|By Gulshan luthra||April 2017|
New Delhi. India and Canada have enjoyed steady relations for decades, rather lukewarm though compared to the current Indo-US ties, but there has been cooperation in significant areas like nuclear and space for decades.
Canada was one of the first countries along with France and the United States to support India in its nuclear research programme, and it was also the first in May 1974 to withdraw this assistance within 10 days of India doing its first big test, described officially by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion or PNE.
I had just become a reporter, and thanks to some flukes, I scored exclusives on every aspect of this test from Happened to Where, What’s Happening (at the site) and the What’s the International Reaction. Canada became the first country to cease nuclear cooperation with India as I learnt from the Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, that three scientists who were about to leave for Canada were told not to come by a telex message to the Atomic Energy Commission, AEC.
(I worked with UNI, then a great news agency whic0 inspired and conceded initiative. My reports were quoted globally from The Washington Post to The Times in London and Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo. Thanks to these exclusives, and some later reports, I was given a very prestigious assignment within six years to set up a news network in the Middle East as a Foreign Correspondent and Chief of Bureau for the region with diplomatic-level compensation).
Canada is far, far away, on the other side of the globe, but it has always been a liberal democracy with additional attractive welcome packages for immigrants. No wonder that in the 1960s, when I was a student, it was common to hear many boys planning to move there. Punjabis found it particularly nice, given the large tracts of lands available there for farming, and today a sizeable chunk of the immigrants is constituted by them, mostly Sikhs.
They have done well, and notwithstanding the involvement of some in anti-India Khalistanis, bilateral ties between India and Canada have been good and steady. The Sikhs also form a big vote bank, have good representation in Parliament and state legislatures, and one gentleman, and admirably also an officer, is today the Defence Minister.
Mr Harjit Singh Sajjan, who served in the Canadian military rose to be a Lt Colonel, and did his share of assignment in the violent terrains of Afghanistan against Taliban, worked in Vancouver police for some time after retirement, and then took to public life. He was elected to the Canadian Parliament, and picked up as Defence Minister by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
As a military officer, Lt Col Sajjan was awarded meritorious medals for fighting the terrorists.
He is now proudly visiting India, which he had left at the age of five in 1976 to follow his father who had moved to Canada for work. He held discussions here with his host Indian counterpart Mr Arun Jaitley, interacted with the strategic community at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and also met the press. The minister was accorded the customary Guard of Honour at South Block on arrival to the Ministry of Defence.
Punjabis are warm people, and Mr Sajjan’s smiles are reassuring. I met him briefly at a function organissaed by the Observer Research Foundatin (ORF). I wold say his visit is like Canada Extendng Indian Warmth to New Delhi.
Notably, Canada resumed nuclear cooperation after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in 2015 and has concluded an agreement to supply uranium fuel to India.
There is no reason for bad relations between the two countries, both being liberal, constitutional democracies. The only irritant is the loud voice of some Khalistanis in that country, and this was reportedly mentioned by Mr Jaitley in the bilateral discussions.
Mr Sajjan rightly suggested not to pay much attention to their rhetoric, saying he was in India to promote bilateral relations, and that was a clear directive from his Prime Minister, Mr Justin Trudeau.
(With inputs from Bureau)