India’s High Commissioner Leaves Behind A Changed Landscape
By Binoy Thomas
Brampton: “My whole life has been a moving experience!” quipped India’s retiring High Commissioner to Canada, S.M. Gavai, at a farewell luncheon organized by the ICCC in Brampton recently. A man very much in the self-effacing mode, ideal for the effective diplomat, he is also gifted with a self-deprecating sense of humour, as he explained, “As my father too was in government service (reputedly a man of very high integrity), ever since I was a child, we have been moving house!” Actually, he gave the exact number, 46 homes in 60 years! And if you think that’s a lot of baggage to carry around, let me tell you, it sits lightly on the man. That day, as he spoke, not eloquently, but honestly, on the state of Canada-India bilateral relationship, dressed in pants and shirts, like a Mumbai midlevel executive, letting it be known that he is ready for the life of the average joe, it was clear that the diplomatic landscape that greeted him in 2008 and the one he is leaving behind, is vastly different. While the early days were caught in a permafrost, today, he is leaving in the light of a new dawn between Canada and India.
S.M. Gavai is going back to his home town of Mumbai and when I gently brought up the pollution problems, Gavai dismissed it as not important. He is proud of where he intents living out the rest of his life. So hopefully, when I knock on his door, the next time I am in Mumbai, he would treat me to a pau-bhaji treat. And for those who will miss him in Canada, he says, he is not saying ‘goodbye’ but ‘au revoir’ (till we meet again).
When you came in as India’s High Commissioner to Canada, what was your order of priority as far as strengthening Canada India relationship is concerned?
I took over as High Commissioner in the year 2008 which was a
watershed in the history of India Canada relations. The government of Canada
under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper lifted the nuclear ban
on India and extended valuable support at the NSG and the IAEA for
international civil nuclear cooperation with India.
Over time, the High Commission, along with the Canadian Government
moved in rapidly to make up for lost time. We have developed cooperative
relationships at the government, public and private sector levels in almost
every field. This includes the areas of energy (nuclear, fossil and
renewables), mining and earth sciences, agriculture, culture,
transportation, infrastructure, education, science and technology,
environment, health etc. There is periodic review of our relationship
through annual dialogue mechanisms of regular foreign office consultation,
strategic dialogue, Joint Working Group (JWG) on counter terrorism, trade
policy consultations, Energy Forum, Environment Forum, JWGs on Agriculture,
Pulses, Health, Steering Committee on mines etc. The provincial governments
have been fully engaged. Over 25 ministerial delegations including at the
level of premiers have visited India. Our flagship companies such as Tata,
Essar, Wipro etc., have set up businesses in Canada and are investing here
to the tune of approved investments of approximately $15 billion. Trade has grown at the rate of over 25 per cent despite the economic downturn. Our two Prime
Ministers have exchanged visits and more high level visits are on the
cards. To celebrate our growing partnership we organized the Year of India
in Canada 2011 when over 100 cultural and other events were held across
Canada. It is a matter of immense satisfaction to us that the government of
Canada today considers India among the top three priority countries.
Necessary instruments have been put in place in terms of agreements/MOUs
with inbuilt implementation mechanisms. Free trade negotiations are moving
apace. The relationship is, thus, poised for a major leap forward.
Can you tell us an incident/anecdote that indicated to you that
the bilateral relationship is on very friendly level, and a far cry from the
There are so many instances that indicate a new level of
relationship. A significant example is when Prime Minister Stephen Harper
made a very special effort to attend both the opening and closing ceremonies
of the Year of India in Canada in 2011. This special gesture touched us
There are still many issues and irritants. We often hear of courts
here denying requests for transfer from the Indian police or authorities on
alleged criminals, terrorists, or even murderers. Are you and Canada working
on a framework to make this exchange mutually acceptable?
I do not believe that there are any major irritants in the relationship. As far as judicial and criminal matters are concerned, there are necessary instruments in place in the form of Extradition Treaty, mutual Legal assistance treaty and annual JWG on counter terrorism, through the medium of which the authorities on both sides remain in regular contact and cooperate on real time basis. There may be delays or issues on occasion but it is the endeavour of both sides to resolve them to mutual satisfaction.
Free trade is the big ticket item now in the Canada-India engagement. You personally must’ve been closely associated with this process. Are you confident that we will have it wrapped up by 2013?
The ongoing free trade negotiations have created a positive buzz in the industry and has energized business. The target is to wrap up the rounds by 2013. I am optimistic. Five rounds have already taken place. We expect the next round in Ottawa before year end.
On a personal level, tell us some of your impressions about Canada?
The first thing that struck me was the friendliness of the Canadian people and their willingness to open doors to you. I have also come to admire the achievements of the Indo-Canadian community and its contribution to building bridges between India and Canada. I have had the privilege of travelling to the farthest ends of the country and its enormity never ceases to impress. I have enjoyed every moment of my time here and I look forward to visiting in the not too distant future.
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