Modi Seizes Center Stage at G-7 to Ambush Biden, Trudeau

(Bloomberg) -- Narendra Modi seized a window to end his diplomatic purgatory with the US and Canada.

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The Indian prime minister arrived at the Group of Seven meetings bruised by disappointing election results and facing an outcry over a pair of assassination plots allegedly backed by his government.

Yet Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the host of the summit, gave Modi prominent placement during Friday’s events and the Indian leader took full advantage, striding over for encounters with two leaders whose governments have accused his own of murder plots.

Modi was placed at center stage for the family photo, a perch that allowed him to dart over to US President Joe Biden for a brief chat. He also shared a photo of a similar greeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada has accused India of killing a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil, while the US has leveled allegations of a failed attempt on another dissident in its country. India has generally downplayed the allegations, and in the US case chalked up the plot to rogue elements of the government.

But Modi’s invitation to the summit is a sign of India’s role in the emerging economic race between the G-7 and its rivals, particularly China. Biden and Trudeau meeting with him, however briefly, casts doubt on how long the outcry over the assassination allegations will linger.

The US has said its position on the alleged plots hasn’t changed.

“We’ve made our views known on this issue, and it will be a continuing topic of dialogue between the US and India, including at very senior levels,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, one of Biden’s top foreign affairs aides, said Wednesday.

A US official said Friday that Biden and Modi only spoke briefly.

On Saturday, a grim-faced Trudeau was repeatedly asked about his interaction with Modi but did not want to engage.

“I’m not going to get into the details of this issue,” he told reporters in southern Italy. “There are important, sensitive issues that we need to follow up on, but this was a commitment to work together in the coming times to deal with some very important issues.”

Meanwhile, the Indian prime minister looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself at the summit. Meloni posted a clip of her and Modi, laughing cheerfully behind her.

Canadian police recently arrested four Indian nationals over last year’s killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down in a Vancouver suburb. The case is now before the courts and could take years to wind to a conclusion.

Modi’s government reacted furiously when Trudeau first accused India last September of orchestrating the assassination, rejecting the claim as baseless and expelling Canadian diplomats. Trudeau has long called on Modi to cooperate with the investigation, with the hope of moving forward constructively.

Indian officials have never walked back their initial denials, but there are signs that behind the scenes, Canada and India are now cooperating more fully on sharing information about the case.

That may have helped provide an opening for a conversation between the two leaders.

The last time Trudeau crossed paths with Modi in person was at the G-20 in New Delhi last year, and it was a very tense meeting because Canadian officials had spent weeks privately presenting evidence to India’s government of a hit job on Canadian soil. Trudeau at the time was largely iced out by Modi at that summit and then had his departure delayed after his plane broke down.

(Updates with comments from Trudeau from 10th paragraph.)

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