Special Report: The 5th India Update Seminar In Canberra


Dr Auriol Weigold

The 5th annual India Update Seminar, 'INDIA TODAY: The 2004 Elections and the Business Environment', was held at the University of Canberra on 24 November 2004. The Update Seminar brought together speakers from across disciplines and institutional backgrounds to reflect on the importance of India to Australia and the wider region. Following the Opening Address given by the Indian High Commissioner, Mr P P Shukla, state government and business representatives and speakers from universities discussed the political implications of the 2004 Indian elections and the changes in the general economic outlook.

Mark Thirlwell, Program Director at the Lowy Institute and author of the recent report 'India: the next economic giant', placed developments in India within the context of broader global trends. He noted that while at the start of the nineteenth century almost 60 per cent of world output originated in Asia, by 1950 the region's share had declined to less than a fifth. However, with the post-war rise of Japan and the 'Asian Tigers' along with China's economic take-off, there has been a 'global reorientation' back towards Asia.

Significantly for India, according to Thirlwell, in June 1991 'the Rao government came to power and Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister subsequently launched a series of reforms designed to reintegrate India with the international economy'. This came at the same time as developments in Eastern Europe and in China were beginning to have an impact. By 2003, India was '12th in the world in terms of GDP output' and 'could be the world's third largest economy in US dollar terms by 2030 or thereabouts'. Clearly India stands to be an increasingly significant global player.

Business and government speakers focussed specifically on Australia-India ties and interests, and included Neville Roach, AO, Chair of the Australia-India Business Council, Gayle O'Brien, Business Manager, South Asia in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Queensland, and Mark Lobo, Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, Victoria, who discussed strategies for engagement with India.

University speakers included Marika Vicziany, Monash Asia Institute, Sandy Gordon, ADFA, Michael Gillan, University of Western Australia, Douglas Hill, University of Wollongong and Desh Gupta, University of Canberra. Marika Vicziany examined the evolution of Hindu militancy in India's leading commercial city, Mumbai, up to and including the 2004 elections in Maharashtra. Sandy Gordon explored the performance of the newly elected Singh government against three criteria: the need to re-assert India's secular credentials in the context of growing alienation amongst India's important Muslim minority, the need to continue to modernise the economy, and the need to improve regional relationships, especially in the context of competition with Pakistan for control of Kashmir.

Discussing post-election development politics in India, Michael Gillan addressed what he called the 'surprising electoral revival of the Congress Party and the emergence of a United Progressive Alliance Government which transformed the scenario, opening up space for trade unions to defend existing employment security provisions' and, arguably to influence future policy in much needed reform of industrial relations and labour law. While no one factor completely explains the election result, Douglas Hill argued that no analysis is complete without considering how different regions and social groups 'have been affected by the changing contours of India's development policies'. Desh Gupta drew attention to the return of the 'dream team' of the early 1990s economic liberalisation program, Manmohan Singh and Mr Chidambram, who are now, respectively, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the new government. Gupta argued that there is no option for them but to liberalise the investment climate in India.

The Seminar series began in 1999 with the 'Midnight to Millennium: Australia-India Interconnections' Seminar. It looked at Australia-India relations after India's nuclear tests in 1998. Papers were published in a Special Issue of the journal South Asia in 2000. The seminar in 2000 focussed on engaging in business with India. In 2001 the theme was shared approaches to cultural heritage management, with speakers in the field from both Australia and India. Seminar proceedings for 2000 and 2001 were published by the University of Canberra in a single issue. In 2002 regional security was the focus of the Seminar organised, for the first time, in partnership with the Monash Asia Institute. Papers examined India's strategic position vis-à-vis Central Asia and Australasia. Papers were published in a Special Issue of the British journal, Contemporary South Asia, edited by Marika Vicziany and Auriol Weigold. Following a new format, the 2003 Seminar was held at Monash and addressed Indian economic and trade issues from Indian perspectives.

WATCHPOINT: In 2005 the India Update Seminar will be held in Perth. Similar activities are being held in other parts of Asia, reflecting the growing interest in India across the region.


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