India does not want attacks to ‘infect’ ties with Australia


New Delhi : Ahead of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Australia, India has said it was concerned about attacks on Indian students but does want the issue to “infect” growing relations between the two countries.

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“There is only one meaningful yardstick, and that is that if these attacks cease, or become so infrequent that no one, neither students nor the press, can claim that there is a continuing pattern of anti-Indian violence,” Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said in Melbourne.

“It’s not yet clear that we have reached that point, but I hope we are getting there,” Tharoor was quoted by The Age, an Australian daily, as saying.

Underlining that India and Australia “are on the same side” on many issues, Tharoor said although the Indian government had no interest in allowing the crisis to “infect” relations between the two countries, it was still concerned about safety of its students.

He expressed confidence that the relationship between Australia and India would not suffer lasting damage. “We are both constitutional democracies with a free press and a taste for cricket. Why on earth should we let anything come between us? We just want to do things that will make life easier for us as well and for our students to feel safe and secure in your country,” he said.

Tharoor’s remarks set the tone for Krishna’s five-day visit to Australia starting Aug 6 aimed at understanding first-hand the problems faced by Indian students, some of whom have been victims of alleged racist attacks, and the steps taken by Canberra to ensure their safety.

This will be the first high-level visit from India to Australia since a rash of attacks on Indian students studying in that country began over a month ago, triggering outrage in India and the diaspora community Down Under.

Tharoor, however, made it clear that if attacks continue, it will cast a shadow on otherwise strong relations between the two countries and called for “action that calms this down so it ceases to be as loud a political issue in India as it has become.

“If there were maybe one incident a year, there may be a brief headline and it will die,” Tharoor said.

“For some weeks now we have been urging people to cool down a little bit, but the fact is that every time there is an incident it’s a setback for our efforts to cool the temperature on this,” he said.

Tharoor appreciated the the steps taken by the Australian government to address the issue with the seriousness it deserved, but pointed to the wide coverage given by 24×7 news channels in India, saying it’s “an absolutely natural” story for them.