At the stroke of midnight when the world sleeps, India will awake to freedom. When we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the shoulders of a nation long suppressed finds utterance…The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, August 14, 1947, the day before India’s independence

Sixty-three years later, the opening of opportunity that Nehru spoke of is being realized with India’s emergence as a global power. Three generations on, India is the world’s largest democracy and an economic power to be reckoned with. No one would have imagined, in 1947, that India would pioneer the world’s most affordable car or that India would become home to one of the world’s largest numbers of millionaires and billionaires. No one would have envisioned that in 1914, the year of the Komagata Maru injustice in Canada, that in 2010 there would be 10 Indo-Canadian members of Parliament, and that Punjabi would become the fourth most-spoken language by Canadian parliamentarians.

Gone are the days when former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger predicted that India would become a banana republic. His revised statement in 2006 “that the world needs India” perhaps is symbolic of the maturity of the developed world in viewing India as a nation imbued with opportunity and potential.

Many throughout the globe have contemplated what elements have been the key to India’s success. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, perhaps said it best, quoted in the book Imagining India, by Nandin Nilekani, when he declared: “It is in India’s superb human capital that our advantage lies.”

With a population of over 1 billion, a middle class that is already larger than the entire US population and 65 percent of its population under 35, India is poised to become one of the world’s largest economies by 2020.

As a result India has become a shining light on the radar screens of almost every trading nation on the planet. However, the more important questions are which nations are on the radar screen of India and what it will take to attract the attention of a nation no one can afford to ignore.

On every trip I make to India, I am reminded by the country’s political and business leadership that Canada possesses the qualities, values, resources and population demographics that should make it illuminate India’s economic radar. They state that Canada should be and can be at the forefront of every opportunity as India seeks to diversify its markets internationally and its engagement with the global world. And yet the leaders of India speak with a sense of dismay at the reality of our bilateral relationship, which has been characterized by a history of missed opportunities in which Canada has yet to get truly noticed for its full potential, capacity and capabilities.

Perhaps it stems back to the day in 1974 when India tested its first nuclear weapon, causing excitement in India, shock waves throughout the West and despair in Canada as the nuclear fuel used in the construction of the weapon was developed with Canadian reactors sold to India. As it happens, that was three months after the year I was born, and despite the understandable break in the relationship between the two countries during much of my life, I couldn’t be prouder as a Canadian of Indian origin of the progress India has made in a generation, and the recognition by Canada that it must reach out to India. Canada has the resources — both natural and human — that are the foundation for any sustainable and prosperous partnership.

In its efforts to reach out to India to strengthen, mobilize and enhance the partnership, Canada has a unique and tremendous asset: the Indo-Canadian community. As one of the largest ethnic diasporas in Canada, the Indo-Canadian community has achieved great success in the area of business, entertainment, health care and politics. Almost 1 million strong, the Indo-Canadian community is a natural partner for the government’s quest to forge relationships and partnerships with India.

Connections through family members, friends and business investments, combined with the institutional knowledge behind the dynamics of ancestral villages, towns and cities, are invaluable tools to help Ottawa build and grow the partnership and attract the attention of India. Through various initiatives India is engaging its Indian diaspora living in 110 countries across the globe as a bridge to connect with the world. In 2009 Prime Minister Singh created the Global Advisory Council of People of Indian Origin to bring together nonresident Indians to provide advice and suggestions for India’s growth.

In addition, Prime Minister Singh recently announced in 2010 that nonresident Indians would be given the opportunity to vote in national elections. This is a significant step forward in engaging the Indian diaspora. Canada also has the same opportunity to capitalize on its linkages by working with the Indo-Canadian community and using the expertise and advice as the bridge for stronger relations.

In its efforts to reach out to India to strengthen, mobilize and enhance the partnership, Canada has a unique and tremendous asset: the Indo-Canadian community. As one of the largest ethnic diasporas in Canada, the Indo-Canadian community has achieved great success in the area of business, entertainment, health care and politics. Almost 1 million strong, the Indo-Canadian community is a natural partner for the government’s quest to forge relationships and partnerships with India.

