Thursday, January 29, 2015

The new entente with the U.S.

The Obama visit is so overwhelming a development that it has hardly evoked dissent. Not since India signed the peace and friendship treaty with the Soviet Union has New Delhi aligned itself so closely with a great power. Anti-Americanism, once the conventional wisdom of the Indian elite, seems almost antediluvian today.
Robert Blackwill, former Ambassador of the United States and Harvard academic, used to often recount at his dinner round-tables in New Delhi’s Roosevelt House an intriguing story about how he was persuaded to take up the job. In 2001, President George W. Bush called him to his ranch in Texas and said: “Bob, imagine: India, a billion people, a democracy, 150 million Muslims and no Al Qaeda. Wow!” More than a decade after President Bush’s first exclamation, India-U.S. relations have truly reached their ‘wow’ moment.
President Barack Obama’s visit is so obvious a watershed in India’s foreign policy, and so overwhelming a development, that voices of dissent are mute or feeble. Not since India signed the treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1971 has New Delhi aligned itself so closely with a great power. More important, outside the Left, both within India and in the U.S. the consensus across the mainstream of political opinion favours stronger relations between the two countries. Anti-Americanism, once the conventional wisdom of the Indian elite, seems almost antediluvian today.
Behind the change

The reason for the drastic change in the geostrategic outlook can be summarised quickly. The 1971 treaty was a response to the continuing U.S. tilt towards Pakistan and the beginnings of a Washington-Beijing entente (President Richard Nixon’s then National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, went secretly to Beijing via Islamabad a month before India signed the treaty with the Soviet Union). In contrast, in 2015, it is the prospect of a powerful, belligerent and potentially hegemonic China in the Indo-Pacific region that is helping to cement the relationship. While this may seem like a parsimonious explanation, it is rooted in an understanding of the manner in which great powers, rising powers and emerging powers have responded to changes in the balance of power in the international system since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
Clearly, the pièce de résistance of the Obama visit has been removing the final hurdles in the civilian nuclear agreement to pave the way for its commercialisation, almost a decade after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush first issued a joint statement, in July 2005, on civilian nuclear cooperation. As we know, two sticking points were holding up an agreement: differences over liability in case of a nuclear accident, and over administrative arrangements governing the transfer of nuclear materials to India.
Consider first the latter. For more than a year, the U.S. has refused to accept an Indian draft agreement that was based on the sound principle that New Delhi would be accountable only for the totality of nuclear material supplied to it, and under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Given India’s closed fuel cycle, allowing nuclear material from different countries to be tracked and audited separately could be unnecessarily intrusive and could undermine the confidentiality of its nuclear programme. While the Canadians saw reason and accepted India’s draft in 2012, the non-proliferation lobby in Washington seemed to have had the upper hand as the political leadership seemed reluctant to take a call even though it was against the letter and spirit of the 123 agreement: the fundamental basis of the civil nuclear agreement between India and the U.S.
Nuclear liability issue

The deal has been done only because President Obama has now put his personal weight behind it, to marginalise those who still see India’s nuclear programme through the prism of Washington’s non-proliferation policies of the 1990s towards New Delhi. With the U.S. accepting the Canadian model, it will be easier for India to negotiate with Japan and Australia, the other two countries still holding out for tracking and audit of nuclear material based on national flags. Hopefully, the deal will pave the way for GE, Westinghouse and other leading businesses in the nuclear industry to begin commercial operations in India.
Similarly, on the issue of nuclear liability, where American companies were concerned by the unlimited liability they could face in case of a nuclear accident under Sections 17(b) and 46 of the Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010, a compromise seems to have been found.
New Delhi has agreed to create a publicly funded insurance pool and the Attorney General of India is likely to issue an explanatory memorandum on Section 46 which will potentially clarify the limits of tort claims by accident victims against the suppliers of nuclear reactors. The latter, however, as Indian officials have said, is still a work in progress. Given the collective national memory of the Bhopal gas tragedy, this could still stir a public controversy if the limits are in absolute terms. Rather, the claims could be linked to compensations offered contemporaneously to victims of industrial accidents in the U.S.
The vision statement

