Love and Courage is a political memoir like no other.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has written a harrowing tale of growing up in a world blighted by physical and sexual abuse, blatant racism and his father’s addiction to alcohol.
But there was also love: for family members struggling to navigate chaos, for friends who rescued him – at times from himself – and for his Sikh faith, to which he is deeply devoted.
“Love is an incredible force, and at its core lies the courage to forgive,” he writes. It took real courage to write this book.
Memoirs by politicians seeking higher office are generally a waste of time. Carefully manicured anecdotes reveal a sympathetic figure who has struggled in their climb up the greasy pole, giving them a true understanding of ordinary folk, who would be better off if only the author were in charge. They are mostly unreadable.
Mr. Singh tells a very different story. Jagtaran Singh and Harmeet Kaur were determined, like so many millions of immigrants who came before them, to make a better life for their children: their eldest son Jagmeet, daughter Manjot and youngest son Gurratan. For Jagtaran, this meant years dedicated to having his Indian medical degree validated through study and work on Newfoundland. He succeeded, becoming a psychiatrist practising in Windsor.
Which is a tough town. Jagmeet was bullied relentlessly over the colour of his skin and the patka that covered his hair.
“Dirty,” they hurled at him.
Determined to fight back, he began taking taekwondo lessons. But his instructor was a sexual predator; it took years for Mr. Singh to overcome the sense of guilt and worthlessness that monstrous man inflicted on him.
Meanwhile, things were falling apart at home. The relentless energy that pushed Jagtaran Singh to excel also pushed him to drink. As he explained to his son, “I wanted my mind to slow down." He became an alcoholic, roaring and raging through the night, while Jagmeet took his younger sister and brother into the basement to meditate and read Sikh poetry, “because it felt like we were all each other had.”
As his mother struggled to cope with her drunken, volatile husband, Jagmeet became the head of the family, especially after his father’s medical licence was suspended and the creditors closed in. Despite these emotional and financial weights, he did well at university, becoming a lawyer in part to fight against the relentless racial profiling he was subjected to by police.
He and his brother Gurratan became Sikh activists; it was Gurratan and a friend who persuaded him to run for Parliament in the 2011 election. He was eventually elected provincially as a Brampton NDP MPP. On Oct. 1, 2017, he became national leader of the New Democrats.
Things have not gone well. Mr. Singh has had trouble recruiting staff, almost a third of the caucus isn’t running again and polls suggest the party will lose most or all of its remaining seats in Quebec.
Fundraising is dismal: Data released by Elections Canada on Wednesday show the NDP raising $1.2-million in the first quarter of this year, compared with about $8-million for the Conservatives and $4-million for the Liberals.
But Mr. Singh finally won himself a seat in the House of Commons. And he has put forward three core priorities in the run-up to the Oct. 21 election: housing, pharmacare and a Canadian version of the U.S. Democrats’ Green New Deal.
The NDP is on track to have a result typical of its pre-2011 breakthrough: shut out in Quebec, some strength in Toronto and Vancouver and a few other niches, with any luck holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament.
If the NDP does better, Love and Courage might have something to do with it. Many politicians claim to understand other people’s suffering. Jagmeet Singh has been there.
Self-portraits are by definition inaccurate. Others would tell our story differently than we would tell it ourselves.
But Love and Courage is a brave, raw, compelling testament to one man’s will to overcome. That he wrote it as leader of a national political party is remarkable. I have never seen its like.