January 2019 \ News \ DIPLOMACY—COMMENT
India and Australia Need to re-craft an old relationship

India-Australia relations are a classic example of unrealised potential and a tragic tale of consistently missing opportunities, despite multiple areas of strategic convergence and shared interests. It is almost as if apathy holds back both countries from trying to break new ground in a significant manner. This has been frustrating and disappointing ...

By Amit Das gupta
  • Indian President Ram Nath Kovind unveiling the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Jubilee Park, Sydney on November 22, 2018. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on extreme right

Understanding this is as much a dilemma as trying to explain it. In the early years, the relationship was at best prickly. Canberra viewed New Delhi with suspicion after India’s embrace of non-alignment and strategic distancing and, thereafter, its nuclear tests. However, this changed, especially after India dramatically re-crafted its relationship with Washington and other major Western powers.

Many argue that the neglect of New Delhi had been so acute that the sudden coziness between the US and India surprised and confused Canberra to such an extent that it was unsure as to how it should reimagine its relationship with New Delhi. The lack of a strategic policy was such that, at one stage, the prestigious Sydney-based Lowy Institute even argued that if Canberra did not act with utmost urgency in recrafting the manner in which it viewed and engaged with New Delhi, it might not find a place among India’s friends and allies. In their view, in a world that was dramatically redrawing strategic relationships, Australia needed India more than the other way around.

This was, most certainly, not a one-sided distancing. For India, geography and history became gate-keepers. Foreign and security policymakers recalled history as the great stumbling block and argued that New Delhi could craft its destiny without Australia’s help or support. Business and industry, similarly, repeatedly found excuses not to engage Australia with the vigour with which it engaged the US or Europe. Even people-to-people contact was limited. Misperceptions and history dragged the relationship into some black hole that it refused to extricate itself from.