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Modi’s Mission Downunder

Dr. Ashutosh Mishra was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • November 14, 2014

    As Prime Minister Modi arrives in Australia, one wonders as to why it took so long to break this self-imposed moratorium on prime ministerial visits since 1986. True that Modi’s historic visit to attend the G-20 Summit in Brisbane and followed by bilateral talks has been abetted by the recent upswing in relations, following the Australian nod to sell uranium and concerns of Indian student’s safety being addressed.

    When the two leaders meet, outside the rubric of G-20, trade is expected to top the list. Australia’s continues to be a major exporter of coal, gold, copper ores and concentrates, vegetables, services to India and importer of passenger motor vehicles, medicaments, pearls, gems and jewellery. There is also enormous scope beyond coal and uranium in the energy sector, and Australia can tap into the India’s renewable energy efforts which suffer from various impediments. Australia has made significant advancements in wind energy, SPVs, solar hot water, waste-to-energy conversion and hydro-power systems which can be of immense utility to India’s future energy requirements and help Narendra Modi’s fulfil his promise of 24x7 electricity for all.

    Australia’s Direct Aid Programme (DAP) continues to fund small-scale sustainable development projects in several states and union territories, especially in vocational training for youth; solar power and end-user training and electrification of hundreds of households; construction of diversion based irrigation to create permanent irrigation facilities; women’s economic empowerment; access to education for women and girls; and capacity development for people with disabilities. These initiatives also complement Modi’s vision for inclusive development and better governance.

    Australia is equally well placed to share its successes at preserving its ecosystem by contributing to the cleaning of the Ganges, another key promise of Modi in his constituency, Varanasi. In the past, Australia has contributed to the Swatcha Ganga Chhatra Sangam at Tulsi Ghat, a joint venture mooted in 1992 between Oz Green, an Australian NGO and the Sankat Mochan Foundation.

    Both sides, also stand to benefit from operationalizing MoUs in technical and vocational education and training, and encouraging cultural, students and academic exchanges, which is covered under Australia’s new Colombo Plan which funds students’ visit to Asia and the Pacific.

    Internal security is another area of potential cooperation, particularly, in dealing with home-grown terrorism (HGT). The Joint Working Group in Counter-Terrorism provides the necessary framework for security cooperation. India has long been affected by HGT and in the face of growing reports of Australians joining the ISIS and possible attacks on the home soil, Australian legislative and law enforcement bodies are scampering to put together an effective counter-terrorism policy. This necessitates both sides sharing information, intelligence and mutual experiences to devise better strategies. In July, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) signed a MoU with the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy to strengthen policing and security cooperation and promote research collaboration, academic-practitioner interaction and capacity building programmes. Similar MoUs are expected between CEPS and National Investigation Agency and Central Bureau of Investigation.

    But opportunities are also accompanied by differences and challenges which need attention. Last week, ignoring the opinion of his treasurer Joe Hockey, strategic experts and the Australian Labour Party, Tony Abbott and the National Security Committee declined China’s invitation to join the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which India is the inaugural President. While India and China seek to create alternatives to the western dominated global financial institutions, Abbott, in spite of his desire for deeper ties with India and China, remains aligned with the US-led international affairs. These ideological and strategic differences will have to be accommodated into future bilateral engagements.

    Domestically, at the Commonwealth level Australia needs to do more to deliver on what Julia Gillard once announced, “Australia government is committed to building a greater understanding between our two peoples and Australians’ understanding of India, its culture, its history and place in the world”. Rhetoric needs to be backed by meaningful and substantial commitment. As opposed to $53 million allocated to set up a China Research Centre at the Australian National University, just $9 million were allocated to create the Australia India Institute, which has recently been oxygenated by a paltry funding of $ 3 million. India studies and study of Hindi remain in a sorry state and have long been overlooked and underfunded areas in Australian universities.

    To be fair to Australia, India too needs to commit greater resources for incorporating the study of Australia and student exchanges in curriculums in Indian universities. At the policy level, in the MEA, Australia remains clubbed with 14 other countries of SE Asia and the Pacific. It needs to be reorganised into a new Australasia division. New Delhi should look into funding more India Chairs in Australian universities through ICCR and also advise the MEA to constitute more bilateral dialogues with institutions across Australia.

    These are some of the deliverables that can add greater ballast and substance to bilateral ties.

    Ashutosh Misra is Research Fellow, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University, Australia

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India