Rudd's return

History repeated itself in Australia on Wednesday when Kevin Rudd wrested leadership of the Labor Party and the Prime Minister’s seat from long-standing rival Julia Gillard. Rudd has exacted revenge. Only three years ago, Gillard had ousted him to become Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. He has now turned the tables on her. The Labor Party was riven with infighting over the last several years, peaking in recent months with debate raging over who should lead the party in upcoming general elections. That is settled now.

Also Rudd will not have to keep looking back constantly to see if Gillard will stage a counter-coup as she has retired from federal politics. The run-up to elections scheduled for September is therefore likely to see the Labor going to the voter with a less fractious image. However, recent opinion polls point to a crushing defeat for the party. Although Rudd is more popular with voters than Gillard was, the leadership change could at best provide an immediate and short-lived burst of support for the party.

 Gillard’s ouster can turn out to be a setback for India-Australia relations. It was her personal effort that rescued the rapidly souring India-Australia relations in 2010. It was on her intervention that the Australian government lifted its ban on uranium sale to India, despite the latter not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Under Gillard, negotiations began on the uranium deal and both sides were working towards a safeguards agreement. There will be concern in India now that Gillard’s exit will slow, perhaps even stop uranium sale.  Will the Mandarin-speaking Rudd, who was bitterly opposed to uranium sales to India and a known proponent of close ties with China, revisit the uranium deal? Such anxieties seem excessive at the moment. With three months to go before elections, Rudd is likely to focus on domestic issues – he will have to take urgent steps on the economic front - to woo voters. He can be expected to avoid unsettling deals with India as voters of Indian origin form an important part of Labor’s support base. At least for now, it seems India can breathe easy.

 Although he has won the Labor Party leadership, Rudd is intensely disliked by his senior colleagues in the party. He will have to mend his “aloof and arrogant ways” if he is to avoid another challenge to his leadership of the party.

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