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Modi visit spurred electric momentum, says new envoy

By Marie-Danielle Smith      

New heads of mission from India, Costa Rica hit the ground running.

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Raw electricity. 

That’s how Vishnu Prakash, India’s new high commissioner to Canada, described the feeling in a room of Indian diaspora members as they were addressed by his prime minister, Narendra Modi, April 15. 

It’s been a whirlwind two months since Mr. Prakash set foot in Ottawa.

Just a few weeks after he arrived, he was swept up in Mr. Modi’s high-profile visit, and the momentum hasn’t stopped. 

“He is no ordinary prime minister,” Mr. Prakash told Embassy in an interview at the high commission this month. “It was no ordinary visit.”

In his 25 years in the diplomatic service, Mr. Prakash said rarely has he seen a host country do what Canada did for Mr. Modi, or seen a host prime minister spend so many hours with a visitor. 

Mr. Modi secured the strongest mandate of any political party in the past 30 years of Indian politics, Mr. Prakash said, in large part because he inspired the youth of India with a message of economic growth.

“The world is aging, but India is growing younger. Progressively younger. So much so that two-thirds of India’s population is below 35,” said Mr. Prakash. That means a need for education, skills and development. 

“Prime Minister Modi has embarked the nation on the path of rapid growth,” he added.

About 200 million people will move from rural to urban areas by 2020, according to Mr. Prakash. A hundred so-called smart cities are being developed. That means town planning, transportation, health services, environmental management, water and power management, education and industry.

“That’s where partners like Canada come in,” he said. “We need lots of partners. The size of the developmental cake is very large.” 

With a well-educated diaspora of around 1.2 million people of Indian background in Canada, there are endless opportunities to harness their emotional bond with India and boost co-operation between the two countries. 

In a joint statement April 15, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Modi announced they would be accelerating trade talks. They also announced Canada would be supplying uranium for India’s nuclear energy program. 

The statement encompasses almost every facet of diplomatic relations, including space co-operation and education. In the latter category, 13 memorandums of understanding were signed during the visit between India’s skills development body and Canadian colleges, universities and other education bodies.

Mr. Prakash speaks so passionately about his country and prime minister, about growth and development—even explaining how Canadian pension funds see India as a key market for investment—that he barely takes the time to talk about himself. And he has had a formidable career in his foreign service. 

“The two months I have been here, I’ve gotten off to a flying start,” he said. He’s already been to Vancouver twice, Toronto five times and Montreal. Next month: Alberta. July: Vancouver, again. The excitement of Mr. Modi’s visit hasn’t subsided. A start like that is “made of dreams” for any envoy, he said. 

Mr. Prakash, 58, has served in China, Japan, Egypt, Russia, the United States and South Korea, where he was named ambassador of the year by the Asia Society in Seoul in 2014. 

He’s well-versed in the nuances of South Asia, having communicated India’s interests in such a broad range of cultural settings but also having served in Pakistan. Mr. Prakash spoke at length about the difficult relationship between India and its neighbour.

“Conflict is not a solution,” he said. But looking forward, he said Pakistan needs to realize the “futility of the path that they have taken” when it comes to supporting what India views as a complex terror infrastructure. 

“The writing is on the wall,” he said. 

Mr. Prakash said he’s happy to be in Canada with his wife, Neelam. Their two grown-up children live in the US. Together, the husband and wife enjoy their favourite hobbies: golf and yoga. 

Neelam is a great yoga teacher, Mr. Prakash said. They practice every morning.

“She is much better than me,” he laughed. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

La vida activa

Roberto Carlos Dormond-Cantú, Costa Rica’s new ambassador in Ottawa, describes himself as “very, very enthusiastic” about his first-ever posting in the diplomatic service. 

A lawyer by trade, Mr. Dormond-Cantú worked for Citigroup Costa Rica before joining Kraft Foods International, Latin America. There, he worked his way up in corporate and legal affairs from 2001 to 2008. From 2009 to 2014, he worked as a consultant, focusing on corporate strategy, market strategy and public opinion.

“The president believed that these qualities, you may say, or experiences, will help us strengthen the already good [relationship] that exists between Costa Rica and Canada. I have been very active since I arrived,” he said. 

Since his arrival in January, Mr. Dormond-Cantú has been meeting MPs and establishing business contacts in Canadian circles, where he’s hoping to promote Costa Rica’s high-tech sector, including medical equipment, as well as agricultural products such as pineapples and coffee. 

That’s part of Mr. Dormond-Cantú’s three-area agenda, which focuses on the economy, including tourism and trade under the Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement; education; and foreign policy. 

Costa Rica engages in a Youth Mobility Program with Canada, and Mr. Dormond-Cantú said he hopes he will be able to create more exchange opportunities while he’s here. 

“We believe that experiences like this are life-changing, positive life-changing [experiences] for youngsters,” he said. “So we want to take advantage of this framework.”

He said Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in Latin America, so it hopes to work with Canada on the international promotion of democracy. 

He’ll also be engaging with the approximately 10,000 Costa Ricans who live on Canadian soil. According to Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, about the same number of Canadians live in Costa Rica, and 172,730 Canadians visited in 2014. 

Mr. Dormond-Cantú was talking about a little more than just diplomacy when he said he’s been active since he got here.

He’s an avid runner. “The sceneries, and so many lakes and rivers you have, near my house, near the canals and so on, it’s amazingly beautiful,” he said. 

His wife and three children, aged 15, 12 and 9, are with him in Kanata North. As a family, they went skiing seven weekends this winter, he said, using a phrase not often uttered by diplomats from tropical countries: “We have embraced winter.”


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