Steering a reluctant super power


Australia India Institute Director Professor Amitabh Mattoo Talks to Indian Executive on his ambitious agenda for the year ahead.

BLURB : We have six major activities planned that can help fulfill the mission of AII. One of this is encouraging visiting fellowships for young leaders from India for two months in Melbourne fully funded by AII. We plan to bring six leaders this year.

Professor Amitabh Mattoo, one of India’s leading thinkers and writers in International Relations, took over as the inaugural director of the Australia India Institute in April this year, a post he will continue to hold for three years. Mattoo, who was the professor of Disarmament Studies at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, hopes that with this new post he will help strengthen the understanding of relations between India and Australia.

With plans to establish a world-class institution, Prof Mattoo — who has incidentally been awarded the Padma Shri for his contribution to education and public life, and is a member of the National Knowledge Commission, an advisory group to the Prime Minister of India — has initiated already kick-started several initiatives directed towards better relations between the nations.

AII, established in 2008 by the University of Melbourne, and officially launched by the then Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Australia High Commission in New Delhi in September 2009, focuses on the areas of education, business, economy, scientific, cultural and social issues.

In his exclusive interview to Indian Executive, Prof Amitabh Mattoo reveals his vision for AII and discusses the idea behind the upcoming conference The Reluctant Super Power: Understanding India and its aspirations.

What made you accept this position?

When I was the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jammu between 2002 and 2008, I tried building it into a world-class institute. Very few countries hold such institutions. I believe AII can help promote the interaction genuinely between the two nations. In these three years of my role as the Director of AII, I have planned an ambitious agenda.

How and when did you receive the invitation to join AII Melbourne?

After its official launch in 2009, the head hunters of AII were looking for an inaugural director to guide this institute. It was in October 2010 that I first visited the University of Melbourne to meet its Vice Chancellor, staff and stakeholders and in the very next month that I received an invitation to join as its new director. With much pleasure I accepted.

What do you think is the main purpose of this institute?

The foremost aim of AII is to promote research partnerships on topics of mutual interest, to increase the professional links between the two nations and to give Australians a better understanding of contemporary India.

We have planned an ambitious agenda that includes six major activities that can help fulfill the mission of AII. One of this is encouraging visiting fellowships for young leaders from India for two months in Melbourne fully funded by AII. An essay published by AII will be produced for them to get a better understanding of the institute. We plan to bring six leaders this year.

We have also organised a conference on India in September this year and the seminar named ‘The reluctant super power — understanding India and its aspirations’ is expected to be attended by writer Sashi Tharoor and politician Mani Shankar Iyer. The publishing of an annual journal written by both Indians and Australians to coincide with the Melbourne Writers Festival is the third main initiative planned.

We have also planned to set up task forces who provide the government with recommendations on climate change, free trade areas etc. AII is also planning a lecture series to be held in Melbourne. We have already revamped our website that can help reflect AII’s dynamic presence on web. The sixth initiative planned is a talk held every Friday at 1 pm by different speakers on various topics, mostly on the relations between India and Australia.

Does the Institute get any support from the government?

AII is mainly run with the financial support from the Federal government and the University of Melbourne. A one-time grant by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace relations was launched by Julia Gillard in New Delhi. The University of Melbourne has contributed 1million dollars for the running of the Institute.

Recently, the relationship between India and Australia has been weakened due to the attacks on Indian students. How do you plan to strengthen the ties between the two countries?

The recent attacks aimed on Indian students were very unfortunate. The misunderstanding and misperception damaged the relationship between India and Australia. India is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner and I am sure our initiatives can help strengthen this weakened relationship. The fact that AII is funded by the Federal government shows the government’s interest in cementing ties.