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In 1958, when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker visited India, officials in the Department of External Affairs were asked to draw up a briefing note with pros and cons for whether Dief should go on a tiger hunt. One of the cons, according to historian Ryan Touhey, was "Prime Minister could be eaten by tiger."

Nowadays, officials might warn Justin Trudeau that if he returns to India, he could be eaten alive.

His eight-day charm offensive didn't just fail to enchant. India is now engaged in the diplomatic version of hissing and spitting. The official spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement that more or less called Mr. Trudeau a liar.

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Suggestions there was Indian plotting to embarrass the PM, made by a senior Canadian official – who was backed by Mr. Trudeau in the House of Commons on Tuesday – were, according to India's spokesman, "baseless and unacceptable."

This is not an everyday occurrence. Big, serious, relatively friendly countries such as India don't issue statements to trash Canadian prime ministers for what they just said in Question Period.

Justin Trudeau is defending an adviser who suggests the Indian government played a role in a convicted terrorist attending events with the Prime Minister. Tory Leader Andrew Scheer is accusing Trudeau of "incompetence" over the incident. The Canadian Press

Sure, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister blasted Stephen Harper's statement on the death of President Hugo Chavez as "insensitive and impertinent." But testy words from an outlier country aren't in the same ballpark. Mr. Trudeau was courting India.

It was embarrassing enough that Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, when he was a Canadian member of a banned Sikh terrorist group, showed up at one of Mr. Trudeau's receptions in India. But then a senior security official told reporters, on condition he not be named, that the whole business might have been orchestrated by Indian factions – even though Mr. Atwal had been invited by a Liberal MP. And when Mr. Trudeau was pressed on that in the Commons on Tuesday, he backed up the official – saying that if a senior official said it, that's because it's true.

That amounts to the PM accusing the Indian government of sandbagging his trip. India is annoyed.

"This is a total failure in diplomacy," said Anita Singh, research fellow at Dalhousie University's Centre for the Study of Security and Development, who specializes in Canada-India relations. Mr. Trudeau's trip was a series of preventable errors, from reciting standard Canadian phrases about shared values that don't mean much to India to not having a clear idea what the goals of the mission were, she said. When an official raised the spectre of an Indian plot in public, it amounted to "juvenile diplomacy."

So don't expect Mr. Trudeau to be returning to India anytime soon. Politically, that's like sticking his head in a tiger's maw.

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That's the real damage for Canada-India relations: the lost opportunity. There weren't such important and fruitful government-to-government relations that Canadians have to fret about near-term consequences. It's missed potential.

Canada's relations with India haven't been smooth. India doesn't see Canada as a priority. Progress have been elusive. But some had felt that with effort, there might be an opportunity to change that with Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi, elected in 2014.

Now, Ms. Singh said, we can expect a "lull" for a few years.

Relations have been worse – but usually that took an atomic bomb.

That's what chilled relations in the 1970s. Canada had given India a nuclear reactor in 1955 to supply energy, and India used it to develop nuclear weapons, conducting their first atomic test in 1974. The Canadians were blindsided, Mr. Touhey said, feeling the Indians had played them.

In 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien organized a Team Canada mission to India – but then, in 1998, India tested fusion weapons and sparked a regional arms race with Pakistan. Canada recalled its high commissioner and cancelled $54-million in aid. India, essentially, told Canada to get lost.

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There have been off-and-on efforts to reconnect since. Mr. Harper's Conservatives helped India regain access to global civilian nuclear supplies and launched free-trade talks. But progress was slow – those free-trade talks, and others, just kept grinding on. Among Canadian officials, there's suspicion Indian counterparts are playing them, or frustration with India's bureaucratic inertia. Before it was defeated, Mr. Harper's government thought the savvy, dynamic Mr. Modi might have the political will to change things. His 2015 visit to Canada was almost triumphant.

It's hard to imagine Mr. Modi visiting again soon. It's a good bet Mr. Trudeau isn't going to rush back to India, even if he's invited. The next charm offensive might not come for years. The diplomatic pros are outweighed by the political cons – and the latter could be deadly.

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