No less important is the commitment of President Obama and his team to support India’s membership of international export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group, and the Missile Technology Control Regime that will help to further mainstream India’s nuclear programme. Given that similar promises have been made in the past, it is important that India uses the goodwill of the Obama visit to ensure that Washington presses for this to happen as soon as possible — despite the obvious reluctance of some members of these regimes.
The media focus has been on the nuclear issue — yet the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region is no less significant. It is a major advance on the early initiatives made during last September’s Obama-Modi summit in Washington. Indeed, given India’s traditional strategic caution, the vision statement could be even seen as radical by its standards. Shorn of the homilies, the vision statement has three significant features.
The first is the clear link between economic prosperity and security, and the critical importance of freedom of the seas in the region. The statement could not be more explicit: “We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
Second is the commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to “pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.”
Third is the agreement to work with other countries to better respond to diplomatic, economic and security challenges in the region. The five-year vision includes strengthening regional dialogues, making trilateral consultations with third countries in the region more robust, deepening regional integration, strengthening regional forums, and exploring additional multilateral opportunities for engagement.
China factor

While India has traditionally favoured a policy of deep engagement with all major powers, the special relationship with the U.S. today, especially the “vision” statement, is rooted in great apprehensions in New Delhi about China’s aggressive “peripheral diplomacy,” particularly after the intrusions in Chumar during 
President Xi Jinping’s visit to India last year. That the new Chinese leadership had abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s ‘24 Character Strategy’ of biding time, hiding its capacities and not attracting attention has been clear for some time now, but what is intriguing is that Beijing has managed to alienate nearly all its neighbours, except North Korea and Pakistan, by its malevolence. Not surprisingly, a rising China is a cause of trepidation in most capitals of the world today. Will Beijing now introspect and recalibrate? For it must realise that New Delhi’s closeness to Washington is also a function of its strategic distance from Beijing.
In late 2005, amidst the negotiations over the civil nuclear agreement with the U.S., Dr. Singh, appointed a task force on global strategic developments headed by the doyen of India’s strategic thinking, K. Subrahmanyam. As a member of the task force, I remember the meetings essentially became a series of inspiring lectures by Mr. Subrahmanyam on geopolitics. Mr. Subrahmanyam was an architect of many of India’s key strategic decisions, including the policy that led to the creation of Bangladesh, the Indo-Soviet treaty, as well as the nuclear tests of 1998. But throughout the meetings, Mr. Subrahmanyam, with a mind as agile as that of a restless teenage prodigy, would emphasise the importance of arriving at a modus vivendi with the U.S., the overriding importance of the nuclear deal, how it was in Washington’s own interest to support a rising India and how New Delhi should grab that opportunity. As the United States and India finally “recognise” each other and promise to realise each other’s potential, the new entente between the two countries is a fitting tribute to the legacy of India’s modern-day Chanakya, just days after his 86th birthday.
(Source: The Hindu)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Australia, India and Prof Amitabh Mattoo

Professor Amitabh Mattoo arrived in Australia shortly after the violent attacks on Indian students.  It was a time when Australia was accused of being racist, and unsafe, by the Indian community.  In fact Amitabh's friends warned him that he would literally go “Down Under”.
But on completing his posting as one of the inaugural directors of the Australia India Institute, Amitabh says that the relationship is now energised -  not only has Prime Minister Abbott visited the sub-continent, but Narendra Modi was in Australia for the G20 conference last month -  the first time an Indian prime minister has visited Australia in 28 years. The times, as Amitabh puts it “are clearly changing”.

Prof  Mattoo spoke to Geraldine Doogue about the transformation in Australia-India Relations, his personal experiences in Australia and what lies ahead. To listen in to the conversation, go to the following link:
(Courtesy: ABC )

Friday, December 19, 2014

Graduation Ceremony at University of Melbourne

Professor Amitabh Mattoo delivered the convocation address to the graduating class of 2014 at the University of Melbourne. Presented below is the text of his speech.

