Chandigarh, Punjab: As a mark of respect and solidarity to the 1.2 million-strong Punjabi community, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, finally agreed to make changes in his itinerary and included Amritsar by dropping his proposed visit to Hyderabad as a part of his first-ever visit to India.
The Tribune had broken the story about his impending visit to India by mentioning that Canadian Prime Ministers’ Office was under pressure from the pro-Punjab Indian lobby to include Amritsar in his programme.
Subsequent to publication of this story, some ethnic radio stations, including Radio India, held a talk show where the Indian-Canadian community was vociferous in urging the Prime Minister to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar on his maiden visit to India.
Harper headed for India after attending APEC 2009 in Singapore today. This would be his first visit to the world’s largest democracy not only as the Prime Minister but as an individual, sources in the PMO confirmed.
Harper, who is accompanied by a dozen Canadian journalists and staff besides the Indo-Canadian Tory MP from Alberta, Deepak Oberoi, will be later joined by other Indo-Canadian MPs in Mumbai, his first stopover in India.
Neena Grewal and her husband and three-time MP Gurmant Grewal besides Tim Uppal are expected to receive him in India. Gurmant Grewal, who did not contest the last elections to House of Commons, is the only non-sitting MP, accompanying the Canadian Prime Minister.
From Mumbai, the Canadian delegation proceeds to Delhi and later Amritsar. In New Delhi, the Canadian PM is expected to call on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and other senior officials to discuss issues of bilateral cooperation.
During the 26-hour journey to Singapore, including halts at the Alaska and Japan airports, Harper did not have any contact with the mediapersons accompanying him. Insiders point out that the Canadian Prime Minister is perhaps working on his book on ice hockey during air travel. However, he addressed the mediapersons on separate occasions during his stay in Singapore with journalists being allowed to ask a limited number of questions.
Among the representatives of ethnic media on board are Ajit Jain, editor of India Abroad, Gurpreet Singh from Radio India and T. Raghavan Paranchothy from Tamil Vision TV and Canadian Multicultural Radio.