The Disney prince of Western Democracy, Justin Trudeau, a man who’s jawline is so sharp you could prepare a salad with it, has been enduring what seems to have been a pretty miserable week in India. He was snubbed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who didn’t meet with him, sending his agriculture minister instead) and accidentally inviting a man convicted of attempting to assassinate a cabinet minister to dinner.
And all the while, much as been made of the fact the he’s been dressing up in all manner of traditional Indian finery, multicoloured sherwanis and kurtas — eliciting a range of responses from amused to genuinely annoyed: Why, a few people fairly asked, are Trudeau and his wife Sophie dressed in wedding outfits outside that Hindu Temple?
But is there more to it than a beautiful fool playing a problematic dress up?
Dr Dolly Kikon, a lecturer at the School of Social and Political Sciences a the University of Melbourne, says Trudeau’s choices on his trip have actually been very significant.
“As much as some people think he’s perhaps making a mockery, or trying too hard, it’s worth looking closer and what he’s doing,” she said. “He went to the Golden Temple in Punjab, a lot of world leaders don’t”.
The Golden Temple, or Darbar Sahib, is one of the more sacred places in Sikhism. There is a large Sikh population in Canada, while the World Sikh Organisation have argued the group is marginalised, particularly since the election of Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party. Trudeau has joked previously that his ministry has more Sikhs in it that Modi’s.
“The wardrobe is a part of that, just a small part,” she says. “But I think it’s a good thing, and it’s worth mentioning that while the government may have slightly snubbed him, he’s been warmly received in the street.”
It is worth contrasting this reception with that extended to Donald Trump Jnr on his recent trip to India.
“I don’t want to be glib but you can see the poorest of the poor and there is still a smile on a face. It is a different spirit than that which you see in other parts of the world, and I think there is something unique about that,” before adding with a sudden moment of melancholy, possibly unintentional, clarity “I know some of the most successful businessmen in the world, and some of them are the most miserable people in the world.”
Which must have been deeply heartening for the 22 million Indians who live below the poverty line, or the 270 million poor in the country, or hell, the average income earner in India, who would have to work roughly 433 years to buy the cheapest flat in one of the New Delhi towers his family has sold their name to, and which he was in India to spruik.
Both leaders have been seen as bumbling, but only one is in cahoots with the Hindu nationalist ruling class in India.