In the Globalized World, Even Internationally, All Politics is Local & Personal

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

I read with anxiety Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s warnings to the Canadian truck drivers’ mostly peaceful protest against the Covid vaccination, blocking truck traffic between the 2000-mile-long US and Canada border. These trucks provide smooth supply chains and logistical support between Canada, US, and even Mexico. They deliver parts for factories and move finished goods, industrial machinery, large volumes of agri and animal products, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and vital components for the auto and aerospace industries. Delivery delays from this protest were choking the already snarled post-Covid global supply chain   costing billions of dollars to the economy. Consider this: In 2020 Canadian merchandise export to the US was $375 billion (70% of its total exports) and import from the US was $349 billion (62% of its total imports). And over 55% of  US-Canadian merchandise moves in trucks.

So, Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party Canadian Prime minister, with the truckers only a few days into their protest, assumed emergency powers to manage the strike. The last time this happened was when his father Pierre Trudeau declared an emergency fifty years ago during the violent protests (“terrorism”) by Quebecois.

Justin Trudeau’s warnings to the weeks-long truckers protest was stern. “It’s high time that these [striking truckers] illegal and dangerous activities stop… … They are a threat to our economy and our relationship with trading partners. They are a threat to public safety.” His other words of warning: “Blockages, illegal demonstrations are unacceptable, and are negatively impacting businesses and manufacturers. We must do everything to bring them to an end.” 

“If you joined the protests because you’re tired of COVID, you now need to understand that you’re breaking laws. The consequences are becoming more and more severe. You don’t want to end up losing your license, end up with a criminal record, which will impact your job, your livelihood, even your ability to travel internationally, including to the U.S.”

Then, he leaned on President Joe Biden for support: “President Biden and I both agree that for the security of people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue,” Trudeau said. “So make no mistake, the border cannot and will not remain closed… Canada’s banks are governed by laws … that ensure funds cannot be used for criminal or illegal activity, and these blockades are illegal…” Trudeau said he updated U.S. President Joe Biden on the situation, including discussing the influences of U.S. right-wing citizens and foreign money funding this illegal activity.

The same Trudeau, last year, when farmers’ protests in New Delhi went on for over a year led mostly by Punjabi farmers with financial and political support from the active Canadian Punjabi diaspora, addressed the Sikhs on the Guru Poornima day with these words:

“I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognizing the news coming from India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning. We are all very worried about family and friends… Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters. We believe in the process of dialogue. We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns. This is a moment for all of us to pull together.”

The Indian farmers protest was against the Modi government’s efforts to bring market reforms in the farming sector by giving additional options for farmers to sell their produce to whomever they want to sell, while a) preserving the minimum support price for their products guaranteed by the government, and b) retaining their option to sell their products to existing cartels in Punjab now controlling the grain market for over 60 years. 

The Trudeauvian hypocrisy of supporting the year-long Indian farmers’ agitation blocking national highways around New Delhi in the middle of the Covid pandemic led by the Punjabi farm lobby on the one hand, while assuming emergency powers to quell the mostly peaceful just week-long protest of Canadian truckers is astounding. Remember, Justin, like his father, Pierre Trudeau, is the leader of the Liberal Party in Canada.

Trudeau’s political address to the Sikh’s in Canada on a religious festival (Guru Poornima Day), was not just out of  political compulsion, with 17 MPs of Indian origin (many of them Sikhs) in his parliament, and four Indian-origin ministers (three of them Sikhs) in his cabinet.

Trudeau’s support for the farmers protest in India orchestrated by farmers from Punjab has a larger Canadian context.  Today, of the over 300,000 truck drivers in Canada, nearly 20% are of Indian origin, more specifically, Sikhs. By comparison, in 1995, only 2% of the truck drivers in Canada were from the Indian sub-continent. In and around Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia, Sikhs account for nearly 50% of truck drivers.

And trucking being a lifeline for trade between Canada and the US, it is no wonder that Trudeau was trying to please not only the Sikh members in his cabinet and in the parliament, but also the nearly 60,000 Sikh truck drivers and many Sikh owners of trucking companies. The Sikhs are a vital link sustaining the Canadian economy. Incidentally, Punjabi-style dhabas are coming up in many truck stops across Canada and the US.

Trudeau was also trying to placate the 500,000 Canadian Sikhs, who are 50% of the  Canada’s 1,000,000 people of Indian origin. In Canada’s population of 35 million, Indians are 3%, with Sikhs comprising of  1.5%. Remember, the population of Mumbai Metro area is over 20 million.

Pandering to his domestic Sikh constituency aside, there is no political or economic consequence for Trudeau in supporting the Indian farmers strike internationally. In the big scheme of things, Canada is a small potato for India. India’s foreign trade in 2019 is over $320 billion exports and $420 billion in imports, of which trade with Canada is paltry. Exports to Canada is only $2.9 billion and imports from Canada, $3.9 billion. For Canada too, trade with India is a small. The total volume of Canadian exports is $390 billion, and imports, $420 billion. Besides, Canada has no political gravitas internationally, being a weak second-tier partner in the Western alliance. In North America, the behemoth US dwarfs Canada in every measure.

This is perhaps why India’s foreign policy establishment ignored Justin Trudeau’s hifalutin support of the Indian farmers strike as his pandering to his Canadian Sikh constituency, purely for his domestic consumption. However, for Indians, Trudeau’s iron-fist way of managing the Canadian truckers’ strike brought his hypocrisy into sharp relief.

In 1996, Ralph Wright authored the book All Politics is Personal, and in 1997, Tip O’Neill, the famous Speaker of the US House of Representatives authored the book, All Politics is Local in the “local” US context. These books came out before the advent of social media. But with social media bringing everything into the open globally, seeing Justin’s Trudeau’s hypocrisy, one can say, even in international politics, All politics is personal & all politics is local as well.

An ironic end note:  Many writers bearing Indian names were berating the Modi government in the American media for not negotiating with the farmers strike leaders last year. However, not one of them, to the best of my knowledge, had anything to say on Liberal Party Trudeau’s iron-fist tactics to break the mostly peaceful truckers strike in Canada. That is a fine example of the hypocrisy of  left-leaning Indian and Indian-origin intellectuals among social and political scientists.  ∎


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