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Will Modi win hasten a Canada-India free trade agreement?

Photo: Narendra Modi
Photo: Narendra Modi

Today Stephen Harper welcomed the election results in India. He stated, “I look forward to working with Prime Minister-elect Modi and the new government of India to further strengthen our social and economic partnership to the benefit of our citizens.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party won about 284 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament. With that majority of seats, BJP leader Narendra Modi is now set to become prime minister. We should view this political development with more caution and concern than Harper. In the Guardian, Pankaj Mishra writes, “Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe…”

Vancouver-based Council of Canadians organizer Harjap Grewal comments, “Perhaps one of the most disgusting and scary election results expected today from India.” New Delhi-based Blue Planet Project organizer Madhuresh Kumar says, “Tsunami killed so many people so why is BJP calling their own victory a Tsunami. Irony!”

Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui writes, “The Harperites have an ideological affinity with the Modiites. …The Stephen Harper government, in fact, has been one of the sponsors of Modi’s biennial trade show for business bigwigs, called Vibrant Gujarat. Last year, Canada was ‘a partner country’, with Jason Kenney … in attendance.”

This has many implications, including that a Canada-India free trade agreement could be signed soon.

CBC reports, “The CEO of the Canada-India Business Council says the recent India election win by opposition leader Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party bodes well for Canadian business. Peter Sutherland, also Canada’s Former High Commissioner to India, expects to see a free trade agreement between Canada and India signed by the end of the year now that a business-friendly government is in charge. Sutherland says free trade talks have been in ‘a stage of abeyance’ while the lengthy election played out. Now that it’s over, Sutherland said things could start to move quickly. …Sutherland said Canada’s energy sector, including oil and gas and even nuclear power, could take advantage of a growing Indian economy.”

Modi’s “business-friendly” agenda may also mean a further set-back for the human right to water and sanitation in India.

In October 2013, Olivier Petitjean wrote in Multinationales.org, “French multinationals Suez and Veolia have been eager to present India as a new El Dorado for water privatization. The largely untapped India market, with its almost infinite potential, would allow them to renew with commercial expansion, restore their reputation, and prove that private water management – a model that has come under heavy criticism recently, both in France and abroad – is still a valid option in today’s world. …The state of Karnataka has pioneered the recent wave of water privatisation by awarding several relatively modest contracts to Veolia (which are widely suspected of being forerunners for the privatisation of water in larger cities, including Bangalore) and, in Mysore, to Jusco.”

For an in-depth analysis on Modi and the BJP, please see The new face of India in the Guardian. For more on Harper’s ties with Modi, you can read Canada could end up having the inside edge if Narendra Modi leads in India by Rupa Subramanya in the Globe and Mail.