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Canadian PM to visit India

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will undertake a six-day trip to the subcontinent to drum up business for his country. Harper will be visiting Agra, New Delhi, Punjab and Bengaluru during his visit.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2012 18:36 IST
Gurinder Gill

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will undertake a six-day trip to the subcontinent to drum up business for his country.

Harper will be visiting Agra, New Delhi, Punjab and Bengaluru during his visit.

Just ahead of the visit, Harper on Saturday joined the Indo-Canadians at the 12th Annual National Diwali Celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to honour the Festival of Lights, organised by the Consulate General of India and Panorama India.

"With nearly one million Indo-Canadians living in Canada, we are grateful for their contributions to our country and look forward to celebrating this festival honouring their culture. Diwali commemorates the triumph of the good over evil and of light over darkness," Harper said.

The visit which begins on Sunday is a mix of photo opportunities, trade and business talk, and of course beyond the scenic snapshots, there is domestic politics involved and there are sensitive issues that both Harper and his counterpart Manmohan Singh bring to the table.

The second visit to India by Harper happens at a tumultuous time in Indian politics when the Indian government's image is being marred by massive scams. Manmohan Singh is presiding over a stalled economy, a paralysed Parliament and a restive population. Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling party, is preoccupied with the declining electoral fortunes of the Congress.

But there are still other possible sources of tension. One is the climate policy on which both nations would find it a Herculean task to come to a common point. Besides, Harper's visit to Punjab also needs extreme caution, as every word uttered by him and related to Sikhs would be minutely observed.

There are many issues in Punjab that need to be carefully avoided. As the anniversary of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is being observed, Hindu radicals are trying to exert pressure on Indian politicians to raise the issue of separatism among a section of Sikhs in Canada, while Sikh radicals want Harper to raise the 1984 issue as Sikh genocide and a probe in the matter.

"Sikhs are a significant portion of the Canadian mosaic, and one of our issues of concern is that leaders of various political parties in Canada visit India but don't raise the issue of human rights and the challenges the community faces," Japinder Singh, director of Sikhs for Justice, said in an interview with CBC.

The issue is sensitive and will put political skills of Harper to test.

Whatever may be the outcome, one thing is certain: Harper is bent upon wooing the Indo-Canadian community as it paid dividends as additional seats in the Greater Toronto Area and led to his previously minority Conservative government secure a majority in the Canadian House of Commons.

Harper can't afford to ignore the Indo-Canadian community since it is fast emerging as a major demographic group in Canada, with projections indicating it could become the largest ethnic group in the country by mid-century.

Immigration experts believe the new rules Canada is expected to introduce next January may foster higher rates of immigration from India.

The Prime Minister's visit to India will focus on efforts to triple bilateral trade to USD 15 billion in three years. India's economy is one of the biggest and fastest growing in the world. It needs energy, and potash for fertiliser, and Canada has both to sell.

Canada and India have longstanding bilateral relations supported by a wide range of agreements in agriculture, energy, mutual legal assistance and air services. Indian investment in Canada stands at $14 billion, while Canadian investment in India stands at $5 billion.

Sources said they were hopeful that Harper's visit to India would resolve outstanding issues and finalise a nuclear deal soon. While Harper and Manmohan Singh signed the deal in 2010, it is yet to be implemented due to disagreement over how nuclear material from Canada would be monitored.

The Prime Minister is devoting twice the time to this trip as compared to his 2009 visit. Maybe he is aware that he would have to fight twice as hard to get the Indian leadership's attention.

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