Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi in Australia | Do diaspora issues overshadow bila...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi in Australia | Do diaspora issues overshadow bilateral ties?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to Sydney and look at the high points and the hotspots of trouble in the India-Australia relationship

The visit marked exactly 1 year since Albanese was sworn in, and if you thought the relationship between PM Modi and former Conservative party PM Morrison was intense

Modi has met his successor from the Labour Party Anthony Albanese six times in that one year- at Last year’s Quad Summit in Japan, at former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s funeral in Japan, and then in India in March when he came for a bilateral visit, the Quad in Japan again and then in Sydney. 

Given the frequent meetings, and the fact that this is the second bilateral in 2 months, the announcements were few: 

1. India will set up a consulate in Brisbane while Australia will set up a consulate in Bengaluru 

2. They signed India-Australia Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement to regulate the movement of skilled professionals from one country to the other, to discourage illegal immigration. 

3. The finalized the Terms of Reference of the India-Australia Hydrogen Task Force, to work on Green hydrogen projects and electrolysers that help decarbonize the atmosphere. 

Now apart from there- the big pillars of the India-Australia ties are: 

1. Defence and Security: India and Australia are Strategic partners and now have a 2+2 meeting of Defence and Foreign Ministers each year. Their militaries exercise regularly, especially the Navies- with AUSINDEX, and also Malabar, which includes US and Japan.  

2. Trade between the two countries is at $25 bn, and they want to take it $100 bn if they are able to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), that has been negotiated since 2011, now expected by the end of 2023.  They did sign an Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA) last year, that included slashing tariffs on most goods, fast-tracking pharma approvals and increasing preferential tariff line.  

3. Renewable energy: India and Australia have signed an agreement to cooperate, fund and manufacture renewable technology -particularly for PV or Photovoltaic cells, where at present both depend on China, and have a solar task force for that. 

4. Critical Minerals: While China has about 20-30% of global reserves of the critical minerals- especially needed for Electric Vehicles: graphite, copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, lithium and rare earth, it processes 40-80% of the world’s production- Australia has the second largest reserves, but lacks processing capabilities, and this is an area both India and Australia are working on. 

5. India is the second-largest source country for international student enrolments in Australia, with more than 86,000 Indian students studying in Australia, according to last year’s figures. With the government’s liberalisation of rules for foreign universities, Australian colleges may set up campuses in India 

6. There are about 721,000 Australians of Indian origin and India has been the largest source of new Australian citizens for the past five years. Addressing the community, that had gathered at the Sydney Superdome PM Modi said they were the real power behind India-Australia ties

However, a discordant note was struck the next day, as PM Modi raised, for a second time publicly vandalism and targeting of Indian temples and community centers by pro-Khalistan groups who sprayed Anti-India and Anti-Modi slogans on them. 

“Prime Minister Albanese and I have discussed the issue of attacks on temples in Australia and the activities of separatist elements in the past. Today also we had discussion on the issue. It is not acceptable to us that any element harms the warm and friendly relations between India and Australia by their thoughts or their actions,” PM Modi said.

Earlier I spoke with Lisa Singh, a former Australian Senator who was the first woman of South Asian heritage to be elected to the Australian Parliament. She is now the CEO of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne and began by asking her how important this visit was- given it was their 6th meeting in just a year

 1. How important was this visit for Australia – given the PM’s had met five times already in the past year?

 I think it was significant because of course, Prime Minister Modi was supposed to be visiting for the quad leaders meeting. And now that being cancelled, of course, by President Biden, not coming because of the debt crisis back at home, could have meant that all leaders canceled, but Prime Minister Modi chose to continue to come not only to Australia, but also to PNG for his very first visit there. And that really meant that the bilateral visit had was center stage. It actually, you know, gave more prominence to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia then and what it would have been, I would say, if the quad meeting would have gone ahead. Right. So I think that’s very significant. And of course, if we look at some of the outcomes that happened from the bilateral visit, then there was some substance to it as well

 2. You’ve seen the relationship evolve from some very bad times in the 2000s…where do you think the growth areas are now, especially with what Prime Minister Modi called the three E’s, education, energy and the economy?

