Narendra Modi in Australia – Beyond cricket and beer

As they say “down under” in a country / continent that is referred to as Oz, there is probably a wider world beyond their shores, but the Aussies have never bothered to find out. Such is the confidence and chutzpah of the natives of this continental country that they swagger and roam all over the world without even an attempt to say hello / namaskar to the natives of the countries they are bothering to visit. This is because the Oz always lives mentally in Wollongong or Woomera or wherever in his huge motherland.

This incredible mindset has impressed and upset the rest of the world. Even the almighty Americans were impressed momentarily, when they came across figures like Crocodile Dundee andAustralia enjoyed its few moments of glory under the Hollywood sun. In the old “mother country”, the UK, the Aussies are barely tolerated. Snide remarks like “former convicts” etc. are always floating around when the English and the Australians interact – the latter’s response is invariably more colourful and unprintable than the Englishman’s words.

The Indian Prime Minister would do well to keep all this in mind when he steps on Australian soil. Assuming that South Block has briefed him properly, NaMo should keep in mind that his hosts are a freewheeling bunch of people who always refer to the spade as a blooming shovel. They are not just Britishers transplanted to the southern hemisphere, under somewhat tragic circumstances, they also remarkably free, frank and transparent to a fault.

Racism is also very prevalent in the country. Australia has a history of genocide and mass murder, particularly against the indigenous Australians. To be fair, there is a growing number of young Australians who have acknowledged this shameful episode in their history, but the official establishment is still cagey.

The other shadow that always looms over Australia is their former “mother country”, England or the UK. The Britons have an ideological and legal stranglehold over Australia that prevents the latter from breaking the umbilical cord however much they want. That is why the Republican movement has never managed to succeed. However strong the sentiment in favour of declaring Australia as a Republic, the ruling establishment in Canberra always finds a method to stop the movement from succeeding. Dark rumours about Whitehall’s dirty tricks department indeed do the rounds in the country, but it is soon business as usual. Back to Foster’s, rugby, surfing and cricket, which is a distant fourth.

Culturally, there is little in common between our two countries. What PM Modi should be looking at is strategic partnership and collaboration between the two nations, outside the US – UK framework. He has to sell the notion of an India-Australian partnership focused on trade, investment and defence collaboration to safeguard the sea lanes connecting our two countries.

Starting with trade, the two nations have seen their ties improve substantially in the last decade. Bilateral trade increased from $ 4.4. billion in 2003 to $13.1 billion in 2013. Clearly, there are complementarities between the two economies. Australia has coal, gold, copper and other minerals that India needs, in addition to wool. Similarly, India can export its information and communications services and some commodities to the southern giant. India is now the fourth biggest export market for the Aussies.

What the PM should do is to take a careful look at India-Australia defence collaboration and ensure that the civil nuclear deal signed in September 2014 during the visit of the Australian PM Tony Abbott to India proceeds smoothly. The latter is a significant breakthrough for us because it emphasises our international credentials despite our not being a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and it follows similar agreements with France and the United States. For India, nuclear power is the key to our energy independence.

Equally, NaMo should focus on coal supplies from down under to keep our thermal power plants working without constraints. The black diamond is a key element in India’s energy scenario. Tapping into reliable supplies from Australia would significantly enhance our energy security.

The area of defence cooperation between the two countries, as mentioned earlier, is also important. The two armed forces, specially the Navies, have already established a good rapport during joint exercises. The Armies and Air Forces also share a lot in common. Australian officers have been coming to the National Defence College and the Staff College for quite some time. The two forces should now look at greater cooperation in disaster relief operations and maritime border protection.

And finally, the growing Indian Diaspora in Oz is another factor that the PM should concentrate on. If Australians want more Indian professionals to head to their campuses and organisations, they should surely ensure safer conditions for Indian expatriates. Certainly, the motherland itself has major security concerns for its citizens, but that is no excuse to turn a blind eye to “curry bashing” down under. And the current PM certainly knows how to put the message across.

Courtesy Niti Central



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