"When is your Shariah going to end?" an agitated woman from the audience screamed at a man wearing a colourful turban.
It was a New Democratic Party (NDP) campaign event in Brampton, Ontario, Canada and the man on the dais was Jagmeet Singh, an Indo-Canadian politician who is all set to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019.
Singh was nonchalant. He seemed unfazed by the profundity of ignorance evinced by the woman. He was a practising Sikh, and Shariah refers to the set of norms which are part of Islamic tradition.
“We don't want hatred to ruin a positive event," Singh said, not bothering to point out to the woman her faux pas. "Let's show people how we would treat someone with love," he added even as the crowd cheered his campaign slogan—"love and courage". The incident has gone viral, and Singh, whose feisty avatar has a huge fan-following on social media, has managed to grab the attention of the global media.
If fortune favours Singh, he will be the prime minister of Canada. The impeccably dressed, 38-year-old Canada-born Sikh has been recently elected the leader of NDP to lead the party in the contest against Trudeau’s Liberals.
Born in 1979 to Harmeet Kaur and Jagtaran Singh, who migrated to Canada, Singh spent his childhood in Windsor, Ontario. He completed his graduation in 1997 from Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, Michigan. In 2005, Singh got his Bachelor of Laws degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, in Toronto, Ontario. He practised law for a few years and even set up his own law firm, Singh Law, before making his foray into active politics.
Singh, whose interest also include a Brazilian jiu-jitsu, began his political innings in 2011 with a loss in the Canada federal election as NDP candidate, but his ascension thereafter has been quick. In the same year, he contested the Ontario general election and won to become the first 'turbaned' Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). In October 2011, Singh was appointed NDP's critic for the attorney general of Ontario.
Three years later, he became the deputy leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party. In the NDP leadership election held two years later on October 1, 2017, he won and became the youngest leader in the history of NDP.
"I wanted to fight against injustice. It was obvious that only the NDP had the courage to fight injustice," Singh explained his reason to owe allegiance to New Democratic Party on his website.
Singh has admitted that the experiences of discrimination that he faced as a kid and those that he witnessed around him helped him envision a more "inclusive Canada where everyone can realise their dreams".
“My friends had a lot of potential, but they were not given the tools or the opportunities to reach their potential. Their hopes were dashed and their self-esteem diminished. I’ve felt this too. It's something that eats away at you. Nobody should be made to feel like they don’t matter,” he shares on his website.
He said it is these experiences that drew him to politics. “This is what drove me in law and ultimately drew me into public life. It’s also what draws me to be leader of the NDP.”
The claim of his detractors that his emergence as the leader of the party is the “rise of the religious left” isn't without substance. He is a practising Sikh with the kirpan tucked right under his jacket. Singh has been open about his support of Khalistan movement and has shied away from condemning the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985 by Sikh extremists which claimed 329 lives. In 2013, he was denied a visa by the Government of India, which, in a statement, said it doesn't have to offer an explanation for denying visa to anyone.