Diplomatic chill likely if Oz fails

Diplomatic chill likely if Oz fails

Nitin Garg is the first reported victim of a string of racist attacks on Indians in Australia to have succumbed to injuries. Those who killed him did not take away his wallet or phone and some of his other belongings were later found scattered around the scene of stabbing.

Nitin’s brutal murder triggered strong reactions from New Delhi. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said that the Australian Government was “duty bound and morally bound” to punish the killers of Garg. A day later, his ministry issued a travel advisory apprising the students studying in Australia or planning to go there about the perils of studying in Down Under.

It was the strongest of New Delhi’s reactions, ever since Australia witnessed a spurt in the attacks on Indians in mid-2009.

Garg’s murder has undoubtedly come as a setback for efforts that New Delhi and Canberra had launched during Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent visit to India to iron out the wrinkles in the bilateral relations. During the visit from November 11 to 13 last, Rudd and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh had announced a new tie-up on security and vowed to upgrade the bilateral relationship to the level of a strategic partnership.

New Delhi’s relationship with Canberra has been troubled ever since Rudd in early 2008 – just a few months after taking over as the new Prime Minister – reversed his predecessor John Howard’s decision to sell uranium to India.

Rudd’s Government stuck to its stand of not selling uranium to India or any other country that had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even as New Delhi got the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 and entered into civil nuclear co-operation agreements with US, Russia, France and Canada.

The string of attacks on Indian students in Australia just added another irritant to the strained bilateral relation. Realising that the uproar in Indian media over the allegedly racist attacks in cities like Melbourne and Sydney could dent Australia’s image as a safe destination for international students and a tolerant multi-cultural society and thus hurt the country’s AUD 17 billion education industry, Rudd launched a damage-control exercise. He dispatched to New Delhi a high-level delegation to soothe the ruffled feathers. They all assured New Delhi that Canberra was doing its bit to protect the students from India and would continue to do so. Rudd too reiterated during his visit that his Government was committed to ensure that all international students in Australia, including the ones from India, have “a safe and rewarding experience”. But students from India continued to be attacked in Australia and finally Garg became the first victim to be killed.

What irked New Delhi are the persistent efforts of the Australian Government to deny or downplay the involvement of racial elements in the attacks and to blame the media for exaggerating the number of incidents.

New Delhi clearly expected Australia to be more ‘sensitive’ in its reactions after the murder of Garg, instead of engaging in bad diplomacy of trying to deny the existence of a problem.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh terming the task of ensuring security of the Indian students and workers abroad as one of the top priorities of the UPA Government, New Delhi is likely to put more pressure on Canberra to deliver on its promises. And, if Rudd Government continues to be in denial, it may result in a diplomatic chill.

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