Double click: Of flying cars and butter chicken
Canada’s Prime Minister completed a six-day tour of India this month. It was a lacklustre trip which included a samosa-eating binge on the plane with the accompanying handful of his Indian origin Ministers, an interlude at the Taj Mahal with wife Laureen and some cricket practice at a local school in Bangalore. The only marked and remarked aspect was the extravagance (allegedly) indulged in by his security detail who flew in two of the Prime Minister`s own bullet-proof cars with the entourage. From Canada to India, the freight and expense of an SUV and a Cadillac can well be imagined if calculated at $21,239 per flying hour of a Boeing C-17 jet. The number of hours flown is not known. His hosts had offered to give their homemade version — the Ambassador — a distinctively shaped vehicle in which every Indian government official from Prime Minister downwards is mandated to use, but the offer was spurned in favour of the Canadian made, armoured vehicles.
After the fact became public and the Canadian media and tax payers raised a hue and cry, a statement was issued by Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s Press Office that such decisions are taken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) which makes its own threat assessment. Whatever the security threats were is irrelevant as the upshot of the much awaited trade-relations visit of the Canadian Premier turned into a superficial show with the personal baggage of cars overshadowing the news and the gesture almost turning into an affront to Indian hospitality.
Toronto Star columnist, Haroon Siddiqui wrote; “one cannot think of a worse way for a visiting politician to insult the Indian hosts than by bringing along his own cars.
Like carrying your own chair to someone’s house for dinner…!”
Included in the sightseeing activities of the Canadian Premier and his Mrs, was a meal undertaken at a local dhaba in Chandigarh where the Canadian entourage, including a 60-member delegation, stopped to taste butter chicken creating a management nightmare for the local police! This was after their trip to the Taj Mahal where, according to a newspaper account, ‘other tourists were instructed by whistle-blowing security guards to leave the site so that officials could ensure it is vacant when the Harpers received a private tour’. While that kind of high-handed security is to be expected for a western — especially a North American — leader, what was so typically Canadian was Harper’s rustic comment to the Press when he apparently said he was, ‘very impressed with what he had seen’. Like saying, ‘Shakespeare seems to have been a decent playwright’ or ‘Renoir isn’t too bad a painter’ —something a Canadian probably would do too!
The Canadian Premier’s visit, undertaken to make the right advances and dispel mistrust, had incidentally been long awaited by the Indians. India’s growing economic clout on the world stage has given them enough confidence to wait for the mountain to approach at their own terms. So it was that the stiff-necked Harper (putting aside his biases) set out to do business with the Indians (in his own car!).
Harper’s foreign policy for the South Asian region has been sketchy at best. At home, he has leaned towards racism and pointing fingers at ‘Islamicism’, calling it ‘the only threat to Canada.’ He’s been called one of the ‘most monarchist Prime Ministers’ by some political analysts and seen as ‘un-Canadian’ by Liberals. He has shown that he does not embrace the policies of the most-loved Liberal, Prime Minister — Pierre Trudeau – who laid the foundation of Canada’s Immigration Act and opened this country’s cold frontiers to outsiders. Harper would rather like to turn the multicoloured population to fair skin, thereby reducing the power of the ethnic vote.
Whatever his desires for the future colour of Canadians may be, with India, he has had to accept Canada’s need for that economically burgeoning nation and sign a free-trade deal which includes selling uranium to India.
The depressing part is that while India is negotiating on uranium sale; has a goal of reaching $15 billion in bilateral trade with Canada by 2015 and has an increased diplomatic/trade personnel in the Canadian embassy, Pakistan’s relations with Canada are centred on development aid, humans rights assistance, counter-terrorism and governance programs. And though India’s corruption statistics are extremely high and their poverty rate staggering, it is still rated as the 10th biggest economy in the world. After the same number of free years and despite a smaller scale of land mass and population to care for, all Pakistan has done is destroyed its foundations rather than build upon them, wrecking its exports, economy and governance systems while India has strengthened itself in all these areas. That however, is a lament, best left alone.