Will Modi change India?

 

With Australian-Indian relations reaching new heights, it’s timely to consider how the Indian prime minister – leader of the world’s largest democracy – is faring.

By Pallavi Sinha For SBS

It’s a momentous time in Australian history with Australia hosting the G20, and the Prime Ministers of the two largest countries in the world (China and India) addressing the Australian Parliament.

It has been 28 years since the last Indian Prime Minister (PM) visited Australia, and the first time an Indian PM addressed Parliament. After the last visit by an Indian PM, the Australia-India Business Council was formed.

I was fortunate to attend some of the events, including the packed Allphones Arena with about 20,000 people chanting “Modi, Modi, Modi” feverishly and a business leaders forum in Melbourne at Government House.

“I feel fortunate to have Australian and Indian roots, and feel that I have the best of both worlds.”

The speeches by the Indian PM Modi were powerful, and nurtured the growing bond between Australia & India. Trade between Australia and India has tripled (from $5.1 billion in 2003 to around $15.3 billion in 2013).

India is Australia’s second source of international students with over 40,000 currently studying in Australia.

Visitors to Australia from India are also increasing at an unprecedented rate.

According to Destination NSW, the “Jhappi Time” (Hug time) tourism marketing campaign, (launched in February 2014), is the only tourism campaign executed by an Australian state tourism body specifically targeting the visiting friends and relatives market in India and has been hailed a success as visitor arrivals from India to NSW reach record numbers.

NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism and Major Events Troy Grant said, “The latest ABS data shows arrivals from India to NSW increased by 21.2 per cent for year-end August 2014, and the hugely successful Jhappi Time campaign no doubt contributed to this result.”

India is also the highest source of skilled migration to Australia and some reports indicate that the Indian community is the fastest growing ethnic community in Australia.

There are almost half a million Indians in Australia, and the face of the Indian community has changed considerably. My parents migrated here 40 years ago, and as my birthplace is Sydney, I’m a product of immigration and multiculturalism.

I feel fortunate to have Australian and Indian roots, and feel that I have the best of both worlds.

When my parents first came to Sydney, there were not many Indian people, and they had to go all the way to Bondi to buy Indian spices to make Indian food.

Now there are Indian people all over Sydney, as well as Indian shops and restaurants.

There’s a lot that Australia and India can learn from each other, and the Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit should take the Australia-India relationship to new heights.

With Australian-Indian relations reaching new heights in various areas, it is timely to consider how the Prime Minister Modi – leader of the world’s largest democracy is faring.

His speeches contained a good mix of humour, intelligence and concrete action plans.

He led the argument for repatriation of black money at the G20. His success story as a ‘chai walla’ (roadside tea vendor) to becoming Prime Minister is inspirational, and increases his appeal to the mass population.

“Time will tell whether concrete action will be implemented to transform India into a developed country and to take the Australia-India relationship to mutually beneficial and unprecedented heights.”

His ability to engage with social media and the youth is extremely important as there are about 800 million people below the age of 35 in India. He has over 25 million likes on Facebook and over 8 million followers on Twitter.

His ability to harness the potential and talent of Indian youth is vital to transforming India into a developed country.

In addition, campaigns such as “Made in India” and his Swachh Bharat campaign to clean up India will help improve the world’s perception of Indian businesses and India. His introduction of an AAYUSH Ministry to promote the traditional medicines and practices of Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and homeopathy is noteworthy.

As the first ever AAYUSH minister, Shripad Yesso Naik will have Independent Charge. AAYUSH was previously part of the Health Minister’s responsibility.

In September, the Indian Prime Minister Modi gave a speech at the United Nations and advocated for the observance of an International Yoga Day, which has reportedly been supported by 50 countries, including the US and China.

The creation of such a Ministry is significant as it symbolises the Government placing value on the importance of such measures to everyday life. Studies show that yoga has been an effective method of addressing depression.

A Ministry focussing on therapies such as yoga is something that other countries, including Australia, should consider introducing, especially as the rates of mental health in Australia, particularly depression, are quite high, and while the speeches I’m aware of that the Indian PM delivered in Australia were powerful and progressive, there was a noteworthy absence of any mention of the important topic of how India is addressing the issue of violence against women, and important law reform in this area, and no detailed insight into how India will be handling the push for dual citizenship by some groups.

In an article published by SBS, I wrote about the international problem of violence against women, and ways in which Australia and India can learn from each other.

Though the Indian Prime Minister Modi did make broad-minded comments in his Independence Day speech in India, where he shifted the focus to telling parents to raise their sons properly, rather than blaming the girl as some Indian politicians and high profile Indians have done, and urged Indian families to “stop killing daughters in the womb” in their desire for sons and noted the shame of the growing imbalance in the country’s sex ratio, a detailed outline of actions he will be taking to address this problem are vital to the success of India.

This is particularly important in light of the ‘honour’ killing of a 21 year old girl in Delhi, as recently as today.
The Australia-India relationship extends beyond curry, cricket and democracy.

It is only about six months into the term of Modi’s Government, so it is soon to judge, and time will tell whether concrete action will be implemented to transform India into a developed country and to take the Australia-India relationship to mutually beneficial and unprecedented heights.

Pallavi Sinha is a lawyer and an academic.