The common ties that bind Australia and India should be remembered as India suffers a Commonwealth Games PR nightmare.
Earlier this year when Indian students protested in Melbourne. we saw how hysteria can affect international relations and reverberate in important markets.
We ought to be very careful repeating it ourselves when it comes to the Commonwealth Games.
The beat up of the issues in Victoria by the students themselves, followed by the Indian government and then taken to the extreme by the sub continent’s most rabid media outlets was a tragedy for Australia’s education providers and, in the longer term, our relations with India.
While an unfortunate killing and some other nasty incidents were wrongly beaten up as racism – this continues today, just check out the Australian Financial Review’s martyrdom of murder victim Nitin Garg in its analysis of power last week – the over-reaction to the situation by all parties has delivered a very nasty blow to our education sector.
Firstly, Indian parents questioned sending their children here as Australia copped a hammering in the press. Secondly, the federal government realised that one of the problems exposed was the helplessness of many Indian students who really came to Australia as immigrants.
In moving to close down the visa shops that were predominantly an Indian phenomenon, the federal authorities have inadvertently shut down a huge part of the international education market.
At a time when electioneering became particularly xenophobic, this has proved a powerful signal to foreign students – in effect, we have said we don’t want them.
This is our message to the best and brightest young people, from families with amazing work ethics and resources, from countries that we really want to do business with in the future, which help fund our most important institutions who are helping shape the minds of future Australians.
While India has been the market most affected, with the racism issue masking the impact of tougher visa requirements, other markets are also being hurt badly, including China from what I hear.
How dumb can you get? Today the prime minister who oversaw this international relations disaster is now foreign minister and the education minister in charge of the mess is PM!
So let’s not expect them to get this issue or solve it, even though the leading universities in the land have screamed out about this crisis.
In the meantime, the boot has now been placed on the other foot.
India has a public relations disaster in the shape of the Commonwealth Games. It has the dual issues of poor preparation and terrorism, which are threatening to overshadow the games in a way that this event has never seen.
As I write this column, the issues are more akin to the Moscow Olympic Games where boycott threats wrecked the event as a historical sporting benchmark.
Rather than relishing the fact that India is now suffering a home-grown crisis, we ought to turn the other cheek and reach out to help.
I realise that dirty toilets, waterlogged training grounds, dengue fever, terrorism and, now, the risk of collapsing infrastructure are difficult issues to overlook.
I also realise that 30 years after Moscow the scars of mixing sport and politics remain raw.
But joining the carping over things won’t help us re-establish our relationship with India. Like we joined with the US in the war on terrorism, sometimes you have stand side-by-side with your partners in their hour of need – even if you’re not really convinced it’s a good idea.
This is a big chance to win back favour with India. Whinging about standards in Delhi – in effect suggesting what is good enough for Indians isn’t good enough for us – will only reinforce the racism calls of six months ago.
India is our future. We are lucky to have China to our immediate north, but India offers even more opportunity to Australia because of our common backgrounds as British colonies – the very reason for the Commonwealth Games.
As a result we have sporting, language, legal and cultural ties that will make us far more natural friends than most other nations in our region – or In the Zone, as the University of WA cleverly calls their recently relaunched regional congress.
Despite the calls of racism, Indians fit into Australia better than almost any ethnic group outside of Europe because of our common heritage.
We need to re-engage with them and the difficulties of the Delhi games offer a very big opportunity. Let’s show how big hearted we are – that’s what friends really do.