rhetoric in Canada," India's junior foreign affairs minister Preneet Kaur, who is from Punjab, told Harper when the two met in New Delhi earlier in the week. "We have, after very hard times, got a good situation of peace and progress back in Punjab and in India and we would like that to continue, so it does concern us. I think we do appreciate very much that you have been very forthright and open about your stand on this. And I think just to mention it to you so that we continue our common fight against terrorism."
The worst act of terrorism in Canadian history — the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985 — was perpetrated by Sikh terrorists. And in India in 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was machine-gunned to death by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
Thirty years later in Canada, there are still some Sikh parades and festivals where dead Sikh terrorists are celebrated as martyrs.
"I think the Indian government knows our position. We're aware of the challenges and we'll keep working on those things," Harper said Wednesday in Anandpur Sahib, a town about 80 km north of here known as The Holy City of Bliss among Sikhs.
During his meeting with Kaur, Harper affirmed that Canada is "a very strong supporter of a united India."
Still, in Anandpur Sahib on Wednesday, Harper participated in two events that seemed clearly aimed at boosting his popularity among Sikh Canadians. In bare feet and with his head covered as per Sikh custom, Harper toured the Gurdwara Shi Keshgarh Sahib. It was founded in 1665 and is considered the second holiest Sikh temple in the world.
The holiest is The Golden Temple in Amritsar, located near here, which Harper visited in 2009.
While in Anandpur Sahib, Harper also visited the Virasat-e-Khalsa, also known as the Khalsa Heritage Centre, a sprawling and majestic sandstone facility designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, which opened in 2011.
Harper paused for lots of pictures at both sites taken by more than a dozen photographers from local Punjab news organizations as well as a group of Indo-Canadian journalists travelling with Harper.
Several Indo-Canadian Conservative MPs accompanied Harper on the visit including Edmonton's Tim Uppal and Brampton's Parm Gill. Both Uppal and Gill are also Sikh.