By Boshika Gupta
Jagmeet Singh is a man who doesn’t believe in hiding. The 38-year-old Sikh politician is known for his sharp dressing sense, his social media savvy avatar, his sensitivity and tact for dealing with racist hecklers. He has now been chosen to lead an important Canadian political party.
The New Democrats (NDP) has selected Singh as their leader who’ll compete in the next general election. This is a major feat for Singh who is officially the first member of an ethnic minority to head a Canadian political party.
Singh’s brush with a racist heckler at a promotional event earned him widespread praise and appreciation. The politician stayed calm in a tense situation, responding kindly to the protester with two powerful words.
Love and courage.
He remained firm throughout their exchange, responding with grace and intelligence. She accused him of bringing Islamic Sharia law to Canada’s shores but he didn’t bat an eyelid, refusing to cave in.
The video went viral and got Singh noticed. His response worked well with his base as they got a taste of his commitment to the motto he’s stood by throughout his campaign.
The lawyer-turned-politician isn’t old-school in many ways. He’s progressive and a politician with a contemporary twist. His Instagram profile has around 80,000 followers and he is extremely active on Snapchat, he has an affinity for bikes and cycles around town and has been noticed for his enviable wardrobe full of well- tailored suits and unmistakable confidence. He’s especially partial to bright turbans.
He was even interviewed by GQ earlier in February this year. He spoke about style, politics, society and more, giving readers a glimpse into his formative years. “I faced some significant racism as a kid growing up with a unique identity—you know, brown skin, long hair for a boy, with a funny sounding first name like Jagmeet, while going through childhood in a small Canadian city with little diversity. But because of having to deal with racism myself, I became very sensitive to unfairness. It created this appreciation and understanding of the struggles people go through from all walks of life,” he said.
Singh’s immigrant parents even had to send him away to Michigan from Windsor, Ontario for middle and high school years when the bullying got out of hand. This has given him an edge over many other politicians because he knows what it is like to be racially profiled and judged unfairly, which eventually pushed him to be an activist.
Singh has sparked a controversy in India in the past. In December 2013, he became the first sitting member of a Western legislature to be denied a visa by Indian officials. Back then, he was a part of the provincial parliament (MPP) in Ontario.
The politician ruffled many feathers by being extremely vocal about the way Sikhs were treated in India after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. He has been vocal in criticising the Indian government and has used strong words. For instance, in 2016, he called the 1984 Sikh riots, “genocide”.
Singh has also accused the Indian government of trying to damage his NDP campaign and stop people from his community from supporting him.
However, villagers from his ancestral town, Thikriwal village of Punjab’s Barnala district celebrated his victory on Monday with a lot of fanfare.
Singh and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both identify themselves as liberals. Singh, for his part, is pushing for electoral reform and lots of progressive environmental policies. He also wants to revoke Canada’s anti-terrorism act and end solitary confinement immediately while battling for living wages, just labour standards, and the rights of Canadians with disabilities, racial reform, “LGBTQI2S+” housing programs, and stopping all forms of gender-based violence.
Singh’s mettle will be tested in 2019. The NDP only has 44 of the 338 seats in the Canadian Parliament and hasn’t been in power. Yet. Its newest leader has a lot to work towards.