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Nehru had Oz worries

delhi Updated: Jan 06, 2010 00:33 IST
Vikas Pathak

The concern over “racism” in Australia, which has left many Indians battered and one dead, is nothing new. It even had India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru worried.

Nehru had on more than one occasion expressed his distress over the ‘White Australia policy’, which was anti-immigrant.

“Nehru and Australian PM Robert Menzies clashed on various issues, especially the race issue, with respect to the White Australia policy,” says Manmohini Kaul, an Australia expert and a professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“They (Australia) certainly do not belong to Europe, much less to America,” Nehru had said at the end of the 1955 Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in Indonesia, where Australia was an observer.

“They are next to us and I would like (them) to come nearer to Asia. I would welcome them because I do not want what we say or do to be based on racial prejudices,” Australian academic T.B. Millar quotes Nehru as saying in the book, Australia in Peace and War. There is more.

“Nehru was relentless in his pursuit of the issue of South Africa’s racialism and, despite the denials by Australia, its White Australia policy was also seen in India as racially biased. In a speech to Lok Sabha on December 6, 1950, Nehru said: If I may say so, it is the issue of racialism that is of paramount importance…,” Nihal Henry Kuruppu writes in Non-Alignment and Peace vs Military Alignment and War.

He also writes that the then Australian foreign minister Richard Casey warned Menzies that educated Indians, more than other Asians, saw the immigration policy as an evidence of racial superiority.

“The first thing that an Indian thinks about Australia, and probably the last, is the White Australia policy,” Australian journalist Neil McInnes wrote in 1960.

Begun in 1901, the policy continued late into 1960s.

Then, Australia took to a multicultural policy to integrate economically with a growing Asia, says Kaul.

“But post 9/11, there is a reversal of Australian multiculturalism.” A white Australia, she says, often suffers a fear psychosis for being away from the ‘West’ and close to Asia.