India still concerned for students in Oz: Tharoor

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor

Hoping that the Indian student attack issue will not affect the Indo-Australian relationship, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said here that the matter will only die down when attacks on students stop or become rare.

Tharoor was quoted as saying in 'The Age' newspaper that the Indian government had no interest in allowing the crisis to 'infect' relations between the two countries. However, he said India was still concerned about safety of its students.

"There is only one meaningful yardstick, and that is that if these attacks cease, or become so infrequent that no one, neither students nor the press, can claim that there is a continuing pattern of anti-Indian violence," he said.

"It's not yet clear that we have reached that point, but I hope we are getting there," he added.

Krishna would be in Australia from August 6-10 and during his stay he will visit Sydney and Melbourne to hear first-hand the problems being faced by Indian students and will discuss the matter of their safety and security with the State leadership.

Tharoor called for action that calms this down so it ceases to be as loud a political issue in India as it has become.

"If there were maybe one incident a year, there may be a brief headline and it will die," Tharoor said.

He said the Indian Government's efforts to 'dial back' the political heat caused by the controversy had been undermined by the frequency of reported attacks.

"For some weeks now we have been urging people to cool down a little bit, but the fact is that every time there is an incident it's a setback for our efforts to cool the temperature on this," he said.

He said Indian government was 'very pleased' that the Australian government is taking the issue very seriously and taking various actions.

"We are less happy about the fact that we still get microphones shoved in front of our face by our own media each time there is an attack on Indians in Australia," he said.

He further said he was confident the relationship between Australia and India would not suffer lasting damage.

He said India and Australia 'are on the same side' on many issues and cited the popularity of cricket in both countries.

"We are both constitutional democracies with a free press and a taste for cricket. Why on earth should we let anything come between us? We just want to do things that will make life easier for us as well and for our students to feel safe and secure in your country," he said.

Tharoor also rejected the suggestion that Australia was being singled out. "If this had happened in say France or Bulgaria, it would have still been a story," he said.

"We have more all-news television channels than all the democracies of the world put together...it's a tremendous competition for mind space and for eyeballs," Tharoor said on the wide coverage given to the incidences of attacks on Indians in Australia by television channels.

As many as 22 attacks were reported on Indians in Australia within a span of a month, raising an alarm back home and prompting the Indian government to take up the issue with Australia.

"One can't entirely blame the media if they get a story with sufficiently sensational elements for playing with it.

He said this was "an absolutely natural story for them to run with... Let's hope they no longer have the story to run with because these incidents won't happen".

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