Public memory is short, Media moves on, Diplomats find ways to make the right noises, I somehow am still stuck in lessons from 2009-2010 with regards to India-Australia relationship.
“Australians are the “most atrocious and horrendous racists on this planet”.
This is what the RSS official spokesperson had opined on several media platforms in first weeks of January 2010 (see link). RSS’s political arm is BJP.
Just after the 2009 elections were over, 24×7 Media in India was desperately looking for an issue that could be hyped up in a manner that could help its TRP. Shiny Ahuja provided provided some “masala” but the one that TV channels (especially the one with Ornobh) found with greater potential was related to the “attacks on Indian students in Australia”. I clearly remember the birth of the hype in May of 2009 and the increased rhetoric that continued for several months. Let me state without any ambiguity that there was a need for greater preparedness on the part of Indian students travelling overseas and there was a need for some good and precise security related measures in Australia. However, largely, the non-premeditated attacks were instances of “mugging” or “drunken adventure” by some on some without any clear pattern that the attacks were by “white” Australian on “brown” Indians and there were also instances where the ones committing the attacks were of mixed origin including one major instance where the cctv evidenced one of “Indian origin” being involved. There might also have been some elements of racism but it was grossly exaggerated and to call the full nation of “migrants” as “racist” was a racism by itself.
While I hold the over-enthusiastic and un-occupied media space as primarily responsible for the chaos in the relationship between the two great democracies, some of the comments of political parties have stuck to my thoughts. Several Indian ministers travelled to Australia, Several Australian ministers travelled to India, Journalists from both countries wrote on each other more frequently and so in some ways, the understanding for each other went beyond the Cricket, Commonwealth and Curry.
I feel that the Indian Government played its role very well. The Indian High Commissioner in Canberra and the various Consul Generals around the country applied the right pressure on the Australian Government to address the security concerns. The statements from the “responsible” ministers were measured and I do think that it had the right balm-ing effect on the fragile relationship between the nations. While the External Affairs minister SM Krishna made several visits to Australia and met with all stake holders, he gave sufficient indications that India was happy with the measures being taken to address the issues. So did the Minister Vyalar Ravi conduct himself. The statesmanship of Indian ministers became quite evident when Australians noted with great appreciation, what the Minister for HRD (the department that looks after Education) stated in possibly the best summarisation of the situation… (excerpted from this linked article)
”The whole racism issue has really coloured this debate in an unhealthy way, because when our media either seizes on that, or the Australian media in turn respond critically, we are essentially dealing with not black or brown or white, but red herrings,” Mr Shashi Tharoor said.
”We value our relationship with Australia, it’s a friendly country … The truth is this is a problem of law and order, one that Australia is dealing with and needs to deal with internally. But it cannot but affect us when our citizens are reported to be suffering.”
I may add that India played its card very well diplomatically to leverage the negotiations on the Uranium supply issue and Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s skipping the CHOGM held in Australia, was a master-stroke. While no Indian PM may have visited Australia since Rajiv Gandhi, several senior ministers have. Rajiv Gandhi’s rapport with Bob Hawke and the fact that he even considered educating Rahul in Australia after he had to be pulled out of his school after the security concerns in India is note-worthy too.
What should we expect with the RSS backed BJP in future, if it assumes the leadership for the future tenure:
It is no secret that BJP’s cultural, educational and political agenda is directly or indirectly guided by the RSS philosophy. So be it. However, this is where I get really concerned when we are talking of the Indian-Australian relationship. While I was doing what I could in 2009-10 to settle the issues and also aiding the effort of Indian and Australian Governments, there was one voice on all TV channels that somehow harmed more than providing any solutions. This voice belonged to some ill-informed from within the BJP-RSS formation that of-course tried to give a flavour that what was happening in Australia was simply because of racism.
The spokesperson of the RSS who gave out the atrocious and irresponsible generalisation on Australia is considered quite knowledgeable within RSS-BJP and sits on several senior groups. His also now a spokesman of the BJP and his site introduces him as…
Tarun Vijay is a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Rajya Sabha. He is a member of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on External Affairs; a member, Parliamentary Group on India China Friendship.
In addition to repeating on several TV channels and hence fuelling the misconception that Australians are the “most atrocious and horrendous racists on this planet” on several media platforms during that period, he continued on his blog…
I haven’t seen anger or sincerity on the part of the governance or any political leader coming out strongly to teach these Aussies a lesson they will not forget. Why? There was an unfortunate Australian family killed in Orissa and the entire white world stood up in unison, even threatening severing of diplomatic ties. What happens now when an Indian, one of us, is killed by Australians? And Nitin Garg is not the first Indian to be attacked — he died without anyone helping him — and Indians in Australia believe the Australian government will do nothing to stop these attacks as racism is too deeply ingrained in their system. Indians are welcome as money providers to their educational industry but not as equally respected humans.
What comes first? Money or izzat — the self-pride? I would prefer sleeping half fed rather than losing my pride and freedom. Make money but with your spine intact is the mantra for any civil society’s progress.
BJP’s youth wing issued a press release which can be found on this link, where they have only attempted to one-way concern on the events.
I know that in recent times, Australian Government departments have made visits to Gujarat and have even invited Mr Modi to Australia. (see link). This is fine and a part of diplomacy. However, I do believe that Australia would need to do its bit to address the negative mindset that exists within RSS regarding Australia. Mr Modi’s entire education “in and outside the classroom” from an early age has been under the RSS. I hear that the Australian PM has also been involved with the Christian missions in India at some point in the past and has spent a several months in Bihar at that time in early 1990. I may also hence quickly add that RSS has a certain take on the Christian missionaries in India that led to the Staines murder in Orissa. Thus, when Tony Abbott visits India, which he must, he should refrain from discussing his earlier experiences. A careful strategization will hence be required especially now since the Indian-Australian relationship was very positive over the last decade and when Congress was in power in India.
One way forward will be to focus on “Trade” and “Indian Investments in Australia”. One such is of Adani who is now named as an industrialist “close” to the BJP leadership. (See the link on his recent inroads in Australia) I will not comment on my opinion of the way some of these Indian explorers (similar to Adani) operate as have observed two other Indian investments exploit Australian interests recently. (Oswal and Gujarat NRE)
I was intrigued to note that none of the “learned minds” on the Australia-India seem to be reading the Australia-specific context in the RSS-BJP “earlier opinion” on Australia. Australia like UK and USA is attempting to diplomatically find a mid-path. US may now have to issue Mr Modi a visa too. The concern of US and UK is more for the track-record of Modi in regard of the 2002 Gujarat riots. I believe that Australia need to do some more strategization as the issue here is pertaining to the opinion of RSS-BJP with reference to 2009-2010 issues. The matter is now buried and Indian student numbers in Australia are rising once again. However , the dialogue between the two countries will need to keep the political posturing of that period in mind and not to dwell on the “fact” that historically “since the Rajiv Gandhi era”, Australia and India have had the best rapport only when there was a Congress Government in Delhi.
Sharing some additional discussions below: