Trust, respect at heart of India-Aus ties: Modi

By, New Delhi
May 24, 2023 12:11 AM IST

The deepening ties between India and Australia are rooted in “mutual trust and mutual respect” and the two sides are focused on enhancing connectivity and trade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a diaspora event in Sydney that he addressed alongside his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese

The deepening ties between India and Australia are rooted in “mutual trust and mutual respect” and the two sides are focused on enhancing connectivity and trade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a diaspora event in Sydney that he addressed alongside his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Indian diaspora in Sydney on Tuesday. (ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Indian diaspora in Sydney on Tuesday. (ANI)

Speaking to chanting supporters at the 21,000-capacity Qudos Bank Arena, Modi highlighted the role played by the 750,000-strong Indian Australian community in strengthening relations in diverse fields. As a result, he said, India-Australia relations have gone beyond the time they were defined by “three Cs” — Commonwealth, cricket and curry; “three Ds” — democracy, diaspora and dosti; and “three Es” — energy, economy and education.

The biggest contributor to the India-Australia relationship, Modi said, is “mutual trust and mutual respect”, developed not just due to diplomatic relations but also because of the Indian diaspora’s contributions. “You are the real strength of it,” he said, speaking in Hindi.

Modi also highlighted the achievements of his government, ranging from direct benefit transfers to millions to ambitious renewable energy targets.

The Indian Prime Minister greeted Albanese on his arrival at one of Sydney’s biggest indoor stadiums with a handshake and a hug, and both walked in to a traditional welcome by a representative of Australia’s indigenous community and several religious leaders from the Indian side. After they entered the arena to the beating of drums and percussion instruments, Albanese joked that even rock star Bruce Springsteen was not accorded such a welcome. “Prime Minister Modi is the boss,” he said, referring to Springsteen’s nickname.

Modi, who is visiting Australia for the first time since 2014, noted that his last trip was also the first by an Indian premier in 28 years. Albanese’s presence at the arena shows his love for Indians, he said after the two leaders unveiled a foundation stone marking the renaming of a local neighbourhood as “Little India”.

In a speech that lasted almost 50 minutes, Modi invoked not just the many contributions of the Indian diaspora but also yoga, cricket and the reality show “MasterChef”, which started with MasterChef Australia in 2009 that is popular in both countries. He contended that India is being held up as a “force of global good” and a “bright spot” in the world economy.

“There is a geographical distance between us, but the Indian Ocean connects us. Our ways of life are different but now yoga connects us. Cricket has joined us for a long time, and now tennis and films are also connecting us. Our ways of cooking are different but MasterChef connects us,” Modi said, dressed in his trademark white kurta-pyjama and a dark waistcoat.

The greatest expansion of these historic ties has occurred in recent years and the Australian people are “so large hearted, good and trustworthy” that they openly accept India’s diversity, he said. “We are not friends only in times of happiness, a good friend is there in good and bad times. Last year, when Shane Warne died, many Indians were grief-stricken along with Australians, it was as if we had lost one of our own,” he said.

The PM also talked about initiatives taken by the two countries, and the areas where they are working closely.

The Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), signed in 2022, is expected to double trade between India and Australia in five years, and the two sides are now working on a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) and building resilient and reliable supply chains. “This will strengthen business in both countries and the world will get new belief,” Modi said.

Direct flights between India and Australia have increased, and their number will grow further in coming days and the recognition of each other’s educational degrees will benefit students, he said. The two sides have reached an agreement on a migration and mobility partnership that will make it easier for skilled Indian professionals to come and work in Australia, he added.

Modi also announced the opening of a new deputy high commission in Brisbane to meet a longstanding demand of the Indian diaspora. “Very soon, a consulate will be opened in Brisbane,” he said.

Both the diaspora and India’s population of 1.4 billion have a dream of seeing a developed country, he said. “India has no dearth of capability or resources, today the world’s biggest and youngest talent factory is in India,” Modi added, listing among India’s achievements the world’s fastest vaccination programme and fastest growing large economy.

India is also No 1 in smartphone data consumption, fintech adoption, milk production, and No 2 in internet users, mobile manufacturing, and rice, wheat and sugarcane production, and the third largest in terms of a start-up ecosystem, and automobile and civil aviation markets. While the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described India as a “bright spot” in the global economy, the strength of Indian banks is also being praised, Modi said.

Referring to India’s Digital Stack, or digital solutions for identity, health care and payments, Modi said the government has opened 500 million bank accounts for the poor over the past nine years and transformed the public service delivery system. A total of 500 billion Australian dollars have been sent to the bank accounts of the needy in the past nine years, while the universal public interface (UPI) has taken financial inclusion to new heights as it accounts for 40% of global real-time digital payments.

“So many digital platforms are making all Indians powerful. The world wants to know about all the steps being taken by India,” he said, adding that while the country has changed according to the needs of the current era, it has held on to its fundamental values.

He also highlighted the theme of India’s G20 presidency — one earth, one family, one future — and spoke about the country stepping up to help others in need, such as during the recent earthquake in Turkey. “Because of this attitude, India is being called a force of global good,” he added.

“Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayas — this is the basis of our domestic governance and the vision for global governance,” Modi said.

Albanese, who addressed the gathering before Modi, noted that as he completed his first year as Prime Minister, he had already met the Indian leader six times. He said the Indian diaspora has “contributed so much to this country” and “will always be the lifeblood” of the bilateral relationship. Albanese announced that the new Centre for Australia-India Relations will be based at Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney.

“Now we want to see more connections — more Australian and Indian students living and studying in each other’s countries... More business leaders and artists and families sharing your experiences, and your knowledge, and your ideas,” he said.

Albanese told the audience, which included external affairs minister S Jaishankar, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong, communications minister Michelle Rowland, energy minister Chris Bowen and several local politicians, that the Indian diaspora had brought the “spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia”. He added, “And you have helped make our democracy stronger and more inclusive... You make our nation and our shared communities better. You make Australia stronger.”

Modi is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Albanese on Wednesday aimed at taking forward the strategic partnership before wrapping up his visit.

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