The Deputy Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Mr Robert Johanson, Vice Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Deputy Provost Prof Susan Elliott, the graduating class of 2014, Ladies and Gentlemen.

There can be no greater honour for anyone connected to Academia than to be asked to deliver an address at a Graduation Ceremony. I came to Melbourne from India a little more than three years ago, and in all these months I have begun to value, a little more every day, the enormous strengths of this great University and realize how fortunate are those, like you young men and women, who get the opportunity to study here. 

Today, the University of Melbourne is truly, to paraphrase Prof Glyn Davis, a Republic of Learning and comes with the promise of training you to be a citizen of the world.   And as you go through this most sacrosanct of academic rites of passage, it is important also to never forget how privileged you all are and how this knowledge will be a continuous source of power to you, to your families and to all those around you,

 Many of you will move into what some describe as the real world of action in contrast to what may be viewed as the sheltered world of ideas in a university. And some may stay like I did and be  students for quite a while.  But, no matter where you go, you will be more secure and independent and empowered than most people across the world because of this great education. 

But do remember that this knowledge, this power, this passport to the world of ideas and action comes with one obligation. The responsibility, no less than the challenge of working, nay striving, towards a better world.

After all, events of the last few days are just a stark reminder of the need for all of us to work together to build sustainable peace and harmony

The tragedy at Sydney and the cataclysmic events at the Army school in Peshawar in Pakistan are a painful reminder that no one, young or old, rich or poor, can be insulated from violence and rage and conflict in this deeply interconnected world. And there are no quick fixes either. There are those who believe that unless we address the roots causes for this violence we cannot build peace. And there are others who argue that nothing but nothing can ever justify violence.  But far beyond issues of individual and collective grievances and punitive action is the fundamental question:  
How do we build, in today’s world, tolerant, inclusive societies that are at peace with themselves and the outside world?

Melbourne is rightly considered the most livable city in the world, and the last 40 odd months that I have spent here have been some of the most pleasant in my life.  But I grew up in Srinagar, a city nestled in the beautiful valley of Kashmir in the mountains of the Himalayas. When I went to school there, it was idyllic. But all that was idyllic then has now been shattered by nature and men. So peace can be fragile, and needs nurturing and injection of new ideas and, above all good people, with passion and commitment willing to work selflessly. Because, as the great Irish poet  Wiliam Butler  Yeats reminded us in 1919,  during the Great War in The Second Coming , for things to “fall apart” you only  need the best to “lack conviction” and for the worst to be driven by “passionate intensity”.

 When I did my Humanities degree, it was not a  favoured option for the really clever. To be honest, I don’t even know how much Political Science learnt during my years in College. But a Humanities Degree taught me then, as it will have taught you -through much greater rigour and the richness of the Melbourne model - at least four things:
First, that I while may not know have the answers, I learnt what were the important questions to ask.

Second, it taught me not just the value of money, but that there were, to paraphrase the Harvard philosopher, Michael Sandel, things that money cannot buy, such as peace and justice!

Third, that often in the world of problems. Much like in the Japanese auteur Akiri Kurosowa’s Rashoman, there is no one truth, just many interpretations.

And finally, that new ideas to solve old problems can often come when you do not let your schooling come in the way of your education (as Mark Twain is thought to have said). In other words, innovation, creativity and imagination often flourish  when you use the powers of  the critical thinking and problem solving (that were honed in the class rooms)to move beyond the orthodoxies of the past and the belief systems of the present. 

In many ways, therefore a Humanities degree (a degree in the Arts and Social Sciences), equips you, much much better, to  not just face the world,  but to  help change it for the better.