Within Canada, there are also leaders like former Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch and former MP Jim Peterson, who have conducted extensive research to understand the dynamic in India and develop a network to achieve results. Hence all Canadians with an interest and passion for India can contribute to fostering and enhancing the cultural, trade and economic linkages and help to ensure Canada shines on India’s radar screen.

In Imagining India, Nilekani states that “the vast numbers of people in India will only be able to participate in the growth story of India if they are provided with access to the roads that take them to work, to the lights that allow them to study at night, and to English skills that enable them to tap into benefits of growth.”

This is where the opportunity lies for us as Canadians. We have the ability to share, to exchange and to partner with Indians and India to ensure that roads are built, that sources of energy are developed and that English is taught to every man, woman and child. As industrialization and urbanization drive India’s massive growth, the demand for clean technology will also rise. The high rate of growth will increase pressure on its energy and water supplies. Canadian companies are well equipped with the talent, expertise and solutions to these challenges.

In a conversation recently with the Indian minister of new and renewable energy, Farooq Abdullah, I was given a true sense of the importance that the Indian government places on access to oil, gas, nuclear and hydro power. Canada, of course, has an abundance of expertise and quantity of every single item on that list.

Canada has growing high-technology sectors, while India’s unparalleled growth is in great need of technical expertise. Meanwhile, India has significant manufacturing capability, and Canada is an excellent source for foreign direct investment. Canada needs markets for its goods abroad, while India has growing consumer demand and a rapidly growing middle class with significant purchasing power.

We have the products, we have the resources, and we have the solutions. The problem, then, isn’t a lack of supply or expertise, but rather a lack of sizzle in selling Canada in India. In an era of global competition, promotion and repetition are incredibly important. The recent visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a step in the right direction. However, we must do more.

Branding our nation, our people and our products is one component of a four-part strategy that is needed to ensure Canada’s success. The other three parts need to include a focus on science and technology, education and trade between small and medium-sized businesses.

Canada is also respected internationally for our education system. We must collectively market our educational institutions as opposed to forcing provinces and individual colleges or universities to compete alone and against each other. Our educational institutions must be a beacon to every student in India wanting to study abroad. We have the opportunity to attract the best and the brightest. We must open our doors as the demand for graduates and professionals in India increases.

To ensure Canada’s success the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) announced by Prime Minister Harper on his recent visit must be capitalized upon to solidify the relationship. CEPA will help to open the door so that Canadian exporters can expand trade, encourage economic growth and create jobs in both countries. The elimination of tariffs will also lead to further opportunities in a range of industrial sectors.

In a speech in New Delhi at around table organized by the Indo-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of Indian Industries, I emphasized the importance of creating mentoring opportunities and networks for small and medium-sized businesses. Linking individuals and organizations that have already been active in India with those wanting to start doing business will provide a platform to share ideas and exchange best practices.

In addition to using human and natural resources as pillars for a dynamic and productive partnership, Canada has an opportunity to make a bold and visionary statement by supporting India’s bid for a long-term seat at the United Nations Security Council. Canada is the next host of the G20 Summit, so all of these countries will be sitting down in our backyard. This will be Canada’s opportunity to demonstrate its leadership and desire to be seen as a supporter of India’s aspirations in the world.

Despite India’s current climate of success and opportunity, there is another story to India that is easily forgotten: the story in which 45 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, millions of people yearn for basic resources like water, and over 300 million young children are unable to read and write. As a nation that is internationally respected for our humanitarian work, Canada and Canadians have a role to play to empower the children, mothers, fathers and teachers of India with the resources and tools they need for a brighter tomorrow.

We have the talent, we have the experience, we have the knowledge. We must put politics and partisanship aside and unite our networks to strengthen, enhance and mobilize our cultural, economic and trade advantages. As a proud Canadian of Indian origin, I believe that the potential for a Canada-India partnership is unlimited and the opportunities are endless.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ruby Dhalla is the Member of Parliament for Brampton Springdale. She was one of the first women of Indian origin to be elected to Canada's Parliament and visits India frequently on cultural and trade issues.

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