If Canada wants to do business in India, it has to treat it with respect

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OP-ED

by Andrew Caddell

The Hill Times
March 7, 2018

OTTAWA—You may have heard, India has been in the news of late.

Having been posted to India as a foreign service officer and travelled there while I was working with the United Nations, I have a great interest and respect for India. I believe over time it will become as significant an international player as China.

India is a country of incredible contradictions. It’s home to the world’s largest middle class (estimated to be as large as 300 million people) and the largest number of people in abject poverty (also about 300 million). It is the world’s largest democracy, and yet it rarely rises much above 80 out of about 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

At the same time, India is poised to become the world’s third-largest economy; it has the world’s largest population of people under 25; its population will exceed China’s in less than a decade; its government continues to work towards universal education; and the common language is English.

Canada, sadly, is not a player there: economically, we are dwarfed by the United States, Japan, and Europe. In annual reports on foreign direct investment, Canada ($1.2-billion) has consistently ranked 23rd.

Although Indian multinationals like Tata have acquired Canadian companies, India’s foreign direct investment in Canada is less than $3-billion annually, and our shared annual commerce of $7-billion a year is the equivalent of a few days of trade with the United States. Politically, Canada is viewed with lots of skepticism. While our Indian diaspora exceeds a million people, many come from two tiny states, Punjab and Gujarat, which together account for eight per cent of the Indian population. Of India’s 1.3 billion population, 19 million, or two per cent, are Sikh. Compare that to Canada’s Indian population, of which about four in 10 are Sikh.

Given Canada’s multicultural identity, there has been a trend in government over the past few decades to employ diaspora populations to promote Canada abroad. In India, that does not work very well: it is an incredibly diverse country, with 29 states, 22 official languages, 870 million Hindus, 190 million Muslims, and 24 million Christians. A Canadian speaking Punjabi and a Hindu in Delhi may have little in common.

The diaspora strategy appeals from an electoral standpoint, but it does not get much respect from Indians. A senior official with the Indian High Commission told me they had “absolutely no interest” in cultivating the Indian diaspora here.

As well, Indian leaders are tired of being “played” for Canadian votes. When then-Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Canada in 2010, the Harper government invited Canadian diaspora Indians to a dinner in Toronto in his honour. Singh and his entourage were furious: they wanted to meet bank presidents, investors, and resource developers of whatever complexion. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India, I was optimistic we were finally turning the page to a genuine engagement, with respect for India’s key strategic role in South Asia. We could get the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) back on the rails, and sign deals on infrastructure, communications, transportation, and other sectors.

Instead, the PM appeared to mock modern India by dressing in traditional garb, in a misplaced effort not to lose a handful of seats in Parliament to the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh. And then the world media piled on.

To add insult to injury, it appears the Prime Minister’s Office sent out my former boss at Global Affairs Canada, Daniel Jean, a person of rare integrity, to imply rogue elements in India’s government had something to do with the visa granted to convicted attempted assassin Jaspal Atwal. When that line was repudiated by India, the PMO should have let it drop.

Canadians serving in India are aware of the delicacy of the support from some Canadian Sikhs for the Khalistani separatist movement; our tacit acceptance of the movement is seen by Indians in the same vein as Canadian federalists saw Charles de Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre” line in a speech in Montreal in 1967.

All that said, the prime minister and his advisers dug themselves into a large hole. Time to stop digging.

That means treating India with respect. After a cooling-off period, the PM should make an outright repudiation of the Khalistani movement in Canada. Second, we should endorse India’s bid for a long-term seat on the UN Security Council. Third, we should mount a blue-ribbon Team Canada mission to India to sign the CEPA and make deals in infrastructure, technology, aircraft, resource investment, and banking.

And when the delegation goes to India, no one should be wearing a kurta.

Image credit: Narendra Modi's Twitter account

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