Sydney, 14th November, 2014
Expectations from the Modi Govt
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is visiting Australia between 15th and 18th Nov, 2014. After attending G20 summit in Brisbane on 15th and 16th November, he will start his state visit. Indian community is excited with this visit. This is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister after PM Rajiv Gandhi visited Australia in 1986. PM Modi will interact with the community in Sydney and Melbourne, in addition to addressing a Joint session of Australian Parliament.
Prime Minister Modi’s image is that of a decisive and a “can do” leader. Indians, not just in India but around the world, are optimistic that things will change for the better and the Indian economy will grow rapidly.
When I wrote a post in June, 2014, I mentioned many things which people expected. Many of those things have either been delivered or getting delivered. Prime Ministerial visit to Australia is one of them. Nuclear trade deal has already been signed when Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited India in September. Australian citizens getting the facility of Visa on arrival in India is another one which is in the process of getting implemented. Serious work is in progress in regards to Black money, stashed in overseas Banks. Supreme Court’s activism is playing an important role in it. Investigations and prosecutions are likely to commence soon. Based on my interactions with many Indians in Australia, there are a few more things that people expect the new government to deliver.
Genuine dual citizenship: This has been discussed and debated for long. There is an almost universal demand that overseas Indians be given a right to hold genuine dual citizenship with voting and property rights, if the country of their citizenship has no issue with this and if there are no security issues with granting dual citizenship to any particular overseas Indian. If USA, UK, Australia and most of developed and democratic countries as well as some countries in the region see no issues in granting dual citizenship to their citizens, then people argue that there is no rational basis for India to deny dual citizenship to Indians. PM Modi has the political capital to deliver this long-standing demand. A petition and campaign for Dual citizenship is running on Change.org (http://tinyurl.com/kxtlosw) and Social media presently (http://tinyurl.com/m4b4luu).
Effective anti-corruption body: A group of 10-15 people from civil society including eminent jurists and overseas Indians (if possible) as well as politicians should be asked to review the Lokpal Act, passed by the Lok Sabha earlier, and suggest steps to rectify weaknesses to make it an effective corruption fighting body. Such body should have sufficient resources to discharge its functions. Unlike previous Govts, this whole process to fine-tune this should not take more than one year from the time NDA Govt took office.
The PM’s global Overseas Indians Advisory body: The PM should revamp his Global Advisory Body, constituted by the previous Govt. People in it should be those who have significant presence, influence and interactions among Indians in their countries. The practice of Indian diplomats recommending their sycophants to become members of this body should be done away with.
Country specific Overseas Indian Advisory body: Countries with significant overseas Indian populations (Australia is certainly one such country) should have an advisory body of not more than 10 people, which can be used for consultations and other advisory purposes, not only by the local GOI authorities/agencies, but also the relevant authorities/agencies in India. Its term should be for not more than 2 years.
Annual consultation between High Commission and Community: Previous High Commissioner of India in Australia, and current External Affairs Secretary, Smt Sujatha Singh, started a novel, and productive, mechanism to meet the community representatives in Canberra on a yearly basis. Representatives from all over Australia would assemble on a weekend to discuss and suggest things to Indian diplomats. Current High Commissioner, Biren Nanda, did not continue this practice. The communication from High Commission and community has been limited and confined to a small group of people, who are close to HCI. Previous practice of community consultation needs to be reactivated.
Annual dialogue between Indian and Australian leaders: Indian Australians will like to see formal and regular annual meetings between PMs, Foreign Affairs Ministers and Defence Ministers, with venues alternating between India and Australia.
Free Trade Agreement (FTA): The pace of the discussions and negotiations should be accelerated so that FTA can be concluded by the end of 2015. This will accelerate bilateral trade which has come down to about $15 billion from previous high of $21 billion. This is important as Australia already has FTAs with Japan, South Korea and China.
Bilateral and multi-lateral defence exercises between India and Australia: India and Australia should work actively to enhance their defence & strategic relations bilaterally and multilaterally in the pattern agreed prior to the 2007 Rudd Govt in Australia.
Hindi teachings in Australian Universities: To increase India’s soft power and increase the numbers of India-literate Australians, India should consider seriously funding such teaching courses in at least one University each in Sydney and Melbourne. Discussions should be had between relevant authorities to explore equal sharing of cost between Australia and India.
