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Stephen Harper’s Global Alliance of Conservative Parties Quietly Scrubbed India Off Its Website

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has been removed without explanation as a member of the International Democrat Union

A global alliance of conservative parties led by Stephen Harper quietly removed the name of India’s right-wing governing party as Narendra Modi’s government comes under increased scrutiny over allegations of foreign interference targeting Canada.

The International Democrat Union, founded by Margaret Thatcher and other conservative world leaders in the 1980s, describes itself as an organization set-up to promote “mutual support” between the world’s right-wing political parties.

The IDU counts members from over 60 countries, including large establishment parties like the Conservative Party of Canada, US Republican Party, UK Conservatives and Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, as well as far-right parties like Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary.

The IDU’s current Chairman is former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In February 2016, only two years after Narendra Modi’s rise to power in India, the IDU welcomed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into the global alliance.

“India’s BJP is the world’s largest democratic political party,” the IDU said in a press release at the time. “Modi has sought to improve relations and trade links with its neighbours and has strengthened India’s role as a key international actor.”

Modi’s BJP is also a religious nationalist party rooted in its “Hindutva” ultra-nationalist ideology. The party is deeply socially conservative and has a long history of antagonizing and targeting Muslim and Sikh minority groups.

Modi was himself previously banned from entering the United States on grounds that he was “responsible for … severe violations of religious freedom” linked to violence targeting Muslims.

Harper’s close relationship with Modi dates back to 2015, when Harper welcomed the Indian Prime Minister to Canada on a controversial but high-profile state visit shortly  after Modi was first elected in 2014.

More recently, Modi’s government has faced intense international scrutiny after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused India’s government of involvement in the assassination of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.

United States officials would later join in alleging India’s government was involved in a similar conspiracy to assassinate a Sikh activist on American soil.

Canada’s public inquiry into foreign interference has since expanded its scope to specifically investigate the Indian government’s attempts to influence elections and democratic processes in Canada.

According to a top secret intelligence report, CSIS reportedly believes Indian agents interfered in the 2022 Conservative leadership race and gave “support to an elected Canadian politician’s campaign for the leadership of a political party in Canada, by securing party memberships for that campaign.”

Last month, PressProgress also reported CSIS was investigating a Conservative nomination race in Southwestern Ontario held in March 2023.

Despite this, as recently as September 2023, Modi’s BJP continued to be listed as a “full member” on the official website of the IDU.

IDU.org (Sept. 22, 2023)

However, Modi’s BJP is no longer displayed on the IDU’s membership list.

Without any announcement or explanation, the IDU quietly removed the BJP from its website at some point between late September and early November 2023.

While it is unclear what prompted the BJP’s removal, the timeline coincides with Trudeau’s accusations linking Modi’s government to the assassination of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Trudeau accused India of being linked to Nijjar’s assassination on September 18.

Cached copies of the IDU website show Modi’s BJP was still listed as a member on September 22, but vanished from the IDU member list by November 8.

The IDU did not respond to multiple requests from PressProgress seeking to confirm the BJP’s current membership status in the global alliance or clarify why the party’s name had been removed.

Before and after (IDU.org via Wayback Machine)

BJP officials are also remaining tight-lipped about the IDU.

The BJP’s National Chief Spokesperson, Anil Baluni, did not respond to numerous requests from PressProgress about whether Modi’s party had been expelled from the IDU in response to India’s alleged role in extra-judicial killings on Canadian soil.

Additional emails sent to 28 other designated BJP spokespersons listed on the party’s website, many of whom use Gmail or Hotmail accounts, either bounced back or likewise received no response.

Questions sent to the BJP’s official email address listed on both the BJP and IDU websites generated an “inbox is full” is message.

Before and after (IDU.org via Wayback Machine)

The Conservative Party of Canada has among the deepest ties of any party around the world to the the IDU in its current formation.

The organization is legally registered at the address of a downtown Ottawa law firm and Ray Novak, a former top Harper aide who once lived in the ex-prime minister’s garage, serves alongside Harper on the IDU’s three-person board of directors.

Only three months before the IDU delisted the BJP, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre recorded an address celebrating the IDU’s 40th anniversary, praising the work of the organization and his “good friend” Stephen Harper.

“It’s a pleasure to offer greetings on this historic meeting of the International Democratic Union,” Poilievre said. “For 40 years the IDU has worked to defend the principles of freedom and democracy all around the world.”

Sarah Fischer, spokesperson for the Conservative Party of Canada, also provided no response to questions about whether the party was aware of a change in the BJP’s membership status or if Poilievre also severed ties with his partner party in India.

International Democrat Union (YouTube)

Poilievre’s response to revelations about the Nijjar assassination have at times been confusing and contradictory.

On September 18, moments after Trudeau’s announcement linking India to the Nijjar assassination, Poilievre initially called the allegations an “outrageous affront to Canada’s sovereignty.”

“Our citizens must be safe from extra-judicial killings of all kinds, most of all from foreign governments,” Poilievre told the House of Commons. “We call on the Indian government to act with utmost transparency as authorities investigate this murder, because the truth must come out.”

However, one day later, Poilievre changed his tone and called on Trudeau to “come clean” about the intelligence he received and publicly release the “evidence” so “Canadians can make judgments on that.”

Poilievre’s reaction to foreign interference by India has led some to note a “double standard” in light of his hawkish stance towards foreign interference by China.

Adding to that confusion, a little over a month after Trudeau publicly linked India to the assassination of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil and shortly after the BJP’s name disappeared from the IDU website, Poilievre appeared at an event alongside India’s top official in Ottawa.

Photos from a November 8 Overseas Friends of India Canada’s Diwali event show Poilievre seated next to Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma and joined by two key lieutenants: Conservative MPs Arpan Khanna and Shuvaloy Majumdar.

Majumdar, who was a former top adviser to Stephen Harper, previously served as director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s “Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad” where he led the right-wing think tank’s “Indo-Pacific strategy,”  which includes a focus on promoting Canadian oil and gas exports to India.

The MLI was  roundly condemned by 50 top Sikh academics after the think tank released a report criticized for demonizing Sikhs that Majumdar helped produce.

Prior to being elected as a Conservative MP, Majumdar worked as “global director” of Harper & Associates, a consulting firm established by Stephen Harper offering wealthy clients the ability to leverage the former prime minister’s “global network,” including access to key Indian officials.

Harper & Associates has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in public contracts to arrange meetings with “senior government ministers and officials” in India.

In 2019, after Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan government awarded Harper & Associates a $240,000 contract, Harper joined a Saskatchewan trade mission to India where he lobbied India about oil and gas.

According to the Harper & Associates website, Harper also provides “advice and counsel to business leaders” in the “financial services, technology and energy sectors.”

 

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Luke LeBrun
Editor
Luke LeBrun is the Editor of PressProgress. His reporting focuses on the federal political scene, right-wing politics as well as issues in technology, media and culture.

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