Australian Prime Minister >Tony Abbott’s maiden visit to India this week sends a strong message about the importance of the Australia-India relationship. The perceived significance of this relationship by the Australian government is not one-sided. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, later this year, will be the first Indian Prime Minister in 28 years (since Rajiv Gandhi in 1986) to visit Australia on an official trip. To put this into perspective, since 50 per cent of India’s population are under the age of 25, more than half of all Indians have not witnessed a state visit by their Prime Minister to Australia during their lifetime. These prime ministerial visits, which will occur in quick succession, signal to the world that the Australian and Indian governments, now more than ever before, see the value in investing in this important relationship.
The relationship between our two great democracies has unequivocally grown from strength to strength in recent years, encouraged by the convergence of interests between the two nations in various areas such as education, regional security, energy and resources and international trade. Both governments recognise that the Australia-India relationship needs to be at the forefront of international partnerships.
The foundation of ties While the importance of >strong ties between the Australian and Indian governments cannot be understated, strengthening professional, cultural and social ties between our nations requires the promotion of people-to-people links. It is the role of our governments to discuss and eventually agree on important policy issues such as the prospect of a free trade agreement, the trade of uranium and education. However, stronger ties between Australia and India ultimately rely on relationships, i.e., strong institutional, professional and personal linkages. Organisations such as the Australia India Institute, the Lowy Institute (through the Australia-India Roundtable) and the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) extol the virtues of such relationships by encouraging collaboration at a people-to-people level.
In addition, student exchange programs, internships, secondments and conferences are a fantastic way for Indians to gain a greater understanding about Australia and build strong cross-cultural relationships, and vice versa. Speaking from my personal experience, having received the inaugural Australia Asia Prime Minister’s Endeavour Award to participate in a student exchange and internship in India opened my eyes to a beautiful country that I had not previously been to. Providing young people from Australia and India the opportunity to really experience other cultures is invaluable. This is where the relationship between Australia and India begins — at the people-to-people level.
For our strategic relationship to thrive in the long term we need to engage with the next generation of leaders in both nations now.
In a few months, 15 young leaders (18-40 years of age) from India will visit Australia to meet and engage with 15 of the best and brightest young leaders of Australia. Over the three-day conference, AIYD 2015 delegates will discuss critical issues in the Australia-India relationship and key challenges and opportunities facing the two countries. Discussions will be structured around panels led by experts in the areas of governance and public policy, >public diplomacy and soft power, innovation, >business and education.
Collaborations In Australia, already a growing number of young people seem to be taking interest in India. The same is also true about young leaders in India. A collaborative project between two AIYD delegates illustrates this point. Chris O’Neill, director of an engineering firm in Melbourne and Chhavi Rajawat, the Sarpanch of the village Soda in Rajasthan, have developed a Development Roadmap for Water Resources in Soda which aims to improve the quality and quantity of freshwater in the village and improve wastewater services by developing a series of low-tech, sustainable water harvesting and treatment systems, starting with a sustainable wastewater filtration plant for urban run-off.
The idea to collaborate on this project became a reality during discussions between Mr. O’Neill and Ms Rajawat during AIYD 2014. The AIYD facilitates other projects led by young Australians and Indians, including in the fields of sport, media, energy, education, business and the environment. The AIYD is the only forum of its kind in the Australia-India space that seeks to facilitate activities of young leaders in the Australia-India relationship. The AIYD has already begun to elevate the bilateral relationship higher up the political agenda. During recent AIYD events, delegates have interacted with former Ministers from the Indian and Australian governments and various State governments, with the Australian government, through the Australia India Council being a founding partner for the AIYD. The AIYD aims to continue to bridge the gap between young leaders in Australia and India and work with various institutions and both governments to continue to strengthen the Australia-India relationship.
The future of the Australia-India relationship rests in the hands of young Australians and Indians. The strong ties between the current Australian and >Indian governments have set the stage for a robust bilateral relationship. However, it is the energy, creativity and vision of the young leaders in Australia and India that give promise to an enduring and sustainable partnership between our future leaders.
(Shaun Star is the Chair and Co-founder of the Australia India Youth Dialogue. He is an Australian lawyer and currently works as a Consultant at Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. in New Delhi.)