Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, January 11, 2010

I ’ LL PUT it as diplomatically as possible. At the best of times, our foreign office has been a bundle of contradictions. Warring ministers, mandarins working at cross purposes and lesser minions have carried on their many private battles for so long that disorder and chaos have become the hallmark of South Block. And now, us confused desis are confounded by the contradictory statements emanating from the ministry of external affairs. For once, Shashi Tharoor is absolved of any misdemeanour though he continues to keep the twittering classes engrossed with daily 140 character outpourings.

A Fulbright scholar, former chief minister and governor, S. M. Krishna is probably more qualified than anyone else in the current UPA dispensation to head the sensitive external affairs ministry. But perhaps, caught short of breath after another round of sparring over visa norms with his much younger ministerial colleague, the 78- year- old’s reflexes seem to be failing him. The official dithering that followed the killing of a 21- year- old Delhi boy in Melbourne led to much hype being built in the media, especially in TV studios where one anchor just stopped short of suggesting that India should dispatch the INS Viraat to the southern ocean to teach the Aussies a lesson.

For a full two days after young Nitin Garg was fatally stabbed, the minister’s sole response to persistent questioning was “ I can comment only after getting first hand information from our high commissioner”. In New Delhi’s refusal to comment, the Australians saw an opportunity. Its officials were so much in denial that they had the word “ insensitivity” written all over their faces.

Foreign minister Simon Crean said “ such incidents happen not only in Melbourne but in Mumbai and Delhi too”. God forbid such a thing happening, but if an Australian girl gets mugged or worse on the beaches of Goa, will Krishna turn around and tell Crean that “ such incidents happen on Bondi Beach also”. No.

The Australian high commissioner in New Delhi, the Indianorigin Peter Varghese’s credentials as a diplomat should be questioned for his public display of impotence for saying that his government “ will not be able to give any guarantee that such crimes can be stopped”. Perhaps the most sensible statement to emerge out of this dirty and continuing tit- for- tat came from our foreign minister. “ One can understand Indian students going to Australia at the university level, at the IIT level or other institutions of excellence, but when I went there I was shocked to see so many students attending courses in hairstyling and doing facials”. A friend of mine who did a stint at our mission in Canberra some time back told me precisely this a few months ago when the attacks on Indians first began.
According to him, four out of five Indian students pay through their noses and go through immigration agents to get into courses which have absolutely no value in India which makes it imperative that they work hard doing extra hours to recover the huge amounts they spent.
Besides, foreign students pay nearly four times the fees that locals pay, are denied the concessions that Australian students get on trains, trams, buses and for other public utilities. Indian students Down Under are promised fabulous job opportunities by their agents back home, but they arrive in Australia and find it tough to get even a part- time job that would take care of fees and rent. Even the fate of some who get into elite institutions is no different. He has seen Indian girls pursuing masters from the University of Technology doing catering jobs in the suburbs, while girls from some of the South- East Asian countries choose to make money working in brothels and massage parlours.

For decades, the best and the brightest from India went to America in search of a better future. Today, the three million Americans of Indian origin not only have the highest education levels but also the highest annual median earnings among all nationalities. You can’t expect a country that until as recently as three decades ago practised the White Australia Policy, fearing that non- whites would swarm the place and take all their jobs, to be equally welcoming.

Minister Krishna’s advice to parents whose children were eager to go abroad was: be discriminating in the courses you choose. My advice to the young ones is: there are enough colleges here where you can get a good degree even as you join the radicals in shouting down the US of A. But if you have to go abroad, call Uncle Sam. He will look after you well.

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