Canada-India: Partners in Progress

By Nafey, Abdul | Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, April-June 2016 | Go to article overview

Canada-India: Partners in Progress


Nafey, Abdul, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal


Prem K. Budhwar, Canada-India: Partners in Progress, (New Delhi, Vij Books / ICWA, 2016), Pages: xvii+216, Price: Rs. 850.00

How does one sum up Canada-India relations over the past nearly seven decades? The answers are many and varied. One answer is that the twain do not meet. It is argued that the political orientation of the two countries and their alliance relationships make Canada and India unlikely partners. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that Canada and India are traversing a braided path, with their relations being deeply entwined. As long as the two remain federal, parliamentary, multicultural democracies, champion UN multilateralism in their foreign policies, Canada and India share the same destiny. There is much to learn from each other's developmental-democratic experiences, and to cooperate for international peace and security.

Prem K.Budhwar, who served as India's High Commissioner to Canada during 1992-97, takes the reader through the 'roller-coaster' of a relationship over the past 68 years (p. 107). The bromance began on a high note in the 1950s which was decade of a 'special relationship 'marked by Canadian aid, and assistance under the Colombo Plan. Canadian aid in the field of nuclear energy was the high watermark of the period. Relations nose-dived when India exploded a nuclear device in 1974. Canada described Pokhran I as a 'breach of trust', and a 'betrayal', alleging use of the Canada-supplied uranium in the nuclear experiment. Relations remained in deep 'freeze' - perhaps worsened in the 1980s - as 'mutual suspicion' arose with the spread of Khalistan militancy in Punjab. India complained that Canada was not doing enough to rein in the Khalistan militants operating out of Canadian soil while Canada, facing domestic demand, talked of human rights violations in Punjab. Then came one of the worst air disasters in 1985 when Air India's Kanishka was downed by Canada-based Khalistan elements, and Canada treated one of the worst terrorist attacks with kid-gloves.

The acceleration of the globalisation process in the 1990s raised new hopes and new imperatives came calling on a liberalising India and Canada, asking both countries to leave the acrimony of the past behind and explore together the new world of free-flowing capital and the revolution of 'new technologies'. The Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, came to 'rediscover' India in 1996 at the head of a 300-strong 'Team Canada', comprising seven premiers, scores of ministers and members of parliament, and CEOs of top Canadian companies. Once again, this proved short-lived: bilateral ties got a 'renewed setback' in the wake of the Pokhran II in 1998.

The author, however, remains optimistic; he believes that Canada and India are quintessentially Partners in Progress. Things are changing for the better. He sees meaningful change in the perception and appreciation of each other's geostrategic scenario and respect for differences. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2006-15) came to India twice (in 2009 and 2012), to 're-engage' with India. Among several others, the 2009 framework agreement for the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the 2010 agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, and 2012 agreement establishing an annual 'strategic dialogue' at the foreign ministers level constitute the landmarks of this changed scenario. The first India-Canada Strategic Dialogue was held in 2013 in Toronto and the second one in New Delhi in 2014, with a view to giving a long-term strategic direction to the bilateral relationship. Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister in 42 years to visit Canada in May 2015. The visit produced, among others, the path-breaking agreement regarding the sale of uranium to India. Now, relations are on the upswing, and Canada has set up a large number of trade and consular offices in India.

Whenever one thinks of Canada and India, discussions get bogged down by the subject of the Indian Diaspora. …

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