Australian HC is at home in India

Vijay Badhwar - Harinder Sidhu - Credentials to India (1)








Harinder Sidhu presenting her credentials to President Pranab Mukherjee as Australia’s High Commissioner to India.

By Vijay Badhwar

Many of the early Australian prime ministers took immense pride in becoming high commissioners in England, two of them ”“ Andrew Fisher and Stanley Bruce ”“ even resigning from their positions to become high commissioners in London.

It is indeed an honour to represent your adopted country at the highest level amidst a culture you belong to, in a landscape that is exclusive (in the Australian High Commission in Chanakaya Puri in Delhi, with peacocks dancing in your backyard), meeting people you only dreamed about and a bevy of helping hands at your command at your slightest gesture.

In the case of Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi, it is well-earned and deserved after years of hard work as a senior bureaucrat to be in an oasis after the desert storms of Damascus, having been left there to be the last to leave due to her knowledge of the local culture and Arabic language. Ms Sidhu is considered a Middle-East expert also having served in Egypt prior to her posting in Syria.

Her father Ajaib Sidhu is an electrical engineer from the Punjab in India, later settled in Malaysia/Singapore when it was still one nation. Harinder’s mother, Jagjit, is an English language teacher. The young family decided to settle in Australia in 1974.

“We call our eldest daughter Indra, but when she was born, as was the custom, the name had to start with letter ”˜H’. My father-in-law provided the solution suggesting preceding Indra with ”˜Har’,” Mrs Sidhu recalls fondly.

The family (as does the whole Indian community) feels proud that Harinder has been given the opportunity to be the ambassador of two cultures, to be able to contribute and enrich them both. The senior Sidhus will be visiting their daughter later in the year to experience first-hand experience.

But, before that, TIDU readers can share part of the scene as summarised in the following questions-answers:

Through your appointment, you now connect four or, even five countries ”“ Australia, Singapore-Malaysia, India and Bhutan. How do you feel, virtually being at home in India. Do you feel special representing as Australia’s High Commissioner compared to visits to India before.      

It is a great privilege to serve my country as the Australian High Commissioner to India.   Of course it is a very different experience to visiting as a tourist, as I have done previously.   In my current capacity, I carry responsibility for all facets of the Australia-India relationship.   I am deeply committed to seeing that relationship grow and improve during my tenure.

How did you feel presenting your credentials to the President of India. Any highlights you will like to share with TIDU readers.

The credentials ceremony itself was a very serious and solemn occasion, held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.   I presented my credentials together with the new Ambassadors of Ukraine and Iraq, and the new High Commissioner for the United Kingdom.   It brought home to me the great honour of this appointment.   I found the President to be most gracious, knowledgeable about Australia and thoughtful in his discussions with me after the ceremony.

What are your short/long term visions towards Australia-India relations. How close is the much talked about trade agreement between the two countries to finalisation.

I hope to support the deepening of the Australia-India relationship over my tenure.   My primary interest is to see the bilateral economic relationship grow, with greater and more active trade and investment in both directions.   While India has a very significant need for Australian resources, I think there is enormous scope to diversify the economic relationship into other areas such as technology and services.   Much of the economic relationship is underpinned by people-to-people links, for example through the large numbers of Indians studying in Australia at present.   I hope to see this grow as well.   And finally I hope to see the very strong relationship we have built on defence and regional cooperation also to continue to strengthen and grow.

You were here in Australia during Mr Jaitley’s ”˜Make in India’ campaign. Is there a progress on any of the issues raised.

Mr Jaitley had a very good and successful visit to Australia.   From the Australian perspective, he raised the profile of and interest in India among those he met, and more broadly.   I understand that there has been progress on many of the issues raised, chief among them a greater interest by Australian funds management in investing in India.

With elections now settled, will there be any change in bilateral policies, such as Uranium sale etc.

The Australia-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is in force enabling commercial discussions for the export of uranium to take place.   Australian Government policies toward India have generally been bipartisan.   While there are sometimes differences of emphasis, both sides support a stronger relationship with India and recognise the benefits this will bring to Australia.

With Festival of India soon happening in Australia, will there be an input by your office in the festival.    Any plans to reciprocate similar Australian celebration in India.

We warmly welcome the Festival of India in Australia.   I am delighted to see the quality and variety of events being planned which, I believe, will help deepen Australians’ understanding of and interest in India’s people and culture.

I know the Indian High Commissioner, Navdeep Suri, has been working very hard on this Festival and I genuinely wish him and his team every success.   Our state and territory governments are providing a range of support to the Indian High Commission in Canberra to deliver the Festival of India in Australia. These include assistance in securing venues as well as significant funding support.

The Australian Government is committed to its cultural engagement with India and has continued to build on the momentum created by Oz Fest in 2012-13. Oz Fest was the largest Australian cultural festival ever staged in India, and  included events featuring Australian music, art, food, films, literature, dance, comedy and sport. The festival travelled to 18 cities across India and included over 100 cultural, business, education, science and political events.

With your interest in Bollywood, have you had any opportunity to meet some of the favourite stars, like Shah Rukh Khan.

Sadly, no.   But it is early days and perhaps I will in the future.

The Indian community in Sydney feels proud of you. Any message for them?

I am myself very proud to come from the Indian community in Sydney.     I have found many of our young people, in particular, to be most impressive ”“ smart, hardworking and successful.   They are making an enormous contribution to Australian society.   Hopefully my appointment can show them ”“ and our girls and young women in particular ”“ that they can use their talents and abilities to achieve whatever they want to in life.


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