The Indian Express, 1 February 2010
Just don’t go. That’s the latest advice the ministry of external affairs has given students planning to study in Australia. Ever since the wave of attacks on Indian students, the Indian government has repeatedly expressed concern. On January 5, it issued a travel advisory asking students studying, or planning to study, in Australia to take basic safety precautions. And on January 19, Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna threatened a stronger advisory: asking Indian to just not go. Ten days later, that is exactly what Minister of State Preneet Kaur has advised. Is this an over-reaction?
The first test any such move must pass is: does this make 1,00,000 or so Indian students already in Australia any safer? Their safety lies in the hands of the Australian authorities. Where the proper approach would be increased coordination with the Australian government, the latest advisory could be interpreted as the MEA washing its hands of responsibility to those Indian citizens already there. The advisory might even be superfluous: reports suggest, alarmed at the spate of attacks, there is a 46 per cent drop in Indian student applications to Australia. The MEA’s advice achieves little, sets up confrontation with the Australian authorities, and eventually may not make Indian students there any safer. A proper forward-looking response would require the Indian authorities to work with the Australians to work out both a proper regulation of institutes — and counsel them on how to reach out to potential genuine students from here. That is an approach that would help every stakeholder in this crisis.
Krishna told his Australian counterpart last week, (after four attacks on Indians in Brisbane) that it is increasingly difficult to believe that these crimes are devoid of racial motives. But for the MEA, concern for the thousands of students already there requires more nuanced engagement with the Australian government. While earlier refusing such an advisory, Krishna had said that it “would not be in the interest of our bilateral relations. So I am not thinking on those lines.” He had, and has, a point.