I think there needs to be more intelligence put into the effort. More head than heart.
Greg has been consistently India's greatest friend in the Australian media. No one has written so much and so positively about India than Greg. To that extent (and also because he generally talks good sense) I have high regard for his thinking.
But on the India issue he is mistaken. For instance, he chides the Australian government, thus:
We are benefiting from India's still prodigious, if temporarily slowing, economic growth by exporting bulk commodities. We have attracted a lot of Indian students. And we have attracted a lot of Indian migrants. India is our second biggest source of students and our biggest source of skilled migrants.
All these developments rest on a certain quality of good governance in Australia, but they are virtually auto-pilot achievements and reflect no serious effort to engage India or learn about it.
Our government lavishly funds China studies institutes but the University of Melbourne's Australia India Institute is given a shoestring budget for a couple of years at a time, and is the only body of its kind in Australia.
India, an emerging giant and powerhouse on every dimension of national consequence, has perhaps more soft power and cultural energy than any nation in the world. It is teeming with possibilities. It is our natural partner. And we are all but fast asleep.
But this is just too facile and shallow, and displays serious lack of understanding about India.
Just what should Australia do? Fund more India studies? Increase the budget of Australia-India Institute (AII)?
Consider AII. My experience of the Australia-India Institute has broadly been good, so far, but it is simply irrelevant to India's future. It is merely a "hello-how-are-you" type of organisation that focuses on "strategic" foreign policy issues, dabbles in "celebrities", and while some of its papers are interesting, its work is (at least to date) ultimately of little consequence.
For instance, it is organising a conference called The Argumentative Indian. It has as its speakers people like Ross Garnout who has highly questionable knowledge of economics and no demonstrated knowledge of India. And Peter Dawkins, with whom I have worked with but who had NOT THE SLIGHTEST interest in India. He knew who I was, where I'd come from, but never asked a single question about India. These people are NOT fit to speak about India.
And of all the people to get to such a confernece, AII has invited Kiran Bedi. What value does she have to add to India – leave alone the Australia-India relationship? Her miserable ranting at all Indian politicians from the Ramlila ground, her misuse of tax exemptions for personal use, sheltering the BJP while attacking Congress, and her withdrawal of support for Arvind Kejiwal's foray into politics make her a person of seriously dubious value. Plus she is unelected. Why is she such an important person to get to Australia? – at Australian taxpayer expense?
True, there is Pratap Bhanu Mehta, but he is talking on India's democracy, and I somehow don't feel the need for an interpreter on the topic of India's democracy.
I can't find a single session that I'm willing to spend my time on (OK, I might attend the session on Economics, Resources and the Trade Relationship if I find time).
I don't know if the money thrown on AII is well-spent. I have serious doubts about whether the whole effort is on the right track. Yes, Amitabh Mattoo is a brilliant leader of AII, and I have the greatest regard for him, but what exactly is AII doing? Why is it not focusing on key economic issues? Why is not focusing on GOVERNANCE?
I believe that India needs to be steered, not "courted", into the right direction.
India has derailed. Its governance is in shambles. Greg seems not to have noticed!
Yes, India's nuclear facilities are safe and are likely to be safe for another few years. But if India's governance doesn't get significantly better, then don't be too sure about India's nuclear hygiene, either.
The point I'm making is that citizens of Australia and India will work out their own relationship.They DON'T NEED UNIVERSITIES AND INSTITUTES AS INTERPRETERS. The world is an OPEN world today. Information is exchanged between citizens INSTANTANEOUSLY. The academia is increasingly irrelevant as an intermediary or interpreter.
No amount of holding AII type conferences will help if the Indian government is known for only onething: Corruption.
So, Greg, if at all Australia must engage with India, it must do so at the policy support and governance level. I keep talking about POLICY PARTNERSHIPS, but no one is listening. Why don't people get out of their fascination with superficial things (e.g. Kiran Bedi, et al and the host of "celebrities") and get to the nub of the matter: the SERIOUS governance failures of India: a Third World country perilously lurching into the netherworld.
Don't ask Australian taxpayers to waste their money on "courting" India, Greg.
Australia should, instead, motivate India to get its house in order.
For instance, Australia should NOT give India uranium till it improves its GOVERNANCE. What is Australia getting in return by selling uranium? Let Australia REQUIRE, in return, that it India work (as its partner, as an equal – of course) with Australia to to improve its governance and eradicate corruption.
Scrap all foreign aid to India (assuming such a useless thing is still in place). Divert all support purely to POLICY PARTNERSHIPS that are JOINTLY and equally funded by the two countries. And set demanding KPIs for performance.
Like the naval exercises, do some GOVERNANCE exercises. India desperately needs to improve its governance.
So stop fluffing about the place: Australia, Greg. Get serious about HELPING India achieve its potential.
The other thing Australia could do (along with all other Western nations, and business associations – together) is to support an independent governance ranking system for Indian states, cities, and towns, to assist Western investors (and Indian investors) make good investment decisions. Such ranking could (as a positive spinoff) motivate better governance in India.