New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi concludes his nine-day, three-nation tour in Canada on Friday. The tour, which began on 9 April, is one more illustration of the emphasis Modi has laid on foreign relations since he was elected in May last year. He travelled to France and Germany before going to Canada.
In the European leg of the tour, Modi concentrated on attracting investment, with a strong pitch for his government’s Make in India initiative, while also addressing key concerns voiced by critics about the ease of doing business in India.
Here are 10 key takeaways from the Prime Minister’s latest overseas sojourn.
1) Purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft as quickly as possible
In a significant development, India signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft as quickly as possible. The aircraft are manufactured by the French company Dassault Aviation. According to a Reuters report, the decision to buy the aircraft bypasses the plan under which the Indian Air Force was to buy 126 Rafale fighters, “of which 108 would be produced at a state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) plant in Bengaluru as part of India’s efforts to build a domestic military industrial base".
2) Some headway on Jaitapur atomic power plant
The other significant takeaway relates to civilian nuclear energy. India and France signed a deal for the Jaitapur nuclear plant, located in the Konkan region (Ratnagiri district) of Maharashtra. The deal is significant, given that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s coalition partner in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, has been in constant opposition to the setting up of the plant.
France’s state-owned nuclear company, Areva, also signed a deal with Larsen and Toubro Ltd to “maximize the localization for the Jaitapur project", according to the joint statement. The deal is also seen as an affirmation of the Modi government’s commitment to its flagship Make in India programme.
3) Increased French investment
French President Francois Hollande, in his joint statement with Modi, announced that France would invest €2 billion in India and develop three smart cities in the country. “It was agreed to include Smart City cooperation as an area of technical cooperation under the October 2012 MoU (memorandum of understanding) on Cooperation in the Field of Sustainable Urban development between France and India", according to the statement.
Indian Railways and France’s French National Railways signed a railway protocol, under which the two countries will work closely in the upgradation of the semi high-speed Delhi-Chandigarh line to 200 kmph, and the redevelopment of Ambala and Ludhiana railway stations.
4) Make in India comes to Germany
In Germany, Modi made his strongest pitch for the Make in India initiative, seeking to learn from Germany’s leading role as a manufacturing hub in Europe. There were no formal pacts signed between the two governments during the trip, although there were announcements of strengthened cooperation in sectors like energy, skill development, science and technology and the Modi government’s initiatives like Digital India and Clean India.
Modi, after inaugurating the India Pavilion at the 2015 Hannover Messe industrial fair, where India was a partner country, said, “The entire world is looking at India. Demography, democracy and demand are attracting the world to India."
Hannover Messe also saw Indian public sector units, including HMT Ltd and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, sign key pacts with companies from Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Russia “for scaling up Indian manufacturing in high-tech areas".
5) Nuclear deal with Cameco
Modi’s trip to Canada was the first bilateral visit to that country by an Indian prime minister in 42 years. In 1973, then prime minister Indira Gandhi visited the country.
On Modi’s first full day in Canada, the country’s biggest producer of uranium, Cameco, signed a $280 million, five-year deal to supply uranium to fuel Indian nuclear reactors. The long-term deal announced on Wednesday means that the Saskatchewan-based Cameco will sell 7.1 million pounds of uranium to India, through 2020.
The Cameco deal was enabled by a Canada-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement signed in September 2013, which allowed Canadian companies to export nuclear products to India for civilian purposes.
6) Cyber security cooperation
The other significant takeaway from Modi’s trip included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the information technology ministry and its Canadian counterpart in the area of cyber security. A joint statement said Modi and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper “welcomed the commitment to a broader framework for future dialogue on cyber issues".
The other key area of enhanced co-operation between India and Canada is transportation, most notably railways and civil aviation. The two countries signed an MoU for technical cooperation in the railways. On the civil aviation front, another MoU was signed between the ministry of civil aviation and Transport Canada, “which will establish a joint working group to bring together key industry and government stakeholders to advance opportunities for cooperation in civil aviation."
8) Skill development and innovation
Another pet project of the Modi government, skill development emerged as a thrust area for cooperation between India and Canada. There were 13 MoUs signed between India’s National Skill Development Council and “Canadian colleges, institutes and sector skills councils" in the fields of “agriculture, apparel and textiles, automative, aviation, construction, green economy, healthcare, hydrocarbons, IT, telecom and electronics, sports sector and water".
Health innovation, another top priority area for both governments, attracted interest from the Canadian side. This included an agreement which sees “an investment of $2.5 million Canadian dollars in five health innovations in India by Grand Challenges Canada and the Department of Biotechnology".
9) Rockstar treatment continues
The Indian Prime Minister’s popularity abroad remains intact, and wherever he goes, a rockstar reception seems to await him. It began at the Times Square in New York last year, carried on to the Allphones Arena in Sydney and on Wednesday, he addressed a crowd of over 10,000 at the Ricoh Coliseum Stage in Toronto. In fine oratorial form, Modi said he wanted to change overseas perception of India from “scam India" to “skill India".
10) Return of the Khajuraho scupture
Last but not the least, Modi’s overseas visit was significant in enhancing cultural relations between India and the countries he visited. There was also the curious case of the Parrot Girl, a 900-year old Khajuraho temple sculpture, which was returned to India by Canada, in line with the 1970 Unesco Convention. The sculpture was seized by Canadian authorities in 2011 after it was found “in possession of a person who did not have proper document".