Professor Amitabh Mattoo, a well-known face in the academic and intellectual circles of Melbourne, and the inaugural director of the Australia India Institute (AII), which was established in 2008 by the University of Melbourne, talks to Kshipra Cariappa about the elections in India
What is your understanding of the ongoing elections in India?
All elections in India are festive, very argumentative and full of robust debates but this particular election is seeing a fiery contest for the Prime Ministership between Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. According to various surveys, Narendra Modi is the frontrunner, but the larger question is whether his party along with its allies will be able to secure a clear majority. The other contender, Rahul Gandhi, who has an image of someone who wants to make a difference, has not been able to really come of his own in this campaign. On the other hand, Arvind Kejriwal has mounted an energetic campaign and has shown the audacity to contest against Modi from Varanasi. In more ways than one this will be a historic election which may determine the trajectory of Indian politics for many years to come.
What does India need to deal with urgently—corruption, poverty or growth?
India does not have the luxury of making a choice. Poverty remains intractable and to eradicate it, the country needs to generate resources which can only be available if the country sees high growth for a sustained period of time. Corruption has always been an issue but in recent times it has caught the imagination of the people where they are demanding concrete measures to deal with this malaise. The problem of corruption is complex and one of the foremost tasks that should be undertaken is strengthening India’s public institutions. A culture of transparency and accountability is the need of the hour so that the benefits of growth are distributed equitably.
Which party do you think will help build better Australia-India ties? Why?
There is an across the board consensus in India that the Australia-India relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties of the 21st century. Therefore whichever party comes to power in New Delhi, building on this relationship further will be high on its agenda.
Who has been the best campaigner for these elections according to you?
One has to admit that Narendra Modi’s campaign has been the best considering its wide reach and the wave it has managed to generate in his favour. However, one also cannot deny the imaginative ways in which Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, even with comparatively limited resources, has managed to reach out to its core urban constituency voters.
During Prof Matoo’s stint as the director of AII, the Australia-India relationship has seen a robust phase with increased level of intellectual collaboration between the two nations. This being his final year as the director of the institute, Prof Matoo is gearing to head back to India, a place he calls his “passion”.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia) Indian Diaspora Special