Before arriving in Sydney for the Australia India Youth Dialogue, I was nervous for two reasons. First, a quick look at the profiles of the other delegates – including journalists, authors, professors, political advisers and members of parliament – left me feeling out of my depth. Second, I had no knowledge of, and very little interest in, what is apparently the cornerstone of the Australia-India bilateral relationship: cricket.
The fourth Australia India Youth Dialogue was held in January 2015 in Sydney and Melbourne. The Dialogue involved 15 young Australians and 15 young Indians who came together to discuss the bilateral relationship, areas for cooperation and, despite our best efforts, cricket. Delegates had the chance to hear from impressive keynote speakers as well as an array of expert panelists. After each panel discussion, covering topics such as nation building, soft power and governance, we had the chance to ask questions and hold our own discussions.
Day one kicked off with a panel discussion on the importance of sport to the bilateral relationship, featuring Lisa Sthalekar, a delegate and former cricketer for Australia. Then we were off to the Sydney Cricket Ground for my first ever cricket match. Despite my earlier reservations, I was actually very excited.
This match fell on Australia Day and India’s Republic Day. The energy was palpable as fans of both countries gathered on this special day. Cricket has been an enduring point of connection and vehicle for dialogue between Australia and India. Indeed, Shaun Star the Dialogue’s Chairman and co-founder summed it up well in his recent article ahead of the World Cup semi-final.
Unfortunately, the Sydney weather was uncharacteristically gloomy and after several delays and only 15 overs, the match was called off. Nevertheless, we all had a great time getting to know each other, chatting away and trying to stay dry and warm.
On day two, we discussed the bilateral relationship and heard from Ric Wells, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Sanjay Sudhir, the Consul General of India in Sydney. Our time in Sydney wouldn’t have been complete without a boat ride across the harbour.
Then the umbrellas were out, as we walked to our gala dinner at Luna Park, featuring a keynote address from the Australian Parliamentary Secretary, on the importance of people-to-people connections for the growth of Australia and India’s relationship.
Day three saw the dialogue take on the air of a television show with the arrival of Neha Khanna, a TV anchor for NDTV and our moderator for the day. Delegates fired questions and were delighted with the chance to question Ms. Pinky Anand, Additional Solicitor General of India and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national executive. I sat back and enjoyed the debate, gaining exceptional insights into current political issues and the dynamic political environment in India.
By day four, I was almost exhausted from the stimulating discussion, but I couldn’t have wished not to spend more valuable time with such inspiring people and to have made such great new friends.
We left rainy Sydney behind and headed to Melbourne. In between panel discussions on nation-building and energy, delegates enjoyed panoramic views of Melbourne from the 46th floor of the Investment Centre. To end the Dialogue we were hosted by Richmond Football Club, which is doing a lot of work reaching out to Indian football fans in Australia. A goal kicking competition in suits, cocktail dresses and saris was great fun (and I am sure very amusing to the players who were training around us).
The gala dinner featured addresses from the Governor of Victoria, the CEO of the Richmond Football club and a chance to hear from former delegates on the exciting things they have achieved since participating in the Australia India Youth Dialogue.
Attending the Dialogue taught me a lot about India and the challenges and opportunities of the Australia India bilateral relationship. The most important outcome of the dialogue was the many new friends I met and the lasting connections with people across India and Australia. I can’t wait to travel to India again soon and reconnect with some of the amazing people I met.
Oh, and I also went to the cricket again and saw India play at the MCG. I am happy to say that I am cricket’s newest fan!