On the sixth day of his official visit to India, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi discuss bilateral ties between the two countries. However, has the recent spate of controversies had a detrimental effect on this relationship?
Ties between the two democratic countries have traditionally been friendly - In 2009, bilateral trade between India and Canada was at about C$4.14 billion. However, these ties have not always been robust. In 1985, Air India Flight 182, was bombed by Canadian residents and that resulted in the deaths of multiple Canadian citizens. This strained ties between the two countries for nearly two decades. Although Jean Chrétien and Roméo LeBlanc both visited India in the late 1990s, relations were again halted, albeit temporarily, after the Pokhran-II tests.
Presently, India and Canada have been taking steps to become strategic partners. This was jumpstarted when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an official state visit to India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited Canada in 2015 and met with the Prime Minister. Traditionally both countries have a lot in common - they are both former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth. Canada is also home to one of the largest Indian diasporas in the world.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been on a week-long state visit to India, the intention of which is strengthening bilateral ties and creating new trade opportunities. However reports have suggested that the Indian government was ‘snubbing’ the Canadian Prime Minister, since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not receive him at the airport. The Indian government has slammed these reports stating that proper state protocol was being followed. Another controversy emerged when news emerged that a convicted Sikh separatist had been invited to dine at the Canadian High Commission. The invitation has since been rescinded and Trudeau met with Punjab Chief Minister to affirm that he did not support separatism.
On the sixth day of his visit, Prime Minister Modi and Trudeau met to discuss bilateral ties between the two countries. "We discussed many issues including deference operation. Terrorism and extremism are a threat to countries like ours and to fight these elements it is important for us to come together," PM Modi said in a joint statement with Mr. Trudeau. "We discussed strengthening people-to-people ties. Canada has 1.3 million people of Indian descent. We seek to uphold democratic traditions, pluralism and diversities," said Mr. Trudeau.
Trudeau has continued to emphasize that the main agenda for his visit is to increase ties between the two nations. “As Canada looks to diversify its own economy and looks for new opportunities to do business beyond its boundaries, India is a natural partner and a trusted friend for commercial cooperation,” ANI quoted Trudeau as saying.
PM Modi has emphasized that one of the main ties between the two countries was regarding higher education. “Canada is an important destination for Indian students when it comes to higher education, more than 1 lakh 20 thousand of our students are there. We renewed our MoU on higher education which will enhance the exchange in terms of higher education,” says quote by PM Modi. “We have similar thoughts when it comes to the situation in North Korea & Maldives,” it adds. He also added, “There should be no space for those who misuse religion for political motives and promote separatism. We will not tolerate those who challenge the unity and integrity of our countries.”
Some experts have stated that the oversight that resulted in the convicted Sikh separatist getting an invite to the Canadian High Commission has significantly set back ties between India and Canada. Ujjal Dosanjh, a former Liberal health minister, ex-premier of British Columbia said, “Mr. Trudeau can perhaps salvage our relationship (with India), but I think it hit rock bottom with this. It was already sliding downwards from the moment they got to India.”
Our assessment is that Canadian Prime Minister’s visit to India has been profiled as a lesser consequential visit in recent times than other heads of state. This could be due to growing concerns in Delhi over Canadian government’s ties to Sikh separatist movement. We believe that the presence of a larger number of Sikhs in the polity in Canada has given them a greater voice in national politics.