Surrey is truly on the international map this week, as the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Temple hosts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi is the recently elected prime minister of the world’s largest democracy. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an absolute majority in elections last year, and some people call him a “rock star” of a prime minister.
His visit to Canada has been much anticipated. It began on Tuesday when he arrived in Ottawa. He later appeared in Toronto for meetings and at a large public event, and is scheduled here in Surrey tomorrow (Thursday). He will appear at an outdoor event hosted by the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society and Hindu Sikh Forum of Canada. Thousands of people are expected to be in attendance.
Security is also expected to be very tight, given the tensions that seem to surround virtually any Indian prime minister. It isn’t easy being prime minister of such a huge and diverse country, with multiple religions, many social challenges and a great many economic and cultural pressures.
Modi is also planning to visit the Ross Street Sikh Temple in Vancouver and later to take part in a state dinner in Vancouver.
His visit is also expected to spark protest and controversy, largely because he was the chief minister in Gujarat state in 2002, at a time when several hundred people were killed as a result of rioting and police counter-activity. The violence was due to religious tensions, with Hindus attacking Muslims and Sikhs.
Surrey is an important city in Canada and North America for the Indian government and people. It is home to many thousands of people of Indian descent, and stands to be a prime beneficiary of improved Canada-India trading relations, which is a prime reason that Modi is visiting Canada so soon after his election.
It’s worth noting that the last Indian prime minister to visit Canada was Indira Gandhi. Her visit took place in 1973 and she did not come to Western Canada.
Since that time, India has become a much more important part of the world. Its economy has grown dramatically. Many more Indians have graduated from post-secondary schools, and business activity has grown significantly. Many younger indians are fluent in English and the Indian diaspora has spread all over the world.
At one time, India was a protectionist country. It is now more open to trading with the world than it has ever been.
While there is still a lot of poverty in India, the growth of the middle class has been significant and that growth appears likely to continue.
India’s trade with Canada is about five per cent of Canada’s trade with China. That difference seems hard to believe, given Canada’s large and growing Indian population. The federal government is focused on extending trade agreements with various countries, and anything that can boost trade with India would be very good for the Canadian economy.
Modi is known as being open to increased trade and investment, and his election and pro-business attitude is expected to make India more open than ever. The fact that he wants to visit Surrey points out the critical importance of this city to his country, and the important role it will play in the future.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Modi’s visit may prove to be one of the most important ones ever made to Surrey by a visiting world leader.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.