Ties that bind: On India-Australia ties and the Modi visit

The Narendra Modi visit to Australia adds to the bipartisan strength of growing bonds

May 25, 2023 12:20 am | Updated 11:09 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to Australia this week coincided with a year since Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese was elected Prime Minister, and gave a fillip to growing bipartisan ties. While his visit was originally planned for a multilateral event, the meeting of the Quad, it transformed into a purely bilateral visit after the U.S. President pulled out over domestic political constraints; Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida followed suit, and a shortened Quad Summit was held in Hiroshima. As a result, Mr. Modi’s Sydney sojourn was much more in the spotlight, particularly his address to the Indian community which Mr. Albanese joined in, as well as the address to business groups. In what was their sixth such meeting in the past year, the announcements from the Modi-Albanese meet included opening an Australian consulate in Bengaluru and an Indian consulate in Brisbane, an agreement on Migration and Mobility, and the finalisation of terms of reference for an India-Australia Green Hydrogen Task Force. Defence and security ties, cooperation on renewable energy, and critical minerals were also part of the substantive agenda, as was the need to sign a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement by December. On international issues, despite their differing stances on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and western sanctions, they found continuing and common cause on maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, and dealing with an aggressive China.

However, it was the celebration as well as the concerns of the Indian-origin community that appeared to overshadow all else. While both leaders exulted in the mammoth crowd at Sydney’s SuperDome, Mr. Modi said that the “real reason, the real power” behind the bilateral relations came from people of Indian-origin in Australia. On the subsequent morning, activities of other groups and conflicts also tracing back to people of Indian origin were discussed as Mr. Modi repeated his concerns over vandalism and attacks defacing community centres and temples with pro-Khalistani, anti-India and anti-Modi graffiti. These had been raised during Mr. Albanese’s visit to India in March. While any attack on an Indian consulate is a valid bilateral concern, New Delhi must consider how much attention it wishes to pay to attacks by Australian citizens on Australian citizens and Australian property. While the growing incidents may be cause for worry, it is by no means clear that giving them centre-stage during such visits is conducive to strengthening the common understanding between both countries, or in the best interests of the “three D’s” Mr. Modi said bind the two countries today — Democracy, Diaspora and Dosti [Friendship].

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