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World India and Canada: Two Solitudes (India Journal blog)

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Jun 29, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

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    By Rupa Subramanya Dehejia

    This year’s G-20 summit in Toronto prompted me to compare two countries where I divide my time these days, India and Canada.

    The India-Canada relationship, unlike the India-U.S. relationship, is not at the top of policymakers’ agenda in either country, nor does it rate newspaper headlines. The two countries have much in common, from the English language to shared parliamentary and legal systems, thanks to the British colonial legacy. One is an aspiring superpower, slightly behind China as an economic powerhouse, while the other is a successful rich country with a large land mass and a small population, most of whom are clustered along the U.S. border.

    Canada for obvious economic and geographical reasons has throughout its history been fixated on its bilateral relationship with the United States. After all, the two countries share the longest border in the world, until recently largely unprotected, as well as the largest trading relationship in the world. India’s focus has historically, and even more so in the present continues to be, on the U.S., China and Russia. Canada has simply been below the radar screen in India and vice-versa.

    The Canada-India relationship at a governmental level was at best tepid for many years after Independence. Specific incidents like the Air India bombing, the presence of a strong base of support for Sikh separatism in Canada and the Indian use of Canadian nuclear technology for military purposes have long been irritants in the relationship.

    Given the history of immigration, there are strong personal links between the two countries. According to the Canadian foreign ministry, India is the second-largest provider of immigrants to Canada and is expected to take over the number one spot in the next few years.

    Looking at the percentage share of Indians in Canada, what is striking is that they are a much bigger percentage of the Canadian population than they are of the U.S. population. The number of Indians or people of Indian origin is close to a million out of a population of 33 million or a little over 3%. By contrast, in the US, there are about 2.3 million out of a population of 307 million, or less than 1%.

    Given this, one would expect to see a stronger relationship, in terms of trade, commerce and diplomacy between the two countries. A puzzle remains as to why the relationship is so lukewarm, given at least the numerical importance of the Indian diaspora in Canada.

    In reality, it’s the India-U.S. bilateral relationship which seems to be more dynamic, fuelled in part by Indians living in America. The success of the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear ratified by the U.S. congress in the dying days of the Bush Administration is often attributed to intense lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill by Indo-Americans.

    To my mind, this only deepens the puzzle. Despite the importance of economic and strategic drivers of the relationship, as I’ve suggested it’s the people to people contacts that animate the Indo-U.S. scenario. The question remains as to why the large number of Indo-Canadians seem either uninterested in, or unsuccessful at, lobbying the government in Ottawa on a pro-India agenda. It is sometimes argued that the absence of such a lobby reflects a fundamental difference in the Westminster parliamentary model that Canada follows. This seems far-fetched when you witness effective lobbying on the part, for example, of the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

    One simple explanation might be to compare the demographics of the two diasporas. In the mid- to late 60s to now, the majority of Indians who came to the U.S. were professionals, many arriving originally as students in specialized technical or scientific fields. In Canada by contrast, there is a longer history of immigration from India going back about a century when many Sikh immigrants arrived on the shores of British Columbia, to work in the booming mining and logging sectors.

    That set the pattern for successive waves of Indian migrants to Canada. Even today, the majority of Indo-Canadians are Punjabi. This is not at all to denigrate the Indians in Canada vis-a-vis those in the U.S.: the fact remains that they have a more parochial set of interests that they pursue.

    As a recent and telling case in point, a prominent Sikh-Canadian member of Parliament introduced a private member’s bill to seek an apology for what has come to be known as Komagata Maru: an episode when, in 1914, a ship carrying would-be Sikh migrants was refused entry to Canada. As worthy as this cause is, it simply doesn’t resonate with mainstream Indo-Canadians, nor in India where the episode is completely unknown.

    A second plausible explanation is there are simply more opportunities in the Indo-U.S. situation to exploit than in the Indo-Canadian. The U.S. being the world’s largest and most diversified economy gives many opportunities for trade and investment with India. Canada, being a small economy heavily tilted towards primary products such as oil and natural resources, offers relatively few natural synergies with India’s manufacturing and service-oriented economy.

    As long as Canada remains focused on its primary relationship with the U.S., and to be fair, India in turn remains focused on engaging the U.S. and other major players, the India-Canada story is likely to remain a footnote. It might even be too much to ask for Air Canada to resume flights to India, cancelled a few years ago just as India was taking off, but I am hoping.

    India Journal: India and Canada: Two Solitudes - India Real Time - WSJ
     
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