NEW DELHI, INDIA — As she geared up for a private meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne paid homage to the most important figure in the history of India.
In a brief break from business meetings during Ontario’s week-long trade mission to India, Wynne, Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan, ministers, and MPPs visited Raj Ghat, the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi on Tuesday.
“It’s a very great honour to have her here,” said Sankar Kumar Sanyal, president of the Harijan Sevak Sangh, the organization founded by Gandhi in 1932 when he was leading India to freedom from British colonial oppression.
As is the custom, Wynne, MacLachlan, and all others in their delegation removed their shoes before laying a wreath at the bucolic memorial that is an oasis of serenity in one of the world’s more frenzied cities.
The vast monument commemorates Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence—ironically the premiers’ pilgrimage came two days after the 68th anniversary of the assassination of a martyr that Indians call “the father of the nation.”
“It is so beautiful,” Wynne whispered to her P.E.I. counterpart, who is also here promoting trade, as they paused at flower-laden tomb.
The quiet moment of reflection came the day before she and her senior officials attend a meeting with the Indian prime minister at his residence Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi.
While the man who leads the largest democracy in the world does not usually have time to meet with subnational leaders, Modi has strong ties to Ontario.
He was introduced to Wynne last April in Toronto during his official visit to Canada and he is friendly with Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who had an audience with him last month when a delegation of Tory MPPs toured India.
But Wednesday’s session is about business more than politics.
Modi has recently started the Smart Cities Mission, an ambitious plan to create new planned satellite suburbs around many of India’s teeming urban centres and rejuvenate dilapidated mid-sized cities.
The first 20 of these “smart cities” have been selected and the Indian leader promises they will have modern sanitation and waterworks, reliable electricity, good health and education facilities, public transit, Internet connectivity, and provide solid governance in a safe and sustainable environment.
Ontario officials are hoping to introduce Canadian firms with expertise in those areas to Indian authorities.
To that end, Wynne, Economic Development and Trade Minister Brad Duguid, Citizenship, Immigration, and International Trade Minister Michael Chan, and Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla have already met with members of Modi’s cabinet.
In recent days, they have sat down with India’s urban development minister, the minister of state for commerce, and the aviation minister to discuss how Ontario businesses can help build the “smart cities.”
“We want to cement for Prime Minister Modi the major parts of his agenda that Ontario can help him deliver,” said a senior government official privy to the high-level talks.
Before Wednesday’s confab in New Delhi, Wynne and the delegation will be in Chandigarh for meetings with local corporate and government leaders.
The premier is also expected to go for a jog with Milkha Singh, the famous Flying Sikh, who is one of India’s most legendary athletes.
Wynne, 62 and herself a former high school track champion, has been noting on this trip that she is not sure she will be able to keep up with Singh, who is in his 80s, though his precise age is not known.