India-Australia: Need To Diversify Cooperation – Analysis


The current three-day visit of Australian Prime Minister Ms.Julia Gillard to India for talks with Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and other leaders and captains of Indian industry indicates the poverty of bilateral strategic thinking in both the countries in the Government and the non-Governmental levels.

Most of the analytical articles that I have read are preoccupied with the question how soon India can hope to start importing uranium from Australia for its civilian nuclear power programme. India has had reasons to be thankful to Ms.Gillard for reversing her Labour Party’s opposition to the sale of uranium to India on the ground that India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement.

Australia - India Relations
Australia – India Relations

Ever since her arrival in India, the Australian Prime Minister has been at pains to discourage exaggerated expectations in India that the uranium sales may start immediately. She has been pointing out that the sale of uranium has to be preceded by the conclusion of a civil nuclear co-operation agreement with India with appropriate safeguards to prevent the diversion of the uranium sold by Australia for military purposes. In her estimate, it will take at least another two years before uranium sales can start.

Ever since India’s relations with the US started improving under the administration of then President George Bush ( 2000-08), it has had a beneficial fall-out for Indo-Australian relations too with increased military-to-military contacts and exercises, particularly greater co-operation between the two Navies and greater intellectual exchanges with a strategic focus. Australia’s diplomatic and consular presence in India has expanded, more Indian students have been going to Australia for higher education and more Indian academics are being invited to Australia on short or long-term fellowships. However, the academic exchanges have largely remained one way from India to Australia and not the other way round.

The poor infrastructure and other facilities in Indian universities have come in the way of the exchanges being two-way. Surprisingly, even in the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and Business Administration Schools, Australian presence has been an exception. The fascination in Indian academic circles for exchanges with institutions of higher learning in Europe and the USA have come in the way of an increase in exchanges with Australia.

Australian concerns over jihadi terrorism after the Bali terrorist strike of October 2002 directed largely against Australian tourists by the Jemmah Islamia have led to a greater exchange of counter-terrorism intelligence between the two countries. While the military-military relations between the two countries have picked up momentum, the police-police relations have not expanded.

Some years ago during a visit to the National Police Academy at Hyderabad, I did come across two Australian police officers who were doing an attachment with the Hyderabad Academy, but no thought seems to have been given by our National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) to the scope for greater exchanges between the police institutions of the countries for strengthening the capabilities of the Indian police in the field of forensic examination, with particular reference to use of modern technology for the prevention and detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).Many ASEAN countries have benefited from Australian expertise and capabilities in forensics and scientific methods of investigation. There is no valid reason why we should not do so too.

When our policy makers and strategic analysts talk of strategic co-operation with Australia, their minds are over-focussed on military-related co-operation. The scope for expanding non-military dimensions of the co-operation has not received the attention it deserves.

An important field that has remained untapped is the modernisation of our agriculture. For some time now, our Prime Minister has been talking of the need for a second green revolution to further improve our wheat production. There is a tremendous scope for Indo-Australian co-operation for modernising the cultivation of fruits and vegetables through the establishment of Special Agricultural Zones.

Even as the Australian Prime Minister was holding talks in New Delhi, Ms.J.Jayalalita, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, inaugurated on October 17,2012, a joint Indo-Israeli project for co-operation in the improvement of vegetable and fruit cultivation in Tamil Nadu. There is no reason why we cannot supplement it with Australian co-operation.

There is a need for a more comprehensive thinking on the scope for multi-dimensional co-operation between India and Australia. It is hoped that the Australian Prime Minister’s visit will lead to such thinking.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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