Well, this is awkward. When a new best friend is accused of an act of unconscionable bastardry against an old best friend, it places the whole friend circle in a terrible position. Who do we side with? Who do we believe?
There’s intense discomfort percolating through Ottawa, Washington, Tokyo, and Canberra. The indignation from the new best friend in New Delhi, accused by old friend Canada of using its security forces to kill a Canadian Sikh activist in British Columbia is shrill. “Absurd and motivated,” it bellowed. An attempt to shift focus from Canada’s sheltering of Sikh extremists and terrorists.
Diplomats have been kicked out of both countries and tensions aggravated among allies desperate to outflank China on the geopolitical chessboard. A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Penny Wong has expressed deep concern over the allegation.
But what’s making Echidna wince in the midst of this falling out is much closer to home.
On Tuesday, when questioned about the wisdom of declaring Narendra Modi “the Boss” at the political rally in Sydney when the Indian PM visited in May, Anthony Albanese responded with seething side-eye worthy of Grace Tame.
He told the journalist who had asked the entirely reasonable question to “chill out”. Then came a flaccid answer about how our PM had seen Bruce Springsteen perform at the same venue. Nothing to see here.
But there was.
Albanese’s tetchiness at having his judgment questioned was painful to watch. “Seriously? You should chill out a bit,” he snapped. Upbraiding the journalist who had the temerity to ask that question betrayed a similar intolerance for criticism Modi stands accused of. But, unlike Albanese, Modi won’t get caught out by a difficult question because he doesn’t front media conferences, with the exception of one when he met Joe Biden in Washington.
Modi’s colourful coat-tails obviously appealed to Albanese, who’s aware of the political clout of the growing Indian diaspora which has settled in Australia. But the Hindu nationalist is no saint. Nor is the nation he leads.
In its 2022 India report, Amnesty International said: “Throughout the year the authorities routinely used international travel bans to stifle independent voices including the human rights activist and former head of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, journalist Rana Ayyub and at least two Kashmiri journalists who were scheduled to speak abroad on India’s human rights situation.”
You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. And you should do so carefully.
Albanese’s judgment in fawning over Modi is questionable – and the PM knows this – especially after the airing of these allegations from Canada, which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, along with the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia.
If Canada’s suspicions prove true, Australia will be informed through the Five Eyes arrangements and life will become difficult. Walking the tightrope between friends who have fallen out will be hard enough. The realpolitik of global alliances will butt up against our stance of the rule of law, which has no tolerance for political assassination. And the possibility of Indian spooks going about their dark arts on our shores – as one Sikh activist exiled in the US has warned they will – won’t go down well. Not one bit.
Wiping egg off our PM’s face will be a whole other matter. Awkward indeed.
John Hascombe – September 21, 2023 – Tetchy PM doesn’t like his judgment questioned