Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have given his Indian counterpart a welcome fit for a king, but a Conservative backbencher is the one Narendra Modi calls “brother.”

Patrick Brown, a Barrie, Ont., MP who is running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario, forged a friendship with Modi years ago, during a difficult time for the Indian leader.

The red carpet is now being rolled out for Modi everywhere he goes during his three-day visit to Canada, but he has not forgotten Canadians’ support all those years ago, Brown told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.

Brown met Modi more than five years ago at a trade conference in Gujarat, a state in western India. At that time, Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat and an international pariah. He was accused of being complicit in the deadly 2002 riots that killed more than a thousand people in the state, most of them Muslims. 

Even though the courts refused to prosecute Modi, the U.S. refused to issue him a visa and other countries imposed diplomatic boycotts.

That’s when some of Modi’s friends in Gujarat asked “if a Canadian politician could come to speak at his trade conference to try to rebuild this brand of his of being a person who’s going to bring investment to India,” Brown said.

“So I went, I got to know him, I spoke at his conference and we hit it off, so he kept on inviting me back.”

Brown, who has been counting on political support from Indo-Canadians, said Canada was one of only two foreign countries represented at that conference.

He remembers Modi telling him: “I will never forget who was here during our most difficult days.”

“I don’t think he’s ever forgotten Canada,” Brown said.

The MP has since travelled to India 15 times, building his friendship with Modi, who went on to become India’s prime minister in a historic election that gave his Hindu national party a majority.

Brown called Modi a “game-changer” for his country, as well as the economic relationship between Canada and India.

“The reality is, there’s a billion consumers in India and we want access to that marketplace,” he said.

The current trade relationship between the two countries is “just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brown, who expects trade to grow thanks to the two “philosophically similar” prime ministers and the large population of Canadians of Indian origin.

“The diaspora connects us to India,” he said.