Make India a Priority

Author: Thomas S. Axworthy

Early in July, the 2005 G-8 Summit of world leaders will take place in Gleneagles, Scotland, and the focus will likely be on the challenges facing Africa. Prime Minister Martin should press for a bilateral objective that has nothing to do with Canada directly, yet could be one ofthe most important foreign policy initiatives in years. Canada should launch a campaign to invite India to become a member of this exclusive democratic club. The G-8 should become the G-9.

According to Shashi Tharoor, a senior official at the United Nations, India may be “the most important country for the future of the world.” Tharoor makes an impressive case that India is engaged in fundamental debates whose resolution will not only be critical for South Asia, but for the evolution of the whole of the developing world. India is at the center of the “bread versus freedom” debate, i.e. should the world adopt the authoritarian model of China or the freedom model of India? In India, too, pluralism – the legacy of Gandhi and Nehru – contends daily with fundamentalism. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who liberalized India’s economy as Finance Minister in 1991, must keep his left-wing coalition together, so will it be globalization or self-reliance? With one-sixth of the world’s population, India tilts the earth toward itself in any case, but it is the Indian debate about what kind of country it wants to be that makes it so important.

In Canada’s “golden age” of foreign policy from 1947 to 1957, India and Canada had a special relationship. Mr. Pearson helped develop the formula that kept India in the commonwealth, Nehru’s eloquence about the needs of the deprived led Canada to begin its aid development program in the Colombo Plan in 1950. According to Escott Reid, Canada’s Ambassador to India from1952 to 1957, Nehru “helped Canada to break out of the confines of Canadian isolationism, North American isolationism, North Atlantic isolationism.”

It is time to restore the centrality of the Indian-Canadian relationship. Not just for economic gain, though International Trade Minister Jim Peterson is correct when he calls India a “cornerstone” of the emerging world economy. Not just for the 700,000 Indo-Canadians, though they are making an enormous impact in so many facets of Canadian life, rather, it is because Canada and India share a commitment to democracy, pluralism, human rights, and the needs of the poor. Through the inspired leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru – the twentieth century equivalents of Washington and Jefferson – India went down a different path than China. Escott Reid cabled Ottawa in the 1950’s that Nehru “has mastered fear and conquered hate.” In our modern world where thugs like Robert Mugabe or Bin Laden stoke fear and relish hate, the example of India still beckons.

At a recent Canada-India Dialogue in New Delhi, which I co-chaired, we discussed the likelihood of China vetoing India’s bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In the G-8, however, China has no role, so that democratic club is free to invite the world’s largest democracy to join. Such an initiative would be excellent for the G-8 – India has intimate knowledge of the problems of the developing world and her economy is one of the planet’s most dynamic. But, it would also send a useful message to the communist regime in China that democracy, human rights and a devotion to law matters. Mao was a monster; Gandhi was a saint. Humankind will forever be in debt to Gandhi for taking India down the path of non-violence and democracy. As Pearson did with the Commonwealth, Martin should do with the G-8 – offer India its rightful place as a global leader. Canada should open the door of the G-8 to the largest mass democracy in the world.

Thomas S. Axworthy is Chairman of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

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