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David Malone, a former Canadian High Commissioner in India, is the author of Does the Elephant Dance: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy and co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Indian Foreign Policy.

Indian Prime Minister Modi arrives Tuesday in Canada. How do India and Canada fit with each other?

Apart from a shared commitment to democracy, the two countries' international agendas are not much alike. India's harsh experience of British colonial rule is still playing out in the belief among Indians that the country can rely only on itself. By contrast, Canada's happier sense of its colonial history, often heedless of historic injustices to its native communities, owes a good deal to its enduring kinship with the United States and much of Europe.

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Canada has only two neighbours: the United States and the so-far placid Arctic region. India, on the other hand, lives in a rough neighbourhood and is often threatened across some of its frontiers.

The two countries have intersected notably through Indian emigration. By and large Canadians of Indian origin have been happy in our country, and Indians back home know this.

But this happy circumstance represents a fairly slim link for a country like India, with a huge global diaspora. Further, India and Canada in the past clashed often over India's nuclear weapons program and the support among a fringe group of Punjabi Canadians for a violent separatist cause in India.

India tends to see Canada as a pale, if likeable, shadow of the United States. But NAFTA provisions allow Indian investors in Canada to access the rich U.S. market.

Canadian natural resources, including uranium, have been useful to India and could be much more so in the future. Canadian capital could help with India's economic expansion, but Canadian investment in India has been, to put it charitably, timid. Mr. Modi's visit is intended in part to boost his ambitious "Make in India" campaign, which requires vastly expanded foreign investment to succeed. Meanwhile, he faces domestic challenges in liberalizing India's economic policy and overcoming the "license raj", which has stifled much economic activity.

Canada emerged well from the recent global economic crisis but is now once again a victim of it over-reliance on natural resources. While a terrific place to live, it hardly radiates dynamism or global engagement. In keeping with sedative assurances from politicians that we are simply fabulous, we sometimes assume the world should be as infatuated with us as we with are ourselves.

Indians, who suffer from few such delusions, are optimistic for their country. The population is young, often grievously let down by weak education standards, but far from passive. Men are heading to the cities in a movement of mass urbanization exceeded only by that in China over the past three decades. Their families will follow. The country is on the move. Life is hard for most, but Indians are determined that the next generation will do better. Can we say as much?

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In India, soon to be the world's most populous country and perhaps its fastest growing large economy, domestic politics is a favourite contact sport. This leaves very little bandwidth for international relations.

This is why Mr. Modi so surprised his critics by the deft moves he undertook to engage partners he hopes will help the country's rise: other emerging powers; the United States, where he is newly much feted; Russia, with which India has an enduring if not always enthusiastic partnership rooted in a Cold War-era alliance; China, which could help India's economic rise or not depending on how the two new leaders manage the relationship; and Japan. For India, above all an Asian power, Australia looms much larger than Canada. The Middle East also plays a bigger role in Delhi's strategic calculations than in those of Ottawa. India has never disengaged from Iran.

India prizes its autonomy and does not put much trust in either the good intentions of other countries or the likelihood that they will align with India's interests. It is much courted globally. Canada's leading political parties are more beholden to Indo-Canadians for their votes than India is to Canada. Up against these realities, Ottawa negotiates at some disadvantage.

Establishing enduring trust with India is a long-haul project for any country. Modi mania in Toronto may be fun, but it could distract Canadians from how much work we still need to do to engage more meaningfully with India.

Indians have a sense of destiny. Their continent is one of tremendous potential. We still need to create a place for ourselves within it.

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