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Why India can rejoice Canada election result

October 20, 2008 20:54 IST

From India's perspective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's re-election has positive ramifications. Under Harper's tenure, India and Canada have undeniably edged closer since January 2006.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Harper have met three times. There has been a perceptible change in Canada's thinking on India's nuclear energy needs. India's nuclear ambitions had led to a sort of frost in ties, which was consigned to history most evidently in Canada's recent support for the United States-India civilian nuclear energy needs in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The relations in the nuclear field were frozen by Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien and his successor Paul Martin made no move toward a thaw. 

Harper has also been proactive in attending Indo-Canadian community events, another first for a Canadian prime minister. In June 2006, five months after he became prime minister for the first time, he attended the Indo-Canadian Chamber of Commerce gala as chief guest.

Harper was the chief guest at the Canada-India Foundation's Vasudev Chanchalani Award ceremony where former Indian President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam was also present. At the event, Harper announced to the 500-plus guests, mostly Indo-Canadians, the opening of two new trade offices in Hyderabad and Kolkata. His government, he added, will also post additional trade commissioners at the offices in Mumbai and Delhi to boost bilateral trade.

More recently, September 10, Harper was again the chief guest at the ICCC's luncheon, his third appearance at an Indo-Canadian event within two years.  Martin did attend an ICCC gala, but when he was the finance minister; never as prime minister.

At the September 10 event, Harper announced that Canada will, if he is re-elected, have 'a commercial presence in Gujarat.'

It was a significant policy statement, as Canada, under the Liberals, froze relations with Gujarat after communal riots.

Harper also ordered the public inquiry into the Air India tragedy of June 1985; no such action was taken by his Liberal  predecessors. This initiative has earned him respect and following in the Indo-Canadian community.

Under Harper's leadership, Canada and India have concluded a Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement and discussions are on about a Free Trade Agreement.

Last but not the least, Harper and Singh enjoy good chemistry, which is often key to international diplomacy. Singh sent a personal letter on the US-India nuclear agreement to Harper, and the prime minister agreed to receive India's National Security Adviser M K Narayanan at short notice. 

There are indications that Harper has a personal invitation from Singh to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, January 26.

Ajit Jain in Toronto