 Well, I think the Hasni you’re right in terms of firstly, just looking back, it is worth reflecting on the fact that this was a relationship that once had a lack of trust, a lots of missed opportunities. But now it’s in a in a much stronger position. And education is really at the forefront of that. In fact, 16% of all foreign students in Australia are Indians. It’s a huge market for Australian universities. We know that India has, of course, a population of some nearly half under the age of 25. So I don’t see that that relationship going backwards only going forward. But some of the more significant parts of what has occurred to build a stronger education relationship has been in the mutual recognition of qualifications and mechanism that was signed during Prime Minister Albanese visit to India in March this year. I think that’s really significant. We’re seeing a lot more interest now in terms of universities in Australia wanting to set up campuses in India as well, because India has changed its guidelines in that regard with Deakin University, announcing it will be the first ever international campus to set up in India. And I think there’s another university in Australia that’s going to follow that that path. But in terms of this visit, I think what’s significant of what came out of Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Albanese, his bilateral talks was the signing of a new migration agreement, because that will enable more modes of mobility for students, researchers, academics, and also professionals that want to, you know, find that new skilled pathway between either country and that will ensure that our education bonds really do have a long term future.

 3. You were at the diaspora event, which was obviously very electric and PM Modi called the diaspora the real power of the relationship. We have also seen PM Modi repeatedly raise concerns over attacks at community centres and temples. Do you worry that diaspora issues could overshadow the rest of the bilateral relationship?

 Well, I think if this week is anything to go by The fact that we had some 20,000 members of the diaspora at a stadium to welcome both Prime Ministers Modi and Albanese to him quite quite an energetic crowd, a lot of a lot of energy in that in that stadium that night. And, of course, a repeat of what occurred in 2014, when when Prime Minister Modi came as well, really does show the the robustness of the diaspora. That said, of course, we know the diaspora in Australia, just like India, you know, all over. It is not some sort of, you know, single force. There are differences amongst the diaspora and look that is healthy. That’s what makes, you know, democracies, liberal democracies, what they are, and I think expression of views is fine. What’s not fine, is when those views resort to violence. And I think what we have seen here in Australia is a little bit of that of recent times, but our authorities are there to sort of crack down on that, again, a part of being a democracy. So I don’t see those sorts of minority activities of certain parts of the Diaspora overshadowing the broader bilateral relationship at all. I think we’re in a whole new phase here, where with the more with this mobility agreement, we’re going to have more people to people links, that’s going to educate both of our peoples about each other’s about each other’s differences and our strengths. And that’s a good thing. And the other thing is since Prime Minister Modi’s visit in 2014, nine years ago to this to this week, our diaspora in Australia has our Indian diaspora has grown significantly. We’re nearly at 1 million now in terms of Indian diaspora. And they are, you know, they have a lot of aspirations. They’re very high taxpaying professional group that really want to contribute to Australian society, and in a sense, carry two hearts. They carry the heart of of India, their homeland, but also their new land, new home in Australia. And I think that’s what we saw on display this week through the visit.

Historically too, there have been some downs in the India-Australia relationship: 

1. In 1955, for example, Australia refused to join the Afro-Asian Bandung Conference, and was seen as seeking to curtail India’s efforts towards Asian solidarity

 2. In 1978 a bombing at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney was believed to have been targeting Indian PM Morarji Desai, by the Anand Margis, an obscure diaspora group 

3. In 1990, India expressed anger over the sale of Australian Mirages to Pakistan 

4. In 1998 Australia condemned India’s nuclear tests, suspended all defence and official ties 

5. 2009 was a rocky year in ties, as India and Australia signed a Strategic Partnership agreement that year, but also Australia decided to ban Uranium exports to India, something that was reversed subsequently, and the two sides signed a Civil nuclear deal in 2014. However no Uranium has actually been exported (one trial run was conducted).  

6. Also in 2008-2009, a number of attacks, one of them fatal, on Indian students in Melbourne sparked massive outrage in India. But also led to a number of steps taken on both sides to improve relations 

7. In 2019, massive protests against the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act, taken out by the diaspora, also over the Farmer protests, and then in the last year, a spate of vandalism targeting temples, Indian community centres and even a consulate have led to some tensions in ties

WV Take: 

The potential for India and Australia is boundless, precisely because they have very few friction points and many points of common interests including in the Indo-Pacific, in terms of cooperation on new and renewable energy, and the particular complementarity of Australian investment and Indian skills. However, any attempt to turn the vast Diaspora into a political point will be to the detriment of ties and eventually to the interest of the community itself- it is best if it is left to the Australian government to resolve issues involving Australian citizens. 

Your email address will not be published.