I want to, in conclusion, share parts from my one of my  favourite  poems by  the great Indian poet Rabindra Nath Tagore, who was the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. This is from Tagore’s book Gitanjali or Bouquet of Songs, published in 1910, but is as relevant now as it was more a century ago.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. –

All the best then as you move into an exciting new phase of your lives. And thank you for listening to me patiently.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Australia and India have never been closer

When Narendra Modi arrives in Melbourne on November 18, he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the city   for a bilateral visit, since Indira Gandhi was hosted by John Gorton in May 1968. Unlike Gandhi's visit, which is remembered today only for its insignificance, Modi's Australian yatra promises to be the most important ever made by an Indian prime minister for both countries' bilateral relations.

Consider this: In Melbourne alone, he will attend four functions, two at Government House and two at the MCG. The Governor will host a chief executives' round table at which Modi will have the opportunity to interact with a who's who of Australian business, including Anthony Pratt, of Visy Industries, and Gina Rinehart, of Hancock Prospecting. Later, he will address more than 500 business leaders, before leaving for the MCG where Prime Minister Tony Abbott will host a reception for 1000 select guests and a dinner for 500.

Modi's schedule elsewhere in Australia is equally packed. Quite apart from the G20 meeting, he will unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Brisbane, attend business breakfasts, speak to a crowd of more than 15,000 Australian Indians in Sydney, address both houses of Federal Parliament and hold bilateral talks with Abbott. For each public event, there has been a scramble for seats and invitations.
But Australia is not alone here. India's Prime Minister, once a controversial and even polarising figure, has taken the world by storm. In its recent list of the world's most powerful people, Forbes magazine described Modi as India's newest rock star who doesn't hail from Bollywood. Many expected him for his first year in office at least to look inward, focusing mostly on domestic issues. But in the less than six months that he has been Prime Minister, Modi has visited Brazil, the United States, Bhutan, Nepal and Japan, and hosted leaders from South Asia, China and Vietnam. This outward-looking, activist stance has revived hopes that India may at last achieve its potential as a major economic and strategic player.

No one quite remembers the last time an Indian leader demonstrated this kind of chutzpah – an approach to leadership that is energising citizens in India and wowing audiences internationally. One Australian business leader compared Modi approvingly to Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew: a benevolent, authoritarian, incorruptible leader who could transform his country. Another compared his non-ideological economic pragmatism to that of China's Deng Xiaoping who modernised the communist country. Modi, with his usual fondness for alliteration, sees India's unique selling point as its unbeatable combination of the Three Ds, democracy, demand and  demography – that is, the rule of law, its huge market of nearly 300 million middle-class Indians, and the youth bulge of more 500 million Indians under the age of 25, who could become part of a global workforce in an otherwise ageing world.

Together Prime Ministers Abbott and Modi have the chance to transform the bilateral relationship between their countries from one characterised by missed opportunities into a genuine strategic partnership. The long shadow of the Cold War, India's autarkic economic policies, the White Australia policy, and Canberra's decision not to transfer uranium to India, have kept the two countries apart for several decades. But this is now history.

Today, few countries in the Indo-Pacific region have more in common in both values and interests than India and Australia. Apart from being two English-speaking, multicultural, federal democracies that believe in and respect the rule of law, both have a strategic interest in ensuring a balance in the Indo-Pacific and in ensuring that the region is not dominated by any one hegemonic power. In addition, Indians are today the largest source of skilled migrants in Australia.

The extent of Australia's and India's common interests was reflected in the 36-paragraph joint statement that concluded Abbott's visit to India early in September. From water management to clean energy, from trauma research to skills and higher education, from maritime and cyber security to counterterrorism, a world of opportunities awaits the two countries if they can work in harmony.

Late last year, the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne and Sydney's Lowy Institute commissioned a comprehensive survey of Indian public opinion on foreign policy and governance challenges. Indians ranked Australia in the top four nations towards which they feel most warmly. Only the United States, Japan and Singapore ranked higher. Indians feel warmer towards Australia today than towards countries in Europe, including Britain, or India's fellow emerging economies in the so-called BRICS group.

