By Alexandra Hansen
2012 has been a significant year for the Aii, but also for the Australia-India relationship. The two countries are moving towards a closer partnership, aided by measures undertaken by both governments and other institutions.
A signal of the improving ties between the two democracies was Julia Gillard’s first visit to India as Prime Minister, where tensions in the Australia-India relationship, such as Australia earlier refusal to sell uranium to India, were resolved. Talks on a nuclear safeguards agreement have begun.
2012 also saw the release of the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century. How Australia is perceived in the region, and what can be done strengthen understanding and ties with Asian nations was the focus, and India was declared to be one of the countries that matter most to Australia.
This was emphasised by the announcement that Hindi will be one of four flagship Asian languages available in Australian schools, alongside Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese and Bahasa Indonesian.
In a gesture of goodwill towards India and in recognition of his service to India-Australia relations by promoting goodwill, friendship and sportsmanship, Indian cricket’s “Little Master”, Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the prestigious Order of Australia.
Tendulkar is only the second Indian National to receive the honour, and only 1% of the 27,400 people awarded the AO since 1975 have been non-Australian citizens.
A testament to the growing strength on Indo-Australian ties was the high calibre of Indian diplomats and academics who in October came to Melbourne for the Aii’s international conference, The Argumentative Indian; Critical debates in the world’s largest democracy and perspectives from Australia.
The conference was held over three days to wide acclaim from delegates, and audiences. Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen welcomed delegates in an insightful opening address prerecorded at Harvard University.
Other prominent guests included anti-corruption activist and India’s first female police officer, Dr Kiran Bedi; MK Narayanan, the serving Governor of West Bengal and former National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India; and Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
Conference discussions, and a number of conference delegates, featured prominently in the news, including specialised programs on Radio National, ABC news 24 television and newspaper columns.
The Institute also published two Taskforce reports in 2012, written and researched by leading thinkers in their fields.
The Perceptions Taskforce Beyond The Lost Decade outlined past relations between India and Australia and the shortfalls in engagement between the two countries. It made recommendations as to what can be done to move the relationship beyond the benign neglect of the past.
The Taskforce on Tobacco Control Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products made recommendations that India follow Australia’s example in proposed generic packaging of tobacco products to reduce smoking.
Also published this year was Professor Amitabh Mattoo’s The Reluctant Superpower, a collection of essays by various authors outlining the need to understand India and its aspirations.
The Institute continued its lunch-time seminars Tiffin Talks, including some very popular sessions by Emerging Leader Fellows Prasenjit Kundu on skills and higher education in India, and Dr Harsh Pant, an international relations scholar at Kings College London on the rise of China.
To add to the complement of events hosted by the Institute, a series called Chai and Conversation was developed; private round table events hosting esteemed international guests for expert discussions. One of India’s top economists Dr Marapalli Govinda Rao attended a roundtable event at the Institute, as did Former Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi AP Shah.
The Institute also hosted Indian MP and former UN official Shashi Tharoor to launch his book Pax Indica; India and the World of the 21st Century. Tharoor proved his reach and popularity with the sheer number in attendance to hear him speak on Indian diplomacy and foreign policy.
Looking forward, the Institute will be continuing its reputation for high quality and quantity academic events promoting the study of India.
In 2013 the Aii will have the honour of bringing Maestro Zubin Mehta, arguably the world’s greatest living conductor (and unarguably India’s greatest gift to the world of Western classical music) to Melbourne in October to perform with the Australian World Orchestra.
Mehta will be playing two pieces of music, both of which have universal appeal: Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of spring, first played a hundred years ago at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1913; and Gustav Mahler’s first symphony – often referred to as The Titan.
In addition to regular Tiffin Talks, public lectures, film screenings and the annual conference, the Institute will also be launching two new Taskforce reports; Science, Technology and Innovation, and Indian Ocean Security.
January 2013 will see a number of Indian and Australian Artists in Jaipur in India’s Rajasthan state to attend the Aii’s Artists’ Retreat aimed at building partnerships between the two countries’ cultural communities.
The Australia India Institute wishes to thank all of its supporters, sponsors and partners for a successful 2012 and looks forward to a prosperous 2013.