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Diplomacy

Watch | Australia India Institute Ex-Head Questions Fellows Who Resigned Over 'Interference'

Professor Amitabh Mattoo tells The Wire that he finds it hard to believe that such a thing could have happened, at the same time not explicitly denying it either.

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Alleged interference by the Indian High Commissioner in Australia in the academic freedom of the Australia India Institute in Melbourne led to the resignation of 13 fellows – something which has been widely reported by the Australian media.

Now, the Institute’s founding Director and first CEO says he finds it hard to believe that such a thing could have happened, at the same time not explicitly denying it either.

Professor Amitabh Mattoo does accept that this might have happened during the term of the director who succeeded him and who preceded the present director.

Mattoo also said he will have a word with India’s present high commissioner to Australia, Manpreet Vohra, and, if necessary, with external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, to ensure that steps are taken to rebuild trust with the Institute’s fellows and remove perceptions of governmental interference in their academic freedom.

In a 25-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Mattoo responded to widespread reports in the Australian media – particularly The Age and South Asian Today – which have stated that in their letter of resignation to the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, Duncan Maskell, the 13 have alleged that the Indian High Commissioner is interfering in the functioning of the Institute.

One of the Fellows, Ian Woolford, tweeted: “I have resigned my affiliation with the Australia India Institute, due to concerns over government interference and restrictions over academic freedom.”

The letter of resignation also says the Indian High Commissioner’s interference “led to some events relating to India being discouraged, or not supported, on the grounds that they were likely to be controversial”.

Together The Age and South Asian Today have given three examples of alleged interference by the Indian High Commissioner.

First, a publicly advertised event was downgraded to a private invitation-only seminar upon the high commissioner’s alleged intervention. This was a talk in 2019 entitled ‘Key words for India: Violence’ and discussed violence by Hindu nationalist groups against Muslims.

Second, the Institute refused to publish an academic piece by two fellows attempting to understand attacks on Gandhi and the decapitation of his statue in Melbourne.

Third, the Institute refused to include a podcast entitled “Caste and the Corporation, in India and abroad”, by the same two fellows, on its website.

Writing about both the article and the podcast, this is what South Asian Today says: “Both the article and the podcast side-lined by the Aii unpack an India that supporters of the Modi regime would find difficult to sit with. Matters of caste and Gandhi’s racist ideologies do not compliment an image that the BJP tries to maintain in the West.”

Mattoo responds to all three examples.

Watch the full interview here.