Relations between India and Australia have deepened dramatically over the past decade. India's economic growth and its burgeoning demand for energy, resources and education have made it suddenly one of Australia's largest export markets. Beyond the trade links, there is the shared concern in Canberra and New Delhi about security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Both India and Australia have deep economic relations with China, but equally both are concerned about Beijing's aggressive behaviour in the recent past, and would ideally prefer the region not to be dominated by any single hegemonic power. In the past Canberra has shied away from an explicit military partnership with India, Japan and the United States.

This may well change in coming months. Both Modi and Abbott are seen as China sceptics, open to a more candid assessment of China's rise and its consequences for the region. The Australia-India relationship is clearly an idea whose time has come, but it will require political nurturing before it acquires a momentum of its own. Fortunately, Modi and Abbott have bonded well.

In her forthcoming definitive account of bilateral relations, historian Meg Gurry relates how Arthur Tange, high commissioner to India and one of Australia's most formidable diplomats, wrote in 1965 to his foreign minister, Paul Hasluck, that there was fertile ground between the two countries, but "no one seems to know what seeds to plant". Fifty years on, there are not only many seeds waiting to be planted, but much ripe fruit ready to harvest.

(Source: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cry, my beloved Srinagar!

My beloved Srinagar, the only city I have ever called home, has gone. 

The city of wealth and prosperity drowned by the worst floods in its history. I was there when our home was violated by what we held most precious: water. What wrong had we done collectively to deserve this fate? 

In 2010, there was a chilling forecast in the Srinagar-based daily, Greater Kashmir, based on interviews with officials of the state flood control ministry that a catastrophic flood awaits Kashmir. A plan was drawn up, but like much else in the state: nothing happened. Four years later, Kashmir lies devastated, and Srinagar destroyed. 

The history of Srinagar, of the last three decades or more, is the story of an urban disaster. But it was not always like this. 

Growing up in Srinagar in the 1960s and 1970s was to live a life so idyllic that in hindsight it seems unreal. Every season was special. Rivers, water, ice and snow were part of life and brought its challenges, but never overwhelmed. 

The spring, from March to May, was when school began after the long winter break. The ice melted and the fragrance of the Yemburzal and the blossoms of the almond trees enveloped the valley.We had our first excursion of the year to the almond orchards or Badam Vari, with hundreds of others, carrying portable stoves, rice and mutton. 

School was a five-km cycle ride away , passing the river Jhelum on the left, and crossing the Zero Bridge and finally arriving at Burn Hall School, in Sonwar with the wonderful chinars of the Amar Singh garden just across the road. The Jhelum was a lifeline: when we stayed at 'mata mal' (maternal grandparents' house) we took the shikara to cross the Jhelum to our first school, the Presentation Convent. 

The summer, from June to September, was when life was at its most robust. The swimming boats of the Dal lake and Nageen lake was where one learnt swimming, unless you were at the tough Biscoe School, which taught you that in "All things be men" while Burn Hall relied on "Industria Floremus" (In Toil we will flourish). But the Biscoe boys' encounter was not without tragedy. Several Biscoe boys had drowned in the great Wullar lake in the early 20th century. This was a time for night excursions in the floating houseboats: the doongas. This was the only season when it rained heavily, other than in March-April. But while in the spring the mountains were full of ice, in August-September the glaciers would melt feeding the river and threatening floods. In autumn, one prepared for winter. As the valley turned gold and rust, we dried vegetables, stored firewood, and prepared for the final exams in November. 

Winter was the time for snow and stories. We ventured for a few hours to play snow games, but the rest of the day was spent reading and finishing homework during the three-month vacation. There was no central heating, but just fireplaces, bhukharis and kangris. 

Never ever in all these years did water enter our house. There were warnings in earlier years, and my hyper-sensitive grandmother would walk several times a day to the flood channel to take a look at the water level. The flood channel was where the water was sent when the level of the Jhelum rose, and if it went alarmingly high the gates of the Dal were opened and the lake was flooded. 

