- Raisina Debates
- Jul 29 2017
Prime Minister Modi has shown keen interest to woo the Indian diaspora in the past three years. There are around 24 million NRIs all over the world. During his last trip to the US and Europe, he met the NRIs in Portugal and Holland. There are 120,000 people of Indians of Surinamese descent in Holland. There is a huge number in the UK (2,360,000), the highest in Europe.
Modi’s favourite NRIs seem to be in the US (3.2 million) where he got a record gathering of 19000 in Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014. However, in his last trip, he had no time to meet the Indian Americans though he did meet 600 CEOs and important businessmen at a special gathering in Virginia. He skipped Canada which is home to over a million Indian immigrants (1,016,185) who are doing well and more importantly, are well integrated into the Canadian society. Indian Canadians hold important posts in the judiciary and have been members of the Canadian Parliament. There are many Indian professors, doctors, journalists, lawyers and businessmen who are people of influence in Canada along with taxi drivers and farmers.
It is true that US based NRIs have done much better and the net worth of Indians settled in the Silicon Valley is around $250 billion, but there have been quite a few racial attacks against Indians in recent times which is not the case of Canada. It is a highly inclusive and pluralistic society which is encouraging immigration and is accepting other cultures. Indians are the second most important ethnic community in Canada after the Chinese.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boasted some time ago that Canada has more Sikhs in his cabinet than the Modi government — which is absolutely true!
Even though the majority of Canadian NRIs are Hindus, Sikhs have become prominent in recent times. Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has been in the news in Canada for his views regarding Canada’s defence preparedness which he thinks is not adequate and wants to increase the size of the Canadian armed forces, involving a big boost to Canada’s defence expenditure from $ 18.9 billion to $32.7 billion by 2027.
Other Sikhs in the cabinet, like Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Small Business Minister Ms Bardish Chagger and Innovation Minister Navdeep Singh Baines are also in the news frequently. Sikhs have a long history in Canada and while they are less than 1.5 per cent of Canadian population, their presence is markedly visible. During the World War I, exactly 100 years ago, Sikhs fought alongside the Canadians in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. They also came as lumbermen and farmers to work in Canadian forests and farmland. The month of April 2017 was celebrated as the Sikh Heritage month in Canada and Trudeau danced the Bhangra during Baisakhi celebrations. He has often been referred to as Justin Singh Trudeau! In the Canadian calendar, Sikh holidays are marked and a Sikh museum, about Sikh beliefs, customs and traditions, was opened in Mississauga, Ontario in 2010.
Indians are contributing to the Canadian economy in manifold ways and own sizeable amounts of property and land. While they are settled all over Canada, Punjabis are concentrated around Vancouver and Toronto. Canadian economy is doing well this year after sluggish growth in 2016 and 2015. According to the Royal Bank of Canada, the economy is expected to grow at 2.6 per cent in 2017. The fall in crude oil and commodity prices affected the economy adversely and the Canadian dollar fell by 20 percent against the US dollar. But cheaper Loonie (Canadian dollar) has been great for tourism and manufactured exports as a result of which there are more jobs. Recently, 54,400 jobs were added in May 2017.
Canada has a more open immigrant policy than the US and has admitted immigrants freely specially those who are skilled or have professional qualifications (‘people with merit’).
Indians in Toronto have their own Indian shops and restaurants like they have in all major cities of the west. But Brampton near Toronto, where most Indians live, is not like South Hall near London as it is neat and clean. Indians living there are mostly professionals and businessmen.
South of the border, there is tension between Canada and the US about the renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement (1994) which President Trump has pledged he will undertake soon (may be in August 2017). NAFTA involves free trade between three countries US, Canada and Mexico. Due to Trump’s ‘America First’ policy that invokes a protectionist stance towards countries with whom US has a trade deficit, the US has already slapped countervailing duties of nearly 20 per cent on most Canadian softwood shipments to the US. It is one of the issues that needs to be resolved in what appears to be an escalating trade war between the US and Canada despite the free trade treaty. US is doing better than Canada however and is expected to grow at 2.2 percent in 2017 but Canada’s big trade surplus with US ($11 billion) is a sore point with President Trump. Canada however has quite a high unemployment rate of 6.6 percent and youth unemployment is at 12 per cent. By contrast, US job growth has been consistently rising. But as the Canadian economy is turning around, there could be a hike in interest rates (currently at 0.5 percent) after 7 years and the Canadian dollar has just climbed up against the dollar by 76 US cents. It may soon outperform the US economy.
Canada is an important trade partner of India (total two way trade is around $6.2 billion) and a source of FDI ($ 934 million, 2015). Like in the US, NRIs are keen to invest in India. Modi should plan to visit Canada next time he is in North America because it is home to a large number of NRIs who keep in close touch with India, especially with Punjab. Around 25,000 to 30,000 Indians arrive in Canada each year and earn well and are an important source of remittances. They are also a source of India’s soft power like pop singer Lily Singh and film maker Deepa Mehta.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).