Published November 2, 2012 | 4:52 pm
Toronto: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is packing his luggage before an unusually long six-day trip to the subcontinent to drum up business for Canada. Harper will be visiting Agra, New Delhi, Punjab and Bangalore during his visit.
Just ahead of his India visit on Saturday,Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also joined the Indo-Canadians at the 12th Annual National Diwali Celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to honour the Festival of Lights.
The six-day highly observed 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 with them to the table.
The second visit to India by Harper happens at a tumultuous time in Indian politics when Indian government’s image is being marred by massive scams and ruling party is in a minority position. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is presiding over a stalled economy, a paralyzed parliament and a restive population enraged by a series of corruption scandals.
India’s power lady Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling party, is preoccupied with the declining electoral fortunes of the Indian National Congress.
But there are still other possible sources of tension.One is climate policy that both nations would find it a herculean task to come to a common point.Besides that Harper’s visit to Punjab also needs extreme caution as every word omitted by him during the Punjab visit and related to Sikhs would be minutely observed.
There are minefields of certain issues in Punjab that need to be carefully avoided.As the anniversary of 1984 anti-Sikh riots is being observed,the Hindu radicals are trying to exert pressure on Indian politicians to raise the issue of separatism among section of Sikhs in Canada , while Sikh radicals want Harper to raise the issue of 1984 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 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 a very sensitive one and will put political skills of Harper to a full test.
Whatever may be outcome, one thing is certain that 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 securing 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 new rules that Canada is expected to introduce next January, may actually foster higher rates of immigration from India.
The PM’s visit to India will focus on efforts to triple bilateral trade to USD 15 billion in three years .India’s economy is among the biggest and fastest growing in the world. It needs energy, and potash for fertilizer, and Canada has both to sell.
From a foreign-affairs perspective also, India is the democratic Asian counterweight to totalitarian China, and an emerging power in global politics.Canada has been slow to recognize the potential in a closer relationship with India.
Canada and India have longstanding bilateral relations supported by a wide range of agreements in fields of agriculture, energy, mutual legal assistance and air services.Indian investment in Canada stands at $14 billion, while Canadian investment in India stands at around $5 billion.
Sources, said they were hopeful that the Harper visit to India would resolve outstanding issues and finalise a nuclear deal soon.While Harper and Manmohan Singh, signed the deal in 2010, it has yet to be implemented due to disagreement over how nuclear material from Canada will be monitored.
The Prime Minister is devoting close to twice the amount of time to this trip as to his 2009 visit.Might be he was well aware that he will have to fight twice as hard to get the Indian leadership’s attention.