Singh, the first non-white leader of a major Canadian party, has been vocal against India's treatment of Sikhs in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
The global spotlight is on Canada's Jagmeet Singh after he became the first non-white to head a major political party in Canada, putting him on track to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2019 national elections.The 38-year-old Sikh criminal defence lawyer-turned-politician registered a convincing victory to be elected as the leader of New Democratic Party (NDP).
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) October 1, 2017
During his campaign, a video of Singh, the son of immigrant parents from Punjab in India, went viral following his calm response to a heckler accusing him of being in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood. Singh, known for being social media savvy and a vocal champion of the rights of people of colour as well as the LGBT community, earned universal praise for his handling of the situation in which he talked about love and courage.
But while the world is at his feet, Jagmeet is not a welcome figure in his homeland.
In December 2013, Singh became the first sitting member of a Western legislature to be barred from travelling to India. He was denied a visa by the Indian government while he was a member of the provincial parliament (MPP) in Ontario.
So what had Singh done to upset the UPA-led government so much? Above all, he has been vocal against India's treatment of Sikhs in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
During his early career as a young attorney, Singh had offered pro bono support to a group protesting a visit to Canada by then Indian Trade Minister Congress leader Kamal Nath, who was believed to have persecuted Sikhs.
Singh failed in his attempt to move a motion in Ontario in 2016, in which he criticised the Indian government for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and sought to term the atrocities "genocide".
A year later, when a similar motion was successfully moved by a member of the ruling Liberal Party of Ontario, Singh was vocal about his views on the Indian government.
During his campaign to become the next leader of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) this year, in an official statement, he said that "the government of India initiated a genocidal campaign against the Sikh minority".
While describing the riots as an “attempt to extinguish the Sikh community”, he added that the Indian military "killed thousands of innocent people in just one day. This genocide continued for the next twenty years. Across Punjab, Sikh youth disappeared, torture was rampant, and Sikhs endured relentless state-sanctioned terrorism.”
Singh is said be backed by pro-Khalistan elements, a Sikh nationalist movement that wants to create an independent state for Sikh people through armed or political struggle.
According to some reports, Sukhminder Singh Hansra, a leading figure among the separatists, was present at the hotel during the NDP leadership results announcement.
The vocal side of Singh stems from his own experiences — he was picked on as a child, for his name, skin colour, and long hair. Thus, he speaks up for all these values, which struck him as unjust.
“I also realized I wasn’t alone. I saw kids around me — kids no less capable, no less worthy of respect and dignity—who were not in a position to follow their dreams, simply because their families couldn’t afford it. That struck me as incredibly unfair,” his statement on his website states.
Over the past six years, Singh developed his personal style as a Sikh politician who wears colourful bright turbans, and tailor-made three-piece suits.
Singh graduated in biology from the University of Western Ontario in 2001 and obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2005. In 2006, he joined the bar, where he began working as a criminal defence lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area.
After defending refugees and immigrants for years, Singh entered politics in 2011 by running as a member of the provincial parliament (MPP) with the NDP in Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ontario. He has also served as the Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP.Singh has run several campaigns including against rising tuition fees and against carding – a practice whereby police officers stop individuals “randomly” and ask for their identification. The law was used to disproportionately target people of colour, which was banned later.