But after the great flood of 1902 and then of the early 1950s, there was no flood that severely impacted on the city . As a consequence of the great flood of 1902, the flood channel behind our house was created and there were nallahs and wetlands that absorbed excess water. But by the 1980s and 1990s, every rule of urban planning had been violated. 

The Nallah Mar, an important flood channel, was filled up and made into a road. The wetlands became residential colonies, and there was encroachment on most embankments of the river Jhelum. 

Srinagar will now have to be rebuilt brick by brick, but before that thousands will have to be rescued and rehabilitated and provided the space where they can mourn in dignity. 

But after a tragedy of this enormity (corpses of babies and women are still floating in the river), will we allow the same crop of corrupt bureaucrats and inept political leaders to take charge? Or will we build Srinagar, the valley of Nund Rishi and Lal Ded, again as it once was: the abode of fresh air and pure springs, and the land of peace, compassion and prosperity? 

(Source: The Times of India)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Harrowing flight from flooded Valley

We stayed up, maintaining a vigil, while the night echoed to cries of ‘bachao’
I have returned from the hell that Srinagar and much of the Kashmir Valley is today. I have returned with my parents only because of the Indian Army and the kindness of strangers. Everything else has collapsed in most of Srinagar.
I went to Srinagar on Saturday alarmed by reports of floods in the Kashmir Valley to reassure my parents who lived there, but not very concerned about their safety. Four generations of Mattoos had lived in our family home, in one of the most pleasant neighbourhoods of Srinagar: Gogji Bagh. My grandfather liked to tell his grandchildren that they should ensure that their spine was as strong as the foundations of our house! It had survived every vicissitude in the ups and downs of the Mattoo family and Kashmir: earthquakes, militancy (a bullet in my great grandfather’s portrait is a reminder of the violent 1990s), deaths and personal grief.
On Saturday evening, there was the first ominous sign: there was a power outage. We slept, however, comforted by the prediction of the local meteorology chief, Sonam Lotus, who has become a popular icon for the accuracy of his forecasts, that Sunday would be sunny. And indeed I woke to a radiant blue sky with not a cloud in sight. But the power outage had continued through the night, and I got a frightened phone call from a neighbour at about 9.30 a.m. that the bund on the bank of the Jhelum (near Lal Ded hospital, about a kilometre from our house) had been breached!
Within minutes the water was streaming ferociously into our garden. I calculated we had about an hour before our ground floor was submerged; actually we had just about 30 minutes.
In that frenzy, we could only really clear the kitchen: food and water to feed a staff of 12 — and moved to the upper storeys. The water had risen one- and-a-half storeys by the afternoon and we stayed up that night maintaining a vigil, not entirely sure what we would do if the water rose to the upper floors: we had no power, no phones (mobile or landline), no contact with anyone, and just a couple of messages that we were not sure had been delivered. The night echoed with cries of ‘bachao bachao’ from the nearby Gujjar and Bakerwal hostel in Amar Singh college and other places!
On Monday morning, we were finally rescued by the brave jawans of the Indian Army in a paddle boat and taken to a safer point at the bund – with just one small bag each.
There was no sign of relief or help.
The only option was to rush to the airport. We did so with the kindness of good Samaritans, and after walking kilometres in waist-deep water. Many who helped had never met us, some were friends from Facebook, including Ashraf Bhat – a distinguished lawyer, who walked with us and dropped us near the airport, young Suhail who helped us find a short cut and helped my parents traverse the wall that led us to a dryer route. And Dr. Khan and Sherwani Sahib for finally dropping us to the airport!
We are back in Delhi’s safety, but deeply concerned about those in the valley who are still marooned. Today, Prime Minister, rescue Kashmir, and Kashmiris will respect you forever!

