The Three Cs need a New Formulation
The historic virtual summit on 4 June between the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only come at the highly significant juncture in world affairs, but also proven a shot in the arm for the Strategic Partnership, now upgraded as “comprehensive”. As both sides exude immense energy and buoyancy in deepening business, trade, diplomatic, defence and cultural engagements, policymakers must be mindful that the engagements needs legs to go the distance. The future of the comprehensive strategic partnership hinges on reinventing the old 3Cs (curry, cricket and commonwealth) with a new 3Cs approach: nurturing Constituencies of Country Champions, which requires investing in people and institutions.
First up, Ken Henry was delegated by former PM Julia Gillard to develop the ‘Australia in the Asian Century White Paper 2012’ which recommended engaging with India and the 2018 Peter Varghese An India Economic Strategy laid down a detailed business and trade road map for engaging India. Importantly, both reports highlight that governments alone cannot realise the full potential of strategic engagements and need to build partnerships with people and institutions outside the government circles.
In this context, becoming ‘Asia literate’ is of paramount importance which requires creating Constituencies of Country Champions to begin with. United States and Singapore are key examples where country champions have shaped strategic thinking, lobbied on critical matters and built a vibrant and wellinformed constituency of advisors. In the immediate term engaging people and institutions with the requisite country expertise, lived experiences and professional linkages is important. Then, in the long-term encouraging and supporting schools and universities introducing courses and programs on India.
Most Australian universities do not offer India studies in their curriculum, an indication of their priorities of sorts. Asian literacy is not just language proficiency. It is about understanding values, customs, traditions, socio-political and cultural nuances to decode how a nation thinks and acts in one way or the other. It requires familiarising oneself with Asian history, values and culture early in school, alongside developing language skills and undertaking country visits as a part of immersion programs or other study visits. Unfortunately, a steady decline across Australian primary and secondary schools in Asian language and history teaching has made Australia knowledge-deficient on Asia, especially, India and Indonesia.
The disconnect between the national and institutional visions need to be fixed now! The New Colombo Plan and Australia-India Youth Dialogue are two major programs slowly building the next generation of India Champions, but the task must begin much earlier in schools, through emersion programs in Hindi. The Australia India Council grants, Australia-Indian Strategic Research Fund and Endeavour Leadership grant also fund research projects on India- Australia issues, but they develop subject expertise, not necessarily country expertise. Rise in Indian students’ enrolment in Australia is good news for Australian literacy in India, but not the other way round.
Hope state and federal governments value and engage those individuals and institutions that possess India literacy across multiple sectors.