Modi in Australia
By Dr D.K.Giri
(Secretary General, Assn of Democratic Socialism)
On 23 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was playing 20-20 cricket match in an entertainment venue in the City’s Olympic Park in Sydney. As his wont, Modi used the cricketing metaphor to accelerate the bilateral relations between the two continents, India and Australia. I call the former a continent for its population and its diversities whereas the latter is known as one for its size and of course resources. Modi said with the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese by his side, “our ties have entered the T20 mode, our democratic values are the foundation of our ties. Our relations are based on mutual trust and respect. The Indian community in Australia is a living bridge between our countries.”
Prime Minister Modi, in an interactive mode elicited thundering responses from the audience by asking them obvious questions on India’s recent actions like medicine supply during covid, and the majority of youth population in India etc. Appearing to be a diplomatic wordsmith, he explained to the crowd in a set of new acronyms the stages of relations between India and Australia, namely 3 Cs- commonwealth, cricket, and curry, 3 Ds- diaspora, democracy, and dosti (friendship), and 3 Es- economy, energy, and education.
He clarified that, in different periods of time, all the acronyms were right according to their context, but the expanse of India-Australia is far greater and is based on mutual respect and trust. In addition to the diplomatic relations between India and Australia, the Indian diaspora has made its contribution to the growth of friendship between the two countries.
The grand reception Modi received from an overwhelmingly admiring crowd was likened by Albanese to that of the popular rock star Bruce Springsteen, whose moniker is ‘The Boss’. Calling Modi “the Boss”, Albanese said, “The last time I saw someone on the stage here was Bruce Springsteen, and he didn’t get the welcome that Prime Minister Modi has got,” This comparison was appreciated by a thunderous applause from the Indian diaspora in Australia. He added euphorically, “Dear friend, you have brought the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia”, and complimented the Indian leader to have helped strengthen Australia’s democracy.
As usual, Modi interacted with several Australian popular personalities from different walks of life. One of them was the singer, Guy Sebastian. He said of his feelings of Modi, “He was so warm and so kind, and underlined that his warm welcome is symbolic of his immense public appeal among many Indians living overseas, as well as his emergence as a key player in the global order.” The last epithet leads to my following reference to the current buzz in India about Modi’s image.
If anyone was wondering if Modi’s popularity was waning abroad from the video clip doing the rounds in social media backed by a Hindi film song about how one is shunned by friends and the time dramatically changes, should realise that the video clip was mechanically manipulated to show the PM in poor light. At any rate, Australian governmental reception of Modi and the response by the Indians staying in Australia as residents and NRIs should put that doubt to rest, even though the clip looked real to some of us, who are not so conversant with the social media tricks. The Indians in Australia ferried people in chartered flight naming it, Modi-Airways. From the media reports it appeared that Indian strong soft power was able to mobilise such a crowd, even a 90-year-old woman was brought to see Modi speaking.
That said, let us look at the tangible achievements of the visit. Both countries are certainly coming closer in their respective interests. I have said a few times before in this column, India is next stop for Australia off the Persian Gulf. India is the most populous country in the world with by far the biggest emerging market. As some American Indologists suggest even if India does a few things wrong, they will be able to solve them and still create and retain the biggest market in just a decade for a quite a long time. Supposedly, the Chinese Economy will be on an irreversible decline should the Americans decide to pull the rug from under Beijing’s feet. Australians have perhaps realised that, and as the diplomatic ill-luck would have it, the relations between Canberra and Beijing have soured.
For India, Australia is the biggest supplier of food and energy. It is a partner member of Quad. Both are in the process of signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Political, economic, and strategic complementarities are too big to ignore, especially the common threat posed by China. As the saying goes in India, “The blind does not lose his stick twice.” Australians have walked out of Quad once perhaps at the behest of Beijing. That is unlikely to happen again. So, the proximity between New Delhi and Canberra will potentially grow.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra in his brief to the press, said that the talks held between the Prime Ministers of India and Australia focussed on 11 bilateral topics. They were all under the two main rubrics of regional security and economic ties –trade and investment. Modi himself talking to the press said, “We had constructive discussions on strengthening our strategic cooperation in the sectors of mining and critical minerals…We have decided to set up a task force on green hydrogen”. Obviously, the renewable energy supply featured prominently in the discussion. In addition, issues of defence, security, people-to-people ties formed parts of the bilateral exchange.
Apart from bilateralism, the two leaders discussed the regional challenges, events of regional consequences, like the expansion by Beijing in the South China sea, and East China sea, to the peace, stability and prosperity in the region were also discussed.
To the delight of Indian students and business community Albanese announced the opening of a new Consulate in Bangalore and signed a migration deal to boost Indian students and business travel to Australia.
To the queries from the media on the recent assaults on Indians in Australia, Modi said, “Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and I have in the past discussed the issue of attack on temples in Australia and activities of separatist elements. We discussed the matter today as well. We will not accept any elements that harm the friendly and warm ties between the India-Australia relationship by their action or thoughts. PM Albanese assured me once again today that he will take strict actions against such elements in the future also”.
On the other hand, Albanese skirted the questions on attacks on journalists and minorities in India and India’s support to Russia on the Ukraine war. He simply said that “New Delhi knows well what it’s doing in its relations. We know them to be non-aligned etc.”
The question of human rights, civil liberties, and religious freedoms etc are main casualties in the big discussions on trade, investment, and national security. Some leader in some country, should begin to talk about the balance between trade and human rights, indeed the balance in world affairs that India should lead, as we have been entreating in this column. — INFA