While there has been a flurry of
visits to India by high-powered Australian trade delegations and
politicians, observers are baffled by the slow pace at which the
bilateral ties are growing.
Australian analysts blame India's political culture for not only
the stunted Australian-Indian ties but also for the slowing
economic growth of the South Asian country.
"Australia's trading links with India will not increase
substantially and sustainably until India recognises the
importance to economic growth and development of big business,"
Len Perry, associate professor Economics at University of
Technology Sydney (UTS) wrote recently in his blog.
The Sydney academic has blamed Nehruvian policies for India
converting into a massive under-achiever and also for ingrained
"distrust" of private businesses.
"The economic policies pursued by India's long-serving first prime
minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, whose leadership from 1947 until his
death in 1964, was marked by central planning and government
ownership of major industrial organizations," Len Perry wrote.
"Such was the impact of this policy that businesses were pressured
to remain small so as to avoid being answerable to a powerful
bureaucracy renowned for its lethargy, incompetence and
corruption," he adds.
It would be correct to say that not all of the political
commentators share skeptics' pessimism about India-Australia ties.
"Australia and India are poised at an historic moment in their
relationship," Rory Medcalf and C. Raja Mohan said in The 2012
Australia-India Roundtable: Co-Chairs' Statement released recently
by Australia's respected think tank Lowy Institute.
"Building on recent positive steps, the links between the two
democracies now need sustained creative thinking and efforts on
the part of government, business and society to strengthen them
further," the statement read.
"This will ensure the relationship attains the vast potential
offered by the two nations' exceptional economic and societal
complementarities and their convergent strategic interests in the
Indo-Pacific region during this Asian Century," the co-chairs
Australian political leaders from both sides of the spectrum have
been proactive to realise the optimal potential but for some
irritants which refuse to go away.
Australia's ban on uranium exports to India was one such hurdle
impeding the relations.
When Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave her nod to
uranium exports to India in spite of all the opposition - even
from within the Labor party ranks - late last year, it was
expected that the bilateral trade and political ties would witness
an exponential growth.
"We have changed our party policy so that there is now no fetter
for us on selling uranium to India," Gillard said on her maiden
visit to India as prime minister in October.
Inarguably, there has been an increase in the bilateral trade and
societal links but it is the slow pace which worries the
Australian policy architects who are wagering on India to cushion
any adverse impact from the slowing Chinese economy.
Gillard did reasonably well to harness the synergies of India and
Australia bonds when she gave a prominent place to India in the
recently-released White Paper on Australia's place in the Asian
"In a century of growth and change, our interests are closer than
they have ever been. We share a region of the world and we share
an ocean," Gillard said in her keynote speech on the India visit.
In conclusion, there is an unmistaken optimism in Canberra and
other political corridors down under that the only way relations
with India can go is northwards.
"I think the exciting thing about it is that our interests are
converging and when your interests converge, you have more room to
work with. So we have certainly not reached the end of what we can
achieve, far from it. I think our best days are ahead," Australian
High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese, who has been appointed
his country's foreign secretary, said last month.
Rekha Bhattacharjee is a Sydney-based journalist and commentator.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org