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Modi faces tough task to make India business-friendly: Canadian daily

By Ians English

Ottawa, April 15: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have an uphill task in trying to open up his country's economy for business, notwithstanding his "rock star" image in India and among the Indian community abroad, Canadian daily Toronto Star has said.

Modi's message that India was "open for business" as a rising economic power was what made his visit to Canada all the more "significant", the daily said in an editorial on Tuesday.

PM Narendra Modi

"But Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have their work cut out creating conditions that favour trade. And rock star status isn't forever," the editorial cautioned.

Modi reached Canadian capital Ottawa on Tuesday on the last leg of his three-nation tour after successful visits to France and Germany. He is the first Indian prime minister to visit Canada in 42 years since Indira Gandhi visited in 1973.

In Canada, Modi will meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the captains of major Canadian companies, apart from addressing the Indian diaspora there.

As in France and Germany, he will hard sell the "Make in India" initiative in Canada, calling for investments.

"From Canada's perspective, Modi's modernising, pro-growth, pro-foreign-investment agenda can make India a prime trading partner, provided he makes good on promises to pry open his country's centrally-directed and overly-protected economy and to rein in official corruption," the daily said.

"India is a vast market. It has a population of 1.2 billion, a middle class of 350 million, an economy that's growing three times faster than ours and a potentially huge demand for the know-how and resources we sell," it added.

There was demand in India for Canadian expertise in information and communication technologies, education, infrastructure, oil and gas extraction, and power generation, the daily said, adding that Canadian resources like food, fertilizers, minerals, and now uranium were highly sought after.

"Yet cooperation has been slow to develop. Back in 2009, we vowed to boost our paltry $3-billion two-way trade to $15 billion by this year. It never happened. Last year we did just $6 billion worth, compared to $77 billion with China. And hopes for a Canada-India free trade pact remain aspirational at best," the editorial lamented.

However, it was optimistic that a "feel-good" visit to Canada, like the one undertaken by Modi, would help.

The daily has maintained that Canada and India had a lot in common.

It, however, pointed out that the bilateral ties suffered a setback following the testing of nuclear weapons by India in 1974 and 1998.

"Former US President George Bush, who saw India as an ally against China, eventually turned the page when he endorsed selling India 'civilian' nuclear technology, a policy adopted in 2008. Soon Harper was off to India to 'revitalize relations'," the editorial said.

The daily, while acknowledging Modi's "stunning mandate" in the general elections last year, noted that a year later, his delivery has been "modest" and that "his popularity shows signs of fading".

Modi was "still struggling to overcome a trust deficit", it said, adding, "When he was chief minister in Gujarat in 2002, anti-Muslim rioting killed 1,000 or more. Many Sikhs, too, mistrust the BJP's nationalism."

"In Canada, Modi is spreading the word that India is a profoundly-changed place, where the smart money is headed. Back home, he needs to be the change he wants to see," the daily said.


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