India and Canada: Science and Technology Cooperation under Modi 2.0 Needs Re-inventing
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India and Canada: Science and Technology Cooperation under Modi 2.0 Needs Re-inventing

By Ronnie Ninan
Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune, India

India and Canada: Science and Technology Cooperation under Modi 2.0 Needs Re-inventing

The special relationship between the world's second-largest country, Canada, and the world's largest democracy, India, crystallized after India's first Prime Minister Nehru visited Canada, in October 1949. The long-standing bilateral tie between the two countries stems from their commonalities which include the shared chronicle of democracy, pluralistic ideals, and rich cultural heritage. While both the countries are members of the Commonwealth, Canada also remains home to a large Indian community, close to 1.9 million. The inception of the relation between the two countries had science and technology at the core of it. It was the cooperation in nuclear technology termed CIRUS (Canadian-Indian Reactor, US) that set up India's second nuclear reactor in 1954. The partnership between the two countries prospered through the years until the 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) by India, which used the plutonium from the CIRUS reactor. However, the relationship moved out of the slump born in the aftermath of the 1974 nuclear tests by India. In the early 2000s, New Delhi and Ottawa came together aiming to boost science and technology cooperation between them. The year 2005 saw a definite advancement in the relation between India and Canada, with the signing of the Canada-India Science and Technology Agreement, laying the groundwork for future endeavors together.

During the first term (2014-2019) of the Bhartiya Janata Party government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India realized the importance of adapting active partnerships with her extended neighborhood bringing the two countries together. Such determination created an environment for the heads of the two countries to sign various initiatives that culminated in endorsing significant bilateral and multilateral collaborations. These partnerships took shape in the fields of biotechnology, smart cities, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printing among others. In the field of cybersecurity, India, and Canada, both victims of cyber-espionage, have advanced their cooperation through the years. Since the introduction of the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the two countries, in force since 1995, has helped to ensure cooperation ranging from search and seizure to collecting material or documentary evidence, to aiding in the location and identification of suspect persons. The MLAT was influential in cementing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed into force on 26 March 2015, between the Ministry of Communication and IT of India and the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Canada on the cooperation in the area of cybersecurity. However, the MoU expired in 2017, and this needs an urgent revision in the second-term of the BJP government.

Space exploration has always been to pursue the unknown, and the India-Canada collaboration has remained at the forefront of Outer space exploration. India and Canada have been co-operating in the areas of space, earth observation, satellite launch services, and ground support for space missions. Canada has a substantial commercial relationship with India through the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), ANTRIX. To date, ISRO has launched 12 satellites for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). ISRO being a provider of cost-effective satellite launch systems to other countries, India has displayed a promising business opportunity from an international perspective. However, unlike other countries where private companies have also picked up the mantle for space exploration such as SpaceX (US), OneSpace and iSpace (China), India's ISRO competes to the likes of such privately-funded agencies, placing a heavy burden on the public exchequer. Such a difficult exercise could be remedied by privatizing and appropriating the collaboration with countries like Canada for space infrastructure.

Civil Nuclear cooperation is another domain within which the two countries have collaborated in the past. The Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA) signed into force between India and Canada in 2010, laid the groundwork for a more effective and long-term nuclear cooperation between the countries. Such cooperation comes after a long-standing moratorium on Canadian exports of nuclear materials to India that took roots after New Delhi’s 1974 nuclear tests. The Appropriate Agreement (AA) signed in March 2013, established the Joint Committee on Civil Nuclear Cooperation. Considering India only accounts for 2 percent of Canada's global trade, it is necessary to create stronger bilateral trade relations between the two countries that are mutually beneficial. Such a path to better trade relations can be achieved through the already laid pathway of nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes.

The areas of cooperation under the two Prime Ministers have vastly increased through the years, however, in 2015 when Prime Minister Modi visited Toronto, he addressed a large gathering of the vast Indian diaspora in Canada, opening a gateway into the Canadian hearts, while the visit by the Canadian counterpart in 2018, Justin Trudeau, received a lukewarm response. Considering the diverse ways India and Canada have collaborated through the years in the areas of space, civil nuclear cooperation, cybersecurity, and biotechnology among many others, there is still a lot left to be desired. In the light of the dramatic and landslide victory of the BJP in 2019, and the second term of Prime Minister Modi, aptly entitled as Modi 2.0, the relationship which has slumbered needs reinventing to evolve to its full potential. India requires a stable and competent partner, especially during these times of trade wars between global powers, in the field of space and information, and communication technology. Such a partner can be found in Canada. With the ever-growing cyberspace and a vibrant demographic dividend, the Indian populace needs better opportunities in the field that would build this decade, and that is Science and Technology.

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About the Author

Ronnie Ninan worked as a research intern at the IDSA’s Centre on Strategic Technologies. He is a Physics graduate from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in International Studies from Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.