Facilitations of Australian Universities and TAFE to have campuses in India: Many Australian institutions are ranked quite highly in various world Universities ranking systems. Collaborations in this field should be actively facilitated and encouraged, following a pragmatic and win-win module. Indian regulations to facilitate this should be considered.
Recognition of TAFE diploma in India: Many Indian students come to Australia to train in TAFE institutes. Many then move on to Universities to complete degrees. In addition to the diplomas not being recognised to the extent that the students wanting to pursue this study in Australia do not even get the education loans, Association of Indian Universities (the peak body responsible for recognising foreign degrees) does not recognise even Bachelor degrees that may have resulted from a credit transfer after a diploma resulting in the degree component being lesser than 3 year duration. (Diploma to Degree). This is a unique feature of Australian Qualification framework and so should be understood by Educational authorities. Quite a good numbers of Indians in Australia have earned their degrees through this pathway. TAFE institutes are a unique institution and it will be beneficial for India to consider recognizing diplomas from TAFE.
Bilateral Internship positions for Australians and Indians: Institutes and Universities of repute in both countries should be encouraged to develop mechanisms to have short term (3-6 months) placements for students and researchers to enhance collaboration in science and research.
Indian media’s bureau/representatives in Australia: During 2009-10, Indian media reported issues involving Indian students in an exaggerated way, erroneously attributing racism in literally every incident. They did not interact with local long-term Indians. It was harder for media to have a grasp of the ground realities. It will be helpful if key media outlets consider basing their representatives in Australia to cover Oceania. With increasing trade related activities between Australia and India and with increased number of Indians here, there could be sufficient justification for such decisions. Indian Govt can encourage media houses to take up this matter. A good beginning could be of a posting a full time Press Trust of India (PTI) reporter in Australia.
Indian Consulate in Brisbane: Queensland is an important state for Indian investment. Indian business houses like the Adani group have an important and a significant presence in this state. It is important to have an Indian Consulate in Brisbane.
India House or Indian Cultural Centre in major capital cities: There are more than 500,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia, with a big concentration in Sydney and Melbourne. People believe that there should be Indian cultural centers in Australia, at least in Sydney and Melbourne. While some funding will be raised locally, a significant part of the funds should come from Indian Govt. Govt of India (GOI) Funds, if any, allocated for something of this nature to be established in the Indian Consulate premises in Sydney CBD should be reviewed and re-allocated for a center of this nature in areas like Parramatta or Blacktown, where the Indian community has a substantial presence. Sydney CBD is not a practical or appropriate site for an Indian Cultural Centre.
Overseas Indians’ property in India: Many overseas Indians are seeing that their properties are illegally occupied and face threats to their safety when they visit India. Court cases go on for extended periods of time. Indian Penal Code and relevant laws should be amended to tackle this menace.
Interactions between GOI agencies and Indian Australian community: It is often felt that GOI authorities in Australia do not interact with people sufficiently, thus leading to a communication gap. It is a common experience that there is a significant gap between what we expect and what is delivered. It is also felt that GOI officials often get embroiled in local community politics and play “favoritism” games depending on who they like or dislike. It is quite irrational and subjective. Steps should be implemented to improve the situation.
Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs visit to Australia: With approx. 500,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia, a biennial visit of Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs (The Hon Sushma Swaraj) or her deputy, The Hon Gen (Retd) V K Singh or External Affairs Secretary, should be included in the official GOI travel calendar. This will help facilitate interactions with the community and facilitate Overseas Indians’ investment in India.
Streamlined grievance redressal mechanism for Overseas Indians: Overseas Indian Affairs ministry has often not been very helpful and help has often not come in a timely fashion due to excessive bureaucratic influences. This should be reviewed and streamlined.
Exchanges between Academicians and civil Society leaders: We need regular bilateral exchange visits of academics, journalists, leaders and civil society leaders. This will help improve relations between the two countries. The scope and numbers should be increased.
In summary, it will be of mutual benefit to the community in Australia and India if the Indian government is proactive in considering the interests and welfare of the Indian community down under.
Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/14th November, 2014