 (Source: The Hindu)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The discovery of Australia

With PM Tony Abbott’s visit to India, the bilateral relationship is starting to mature
After six decades characterized by misperception, lack of trust, neglect, missed opportunities and even hostility, a new chapter in India’s relations with Australia has well and truly begun.
Consider this: in 1955, Prime Minister Robert Menzies decided that Australia should not take part in the Bandung Afro-Asian conference. By distancing Australia from the ‘new world’, Menzies (who would later confess that Occidentals did not understand India) alienated Indians, offended Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and left Australia unsure, for decades, about its Asian identity.
Sixty years later the visit of another Liberal Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to India — also the first stand-alone state visit to be hosted by the Narendra Modi government — has well and truly brought the past to a closure. When asked why Australia had agreed to export uranium to India (a non-NPT signatory country), Abbott was unequivocal in his statement: “We trust you!”

No other declaration could reflect the new Australian belief in the promise and potential of this relationship, for it was this deficit of understanding and faith that severely undermined the relationship in the past. Abbott was not alone: he had brought with him some of the most influential Australian businessmen, including Anthony Pratt, who runs the world’s largest paper and paper packaging company, Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh and Lindsey Fox who has one of the most extensive logistics and transport companies in Asia.
Unfortunately, for most of the 20th century, India and Australia rarely had a meaningful conversation. The reasons are not difficult to identify: the white Australia policy, the Cold War, the Nehru-Menzies discord, India’s autarkic economic policies, Canberra’s strident res-ponse to New Delhi’s nuclear tests and attacks on Indian students in Victoria.

Indeed, even after the white Australia policy became history and Australia became one of the most multicultural of nations, opinion surveys reveal most Indians are unaware of this fundamental change. At the popu-lar level the only real exposure most Indians had to Australia was to the Australian cricket team — the least multicultural of institutions.
Even three years ago when — disgusted with the politics of the higher education sector in India — i decided to be the inaugural director of the Australia India Institute at Melbourne, it was seen as a giant leap of faith. I had not visited Australia before and had little knowledge of the country.
My friends warned me that i was literally going “Down Under”, soon to become irrelevant and marginal to all policy issues in India. At school, my teenage daughters were told they risked being bashed up in school and college and my extended family was astounded.
But today i have no doubt that it was one of the best decisions of my life. With not one unpleasant experience in the country, as a family we have found Australians open, friendly, fair, accepting and generous, and the country a model of good governance.
Today there are few countries in the Indo-Pacific which share so much in common in both values and interest than India and Australia, and this is reflected in the 36-para joint statement. From water management to clean energy, to trauma research, to skills and higher education, to maritime and cyber security and counter terrorism, there is a world of opportunities that awaits the two countries if they work in close coordination with each other.

Take just one example: The Economist Intelligence Unit recently voted Australia, after Switzerland, the best country to be born, based on a variety of factors that include access to quality health and education, level of crime, gender equality, resources and political freedom.
Melbourne has been consistently selected as the most livable city and most other Australian cities (including Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth) are in the top 20 in the world. Even given the differences in scale, there are huge lessons in urban planning and living that Australia can offer India.
In November Prime Minister Modi will visit Australia for the G-20 summit. This will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister in 28 years. It is critical that the political leadership remain in charge of the relationship until it acquires real momentum.

The success of Abbott’s visit was because of the triumvirate in his office — chief of staff Petra Aldrin, senior adviser Andrew Shearer and Joshua Frydenbirg, rising star of the Liberal Party. They helped translate Abbott’s vision into reality. Sections of the Canberra bureaucracy can be niggardly transactional when strong bilateral relations are cemented as much by the world of ideas as they are by the world of commerce.
Similarly, India’s ministry of external affairs, despite the presence of an incisive and thoughtful secretary (East) — Anil Wadhwa — lacks the capacity to give the relationship the attention it deserves. It is critical that the PM creates an Australia Plus cell similarly to the one on Japan in his office.

For the Australia-India bilateral relationship could, handled well, become the most formidable Asian partnership of the 21st century.

(Source: The Times of India)