On Board the PM’s Special Aircraft, Oct. 10: Mineral-rich Jharkhand may have just produced a diplomatic diamond — one that could add a new sheen to India’s relationship with Australia under its new Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Abbott for 30 minutes on Thursday morning on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Brunei Darussalam with nuclear trade, economic ties and common strategic and security concerns on the table.
But it was Abbott’s memories time spent in three Jharkhand cities in the 1970s, when the state was still a part of Bihar that shaped the conversation, and could give new direction to India-Australia ties under the new Liberal Prime Minister, senior officials indicated.
“Speaking to the Prime Minister, he (Abbott) recounted these really vivid memories of Hazaribagh, Daltonganj and Bokaro,” secretary (east) Ashok Kantha said. Abbott visited India in the 1970s and stayed for three months with missionaries in these cities for while on his way to Britain as a Rhodes scholar.
Abbott’s party has traditionally enjoyed warmer relations with India than the Labour Party that was ousted in September’s elections in Australia. “Since he became Prime Minister, he has indicated that he wants to work for closer relations with India and he reiterated that belief during his conversation with our Prime Minister,” Kantha said. Abbott invited Singh to visit Australia — no Indian Prime Minister has visited that country since Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.
Singh also met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. Both Abbott and Abe told Singh they wanted to strengthen their strategic and security partnerships with India, and expand defence ties including joint military exercises, officials said.
But Abbott also had a surprise for Singh linked to Nalanda University, closer to the cities the Australian PM reminisced about. Australia was the first nation to agree to the memorandum of agreement India is proposing for member nations of the East Asia Summit to commit to the project to revive the 12th century Buddhist centre of learning.
Abbott also told Singh he wants to utilise the Colombo Plan — an old Commonwealth mechanism under which members of the former British Empire offer scholarships to students from other member states — to encourage Australian students to study at Nalanda.