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Trudeau’s stumbles in India: a crafty foreign plot to let the Liberals shoot themselves in the foot?

It was a cunning plan, possibly hatched by factions inside the Indian state. At least that's according to an unnamed senior Canadian official, speaking to Canadian reporters.

The alleged plot was brilliant. The Liberals were about to make a phenomenally dumb mistake. A Liberal MP had invited Jaspal Atwal – a man convicted of attempting to murder an Indian cabinet minister when he was a member of a banned extremist Sikh terrorist group – to attend two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's receptions during his visit to India. Amazingly, no one in the Canadian government was going to catch the blunder.

And the Indian plotters allegedly did the most Machiavellian thing imaginable: They got out of the way, and let the Liberals do this stupid thing.

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That's right: A Liberal MP invited the convicted assassination plotter, the Canadian government failed to catch it, but the thing to note, according to the Canadian official, is that India allowed Mr. Atwal to go to India so he could attend – by removing him from a travel blacklist last summer.

More than that: The Canadian official made the explosive suggestion that the whole affair may have been orchestrated by factions in India, presumably to sandbag Mr. Trudeau.

In a week when Mr. Trudeau was repeatedly embarrassed, this should raise eyebrows. The operation to deflect the embarrassment crossed lines.

To review: Mr. Trudeau's week of embarrassment started with a bit of Twitter bull suggesting Mr. Trudeau had been snubbed because Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi didn't meet him at the airport, though that's typical, and inconsequential. Worse, the Trudeau fam's mugging in glitzy traditional dress was called over the top by prominent figures in India, then ridiculed around the world. In between, Mr. Trudeau had to deal with Indian leaders who complain that Canadian politicians are soft on Sikh extremists – which looked justified when Mr. Atwal posed for a picture with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

Then came the official's briefing. And Mr. Trudeau's trip to India, supposed to improve ties, closed to the tones of a Canadian official raising the spectre of Indian plots against the PM.

It came from a senior official who spoke to journalists from several news organizations Thursday. (This writer was not one of them.) The unnamed official was described variously as a "senior Canadian official with knowledge of security issues" and a "senior security source within the Canadian government," among other things. That indicates it was a public servant, not a politician, in the security domain.

That's remarkable, because public servants have to be careful about political spin operations. And also because senior national-security officials are usually loath to talk about the plotting of foreign entities. Typically, they're unwilling to describe even egregious plots, especially to several reporters at a time, or point a finger of blame at another country.

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In this case, it wasn't clear who the alleged plotters were – an element in Mr. Modi's government, or the intelligence service, or the deep state, possibly. But the point was that somebody in India thinks the Canadian government is too cozy with Khalistani separatist extremists inside Canada, and wanted to make that point by embarrassing the Prime Minister.

Some of that rings true. India's government does tend to see Canada's Sikh diaspora as full of separatists and extremists. Indian officials have long pointed to incidents such as the 1985 Air India bombing to show there is legitimate cause for concern about extremists in Canada. But they have also exhibited some paranoia that mixes up any non-violent sympathy for Khalistani separatism with terrorists. For obvious reasons, many Sikhs in Canada don't want the broader community tainted with suggestions of extremism. But while Mr. Trudeau boasts that he has more Sikhs in his cabinet than Mr. Modi, some in India, such as Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, suspect there are Khalistani sympathizers in his government.

In that sense, a plan by unspecified Indian factions to embarrass Mr. Trudeau for links to a Sikh extremist seems almost plausible.

But then, according to the unnamed official, India took Mr. Atwal off their travel blacklist last summer.

The Indian plotters apparently then had only to wait for a Liberal MP, Randeep Sarai, to eventually invite Mr. Atwal to Mr. Trudeau's events and for the Canadian government to utterly fail to vet the guest list for convicted assassination plotters.

How did Mr. Sarai come to know or invite Mr. Atwal? How did no one vet him? No matter what, the search for plotters of the Atwal affair will lead back to Canada, and to Liberals holding a gun pointed at their own foot. We should worry that when the PM was embarrassed, a senior security official sought to divert the fire abroad.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a bilateral meeting in New Delhi on Friday. Trudeau says progress was made on agreements on information technology and the auto sector. The Canadian Press
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