The low point of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's eight-day work-trip-disguised-as-a-family-vacation to India might have been a toss up – until recently.
Things got off to a poor start when he stepped out of his plane with his wife and three children to be welcomed by the country's agriculture minister – not Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for receiving foreign dignitaries with aggressive bear hugs. Mr. Modi's decision to send a low-level stand-in prompted international headlines that his absence was the snub heard round the world.
Things went downhill from there.
There were grumblings from locals and visiting tourists that the Taj Mahal had to be shut down to accommodate a private tour by the PM and his brood. That began an onslaught of tourist stops. Soon the Trudeaus could be found doing everything from feeding elephants at a rescue sanctuary one minute to touring the grounds of the Golden Temple in Amritsar the next. The internet was flooded with photos of the family, often in pensive poses: hands pressed together, fingers pointing upward, eyes closed, heads bowed.
They've often been decked out in stunning traditional Indian garb from some of the country's top designers; brightly coloured sherwanis for the Trudeau men (except three-year-old Hadrien) and garland-laden chanderis for the women.
It's been all too much for many.
Omar Abdullah, an Indian politician, took to Twitter to ask whether others felt like he did: that the family's choreographed cuteness was over the top. "Also FYI," Mr. Abdullah tweeted, "we Indians don't dress like that every day sir, not even in Bollywood." Another Indian academic, Vivek Dehejia, questioned the value of the trip on CNN. "All you can see are these Lonely Planet-style pictures of his family," he said. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel also chimed in on Twitter, suggesting Mr. Trudeau's trip emphasized Vogue-like photo shoots over solving trade disputes with India, which she said was a "shit call for a PM."
Just when you thought the publicity the trip was generating couldn't get worse, it did. The CBC discovered that a man convicted of attempting to murder an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island back in 1986 had been invited to a dinner reception hosted by the High Commissioner of Canada in India. Jaspal Atwal's invitation was rescinded shortly after CBC inquired about it. But it was too late: soon pictures surfaced of the former member of a Sikh terrorist group and Sophie Trudeau at an earlier event in Mumbai.
It was a huge embarrassment for a Prime Minister who's had to spend some of his time here trying to convince people he's not a radical Sikh sympathizer. The perception in some corners that he might be led to speculation that was the reason Mr. Modi didn't show up to greet him at the airport. (Mr. Trudeau once foolishly boasted that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than Mr. Modi. It did not go down well in India).
By this point, news outlets such as MSNBC were calling Mr. Trudeau's visit a "slow-motion train wreck."
It certainly has given groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation an opening to denounce the trip as a colossal waste of money. While it certainly has been light on official work, the Prime Minister has spent at least part of every day meeting with one group or another. He is scheduled to finally meet with Prime Minister Modi on Friday.
While the visit has not generated the kind of headlines the Prime Minister would have wanted, I doubt he'll be bothered by it much in a few months time, when the story and the images fade from the public's mind. This trip was never intended to be about signing blockbuster business deals. It was a taxpayer-funded photo shoot for the next election.
Don't forget that there is a large and influential Sikh diaspora in Canada. Nearly half a million of them call the country home, the largest contingent located in Surrey, B.C., which turns into an important urban battleground during federal elections. Mr. Trudeau was playing as much to the crowd back home as he was the folks he was meeting in India.
Don't forget, either, that the new leader of the federal New Democratic Party does not wear brightly coloured scarves on his head for show or for photo-op purposes. Jagmeet Singh wears a turban because he is a proud Sikh and his presence on the national scene is certain to shake up the political calculus in Surrey and elsewhere.
In other words, don't be surprised if the photos we've recently seen of Mr. Trudeau and his family in kurtas and saris surface a couple of years from now, when brandishing his Indian cred during a federal election campaign could be critical.