2013 Revisited and Looking Ahead

27 November 2013

By Alexandra Hansen

2013 has been a feverishly busy year for the Australia India Institute, and for Australia-India relations. With a new government, Australia will be starting over in efforts to keep relations with our Indian Ocean neighbours invigorated.

Australia’s new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has reiterated the position of former governments that India remains one of our most important partners in Asia.

In a gesture that suggests India feels similarly warmly towards Australia, the Australia India Institute has this year attracted a number of high-profile visitors from the Indian Government, business, academia, and the media.

An Indian parliamentary delegation, led by the Minister for Planning, Rajiv Shukla, made a goodwill visit to Melbourne early in the year. Other delegates included the son of the former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and leader of the Samajwadi Party, Neeraj Shekhar, Thaawar Chand Gehlot and Ramen Deka of the BJP, and Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) political party in Orissa. The group went  sightseeing, attended receptions at the Australia India Institute and the Consulate General of India, and engaged in talks with members of Australia’s parliament.

Nandan Nilekani, chair of the Unique Identification Authority of India, visited Melbourne to deliver the Australia India Institute Oration entitled India’s transformation: The role of information technology.

The anti-corruption campaigner Kiran Bedi also drew a crowd to Melbourne University with a screening of her biopic Yes Madam, Sir, where she took questions from some avid supporters.

In one of the Institute’s most exciting events this year, Maestro Zubin Mehta visited Melbourne and Sydney to conduct the Australian World Orchestra in performances at the Melbourne Arts Centre and the Sydney Opera House. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Melbourne.

The Institute also hosted a series of public lectures, including the Alfred Deakin Memorial Lecture, given by the India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Biren Nanda; the Australia India Institute Annual Oration Our journey with India by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese AO; and the Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture by the Bollywood actress Simi Garewal. Ela Gandhi, a granddaughter of the Mahatma also visited the A.I.I, before touring a children’s farm, an early learning centre, and other institutions aligned with her belief in non-violence.

The Victorian Government has again showed its commitment to relations with India in a series of events this year. Victoria’s Minister for Employment and Trade, Louise Asher, attended a reception at the Australia India Institute in her honour, and undertook a trade mission to India alongside A.I.I Director, Amitabh Mattoo, and other Victorian MPs. The Victorian Government also funded another group of Victoria India Doctoral Scholars undertaking PhDs at Victorian universities in 2013. A commitment to continue the scholarship in 2014 has been made and the selection of high-calibre Indian students to further their studies in Australia is under way.

A large number of Australian, Indian, American, British and Canadian vice-chancellors have recently attended a higher education summit in New Delhi held by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Professor Amitabh Mattoo, A.I.I chairs Robert Johanson and Susan Elliott, and the University of Melbourne’s Vice Chancellor, Glyn Davis, took part. The University of Melbourne’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement), Susan Elliott, also took part in the first phase of an education leaders’ exchange – where leaders in education from Australia visit and shadow their counterparts in India, and vice versa. The second phase will take place next year, in a gesture that shows both countries are committed to furthering collaboration in higher education between Australia and India.

The Australia India Institute, with funding from the Commonwealth Government, took 20 Australian students on exchange to visit the Universities of Delhi and Mumbai earlier this year. A further 20 students were taken to Mumbai for an internship program at selected media, banking, and other corporations, and NGOs.

In order to understand the Australia-India relationship better at a grassroots level, the Australia India Institute, in partnership with the Lowy Institute, launched the first poll of Indian attitudes towards Australia. Results, which were published and widely reported in the mainstream media, showed that a majority of Indians feel warmly towards Australia, and that our reputation is recovering from the student attacks in 2009.

The Institute’s flagship event of 2013, Gondwanalandings a conference on the Indian diaspora in Australia, dealt with these issues in great detail. Panels covered critical community perspectives on cultural understanding between India and Australia.

The Institute continued its signature events including Tiffin Talks, Chai and Conversations, and the Emerging Leader Fellows Program. Ric Smith, Maxine McKew, Greg Sheridan, and Sushi Das were some of our most popular Tiffin Talkers for the year, and influential names such as Nik Senapati and Karan Thapar joined us for our informal roundtable-with-chai events.

The Institute also convened two taskforces for the year – Science technology innovation: Australia and India, and The Indian Ocean region: Security, stability and sustainability in the 21st century. Research reports from both were launched successfully and drew wide attention in both Australian and Indian media.

Other publications for the year include a number in our Fearless Nadia series of occasional papers, including India, Australia, and the Asian century by Hamish McDonald, Skills challenge: Australia and India’s skills training needs by Prasenjit Kundu, Unfinished business: Re-imagining the Australia-India economic relationship by Mike Moignard, and China rises, India ponders: India’s ‘look east’ policy gathers momentum by Harsh Pant.

In continuing pursuit of our aim to foster cultural relations between Australia and India, the Institute also took part in a number of cultural events, including hosting the Artists’ Retreat in Jaipur, where Australian and Indian artists collaborate to create individual and group artworks, staging a series of performances of the Mahabharata of Women directed by K. Madavane, and funding a ballet recited to poetry by Rabindranath Tagore.

In 2014 the A.I.I plans to continue with its stellar lineup of visitors and events. Early in 2014 the Institute will welcome the editor of the Indian Express newspaper, Shekhar Gupta, to give a public lecture and, to give the A.I.I oration, the Congress Party MP and former union minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Other high-profile guests of the Institute in 2014 will include the environmentalist and political activist, Sunita Narain, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, N. N. Vohra, and the former director of India’s intelligence bureau, Ajit Doval.

It has certainly been a positive and busy year in the life of the Australia India Institute, and in Australia-India relations. We look forward to both continuing with exuberance in 2014. 

Some 2013 "Kodak Moments"