Academic journal article Antipodes

Selling Australian Literature in India: Kolkata Book Fair as Cultural Diplomacy?

Academic journal article Antipodes

Selling Australian Literature in India: Kolkata Book Fair as Cultural Diplomacy?

Article excerpt


THIS MAY NOW SOUND LIKE STORYTELLING . BUT STORYTELLING is also part of a distinctive sociological formation, especially in view of Australian cultural and strategic diplomacy. It may develop into a self-reflexive, empirical form of reality that seeks to discover an intellectual space for the purpose of critiquing the Australian participation in Kolkata Book Fair (KBF). I shall therefore extensively concentrate on the Australian cultural initiative in terms ofthat participation. But before I do that, I shall start with a pertinent question: Why did Australia suddenly turn to its "neglected neighbour," as Meg Gurry pointed out in the 1990s?

We should try to understand the background that determined the Australian Government's decision to participate in KBE Till 1989, India had been a "blind spot" in the sphere of Australian diplomacy. In the 1950s and 60s (until the death of Nehru and Menzies's retirement), Menzies (as opposed to Chiefly or Evatt) showed little interest in India; the beginning of the Cold War bipolarized global politics; and India's perception of Australia grew as an "adjunct to the United States and the United Kingdom" (Gurry 15), Nehru's alignment with China till 1962, and Australia's sympathetic stand in favor of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, led to no mutually beneficial relationship.

The first cultural agreement between the countries was signed in 1971 after the visit to Australia of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968. Initially $30,000 was allocated for culture and later in 1981 it was raised to $80,000. Yet Australian cultural activity was modest. Trade activities did not reach any substantial target; rather, the trend was declining. Yet certain political factors were bringing the two countries closer: India's separation from the Chinese communist bloc after the 1962 war, Australia's implicit support of India in the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, and the progression towards the end of the Cold War. This further developed through the close relations between Bob Hawke and Rajiv Gandhi and gradually moved towards a steady development of the bilateral relationship.1

In 1989, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade began to seriously consider developing trade and commercial linkages between Australia and India. The Report of the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tried to make sense of developing such linkages. Even academics like Robin Jeffrey, Dipesh Chakraborty, Marika Vicziani, Debesh Bhattacharya and others were involved as members presenting their submissions and making a strong case for the viability of developing business links. Members of Melbourne's South Asian Studies Group and those of the Asian Studies Association of Australia were involved with the work of the Standing Committee. But the central argument was about the justification of India as a possible business and economic destination. Robin Jeffrey particularly referred to Indo-Canadian relationship as a suitable example of economic partnership (1989: 4). But he also lamented the lack of adequate exposure to India: "Most Australian universities teach subjects - usually history - related to India. But not enough Indian content finds its way into Economics, Commerce, Politics, Sociology and other departments teaching students who intend to go into private enterprise" (1989: 8). The Asian Studies Association of Australia even argued for linkages in terms of five advantages: proximity, shared use of English, similar legal systems, similar political institutions, and fondness for cricket and hockey, which provides a seldomfailing opening for conversation (1989: 00382). It also stressed "the need to encourage more media and educational links between the two countries" (1989: 00383).

In July 1990, the Senate Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and Trade published AustraliaAndia Relations: Trade and Security in which it noted its major findings and pointed out: "The Committee believes that relations between Australia and India are underdeveloped. …

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