Need for Strong Indo Canadian Ties

canadafThe time has come for India and Canada to forge a stronger relationship to aid mutually. The two commonwealth nations must come together often to explore positive energies to strengthen their business and people’s relations. Naturally there is a lot of scope for this venture. Ramesh Thakur writes in The Times of India (25 June 2009) Canada and India have a surprisingly aloof relationship. Both are engaged in world affairs but are largely disconnected from each other. Canada is among the wealthiest, healthiest and best educated countries of the world, India among the poorest, unhealthiest and least literate. The first big country to be decolonised, India was a comfortable partner for Canada on many international issues from decolonisation to fashioning a new Commonwealth as a grouping of equals, the struggle for racial equality within and among nations and the state-building and economic development agendas of the newly independent countries. The two were among the earliest and most frequent contributors to UN peacekeeping. During the Cold War, Canada was a NATO ally while India tilted towards Moscow. The ‘common’ experience in the Indo-China control commissions, which India chaired, graduated a generation of anti-Indian officials in Canada’s foreign service. That sentiment spread and hardened among Canadians with India’s ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ in 1974 that violated the terms of the bilateral nuclear assistance agreement. After the Cold War, human security provided the conceptual template that bridged such disparate Canadian initiatives as the adoption of the Ottawa Convention banning landmines, the International Criminal Court, and the responsibility to protect norm. To Canadians, India was on the wrong side of history on these. To Indians, Canada’s self-righteousness blinded it to divergent world views rooted in different historical trajectories, experiences and geopolitical circumstances. The end of the Cold War required a fundamental re-evaluation of ideational identity for India. The results of adjustments to foreign and economic policies in turn have led others to reorient their India policies. It has been one of the world’s economic success stories, second only to China. With the nuclear tests of 1998, India insisted on marching to a tune which Canadians find harshly discordant. With worldwide censure of the tests, India made a hard-nosed decision that the only country that mattered in its nuclear diplomacy was the US. The strategy was vindicated with the conclusion of the bilateral India-US civil nuclear deal, subsequently endorsed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group of which Canada is a member. To the frustration of the nuclear industry mesmerised by the anticipated multibillion dollar contracts for the planned new nuclear plants to produce clean energy, Canada was among the last to come on board India’s shiny new nuclear express. Changing world dynamics and India’s rising global profile provide an opportunity to reset the bilateral relationship. India adjusted to the end of the Cold War by integrating with the international economy and forging an unexpectedly close relationship with Washington. The changes provide a sound basis for re-engaging with Canada. India has shown growing openness to commercial ties, cultural exchanges and academic links. Private sector, cultural and educational diplomacy can reinforce without supplanting the traditional state-to-state diplomacy. The large influx of Indian immigrants to Canada affluent, well-educated and among the leaders in professional occupations and public life are an invaluable asset. Their success story is a tale worth telling to Canadians and an asset worth exploiting in relations with India. Over time, they can be built into powerful constituencies for linking Canada and India in an increasingly networked world order. They could also provide the platform for a steep rise in the numbers of tourists and students from India. Canada has lagged behind market leader Australia where the 5,00,000-strong overseas student industry is worth a staggering A$15.5 billion in direct income both in attracting foreign students to Canadian universities and establishing profitable offshore franchises. Half a million Indians study abroad at a cost of around $10 billion. This is a stinging self-indictment of the quality and marketability of the vastly underserved indigenous education market in India, as well as a reliable indicator of the growing size and wealth of India’s middle class. Around 95,000 Indian students went to Australia in 2008, compared to a modest 4,000 in the Canadian tertiary sector. Considering Canada’s internationally competitive educational institutions, this is a shockingly low figure. The paucity of Canadian businesses to have taken advantage of India’s growing market is partly explained by India’s excessive regulations, restrictions, red tape and corruption. India fares poorly in world rankings for corruption and ease of doing business. Surveying the wreckage of nation and democracy-building efforts in countries around it, India stands out as an oasis of regime stability, democratic legitimacy and economic progress. For all its own challenges, India can be an anchor of stability and a partner for outsiders wishing to consolidate progress in the ring of fragile and troubled states. It is a frontline state against international terrorism. While Canada played a pioneering role in the development of UN peacekeeping, India has contributed the largest number of troops and suffered the most fatalities. When Canada returns to UN peacekeeping, opportunities will expand for shared international duty in the cause of peace. The G20 leaders’ group brings them together in the new premier steering mechanism for global challenges. It brings to fruition a quintessentially bridging initiative by Canada’s former prime minister Paul Martin between the global North and South. Whether they will cooperate constructively in addressing the challenges of global governance remains to be seen.

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