At a time when the world is grappling with voices of polarization and Islamophobia, and when the ultranationalist rhetoric of several world leaders has done little to mitigate the situation, the rise of the Canadian Sikh man Jagmeet Singh on a slogan of ‘love and courage’ and a vision for an inclusive society has generated much curiosity and interest the world over. In just a span of a few years, the 38-year-old suave former lawyer has taken the Canadian political scene by storm, emerging as a strong rival to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
With his election as the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party on October 1, securing a clear victory with nearly 54 per cent votes, racing way ahead of more experienced contenders, Mr. Singh has become the first non-white to be elected for the top job of a prominent Canadian political party. This makes his rise all the more important. A visibly jubilant Mr. Singh officially launched his campaign to contest the federal election next year. “The run for prime minister begins now,” he tweeted.
The media-savvy Sikh, known for his penchant for colourful turbans and forays in the fashion world, generated a lot of buzz when a video of his mature handling of an angry heckler at a campaign rally in Brampton went viral last month. The white woman, who mistook him for a Muslim, was seen hurling racist invectives at him. But Mr. Singh responded with a compassionate message of love and inclusiveness which won him a lot of accolades. “We believe in love and courage. We believe in an inclusive Canada where no one is left behind. We believe in building a Canada that ensures economic justice for everybody. Do we believe in diversity? Give it a round of applause for diversity,” he had said, responding to the heckler’s outbursts.
Interestingly, Mr. Singh’s ascendancy could be a cause of discomfort for many in New Delhi because of his sharply critical views of the Indian government and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. In 2016, Mr. Singh had moved a motion in the Ontario Assembly to declare the persecution of Sikhs in 1984 as “genocide”. The Indian government had denied him visa in 2013.
Mr. Singh may have won a major victory with his elevation as the leader of the National Democrats – the third largest party in the Canadian parliament – but analysts believe there is still a long way to go. The top priority for Jagmeet Singh will be to rally support for his party that has never held power at the centre. A bigger job is to win over the sceptics who might question his secular credentials given his strong sense of identity as a practising Sikh which might come across as contradictory to many like the white heckler in Brampton.
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