Asian Studies Association of  Australia
Asian Currents
ISSN 1449-4418
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
April 2004

In this issue

  Welcome Top  

Asian Currents aims to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. By telling you what is happening in the research world, we hope you will be able to make better use of the wealth of knowledge available and that you will recognize the importance of fostering Australia's Asia knowledge.

Please feel free to forward this email to others you think would be interested in receiving Asian Currents. Registration is free and open to all by simply registering your email address at

  Analysis Top  

Each edition of Asian Currents will bring you a short insight into topical issues. This month we look at the Indian elections and cricket diplomacy.

"India Shining"

Robin Jeffrey
Professor of Politics at Latrobe University

The polls say that India's 14th national general elections, held between 20 April and 10 May, will return the current government. This is a coalition-the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a party long committed to "Hindu-izing" the Indian state.

Glued together from up to 18 political parties, the NDA has governed India since 1999. Real power, however, has rested with the BJP, which currently holds 180 of the NDA's 300 parliamentary seats.

The BJP is running a "feel good" campaign, built around the slogan "India shining" and based on urban, consumer satisfaction, computer and call-centre jobs and an impressive cricket team.

Can a campaign geared to the urban middle classes win national approval in a country still 75 per cent rural? Do the polls pick up rural disillusion? The pollsters say yes to both questions, and that the urban-focused campaign appeals in rural India, especially now that television vaults the old chasm between country and city. If the polls are accurate, this election will mark the quickening obliteration of rural-urban distinctions in India and the penetration of all the techniques of market capitalism into the countryside.

The opposition Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born widow of Rajiv, has tried to tap rural senses of injustice by portraying the NDA as the friend of middle-class urbanites. But the Congress is bereft of talent. Sonia Gandhi makes a plausible foreign interloper but an unconvincing peasant. The entry of her two children as candidates may simply add more celebrities to an already star-studded line-up of candidates.

The second question is leadership. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the current prime minister, is old and ill and will not last another five years. The immediate successor is the hard, calculating Home Minister, L. K. Advani. But Advani, born in November 1927, is just a year younger than Vajpayee. That leaves three other contenders to watch: Arun Jaitley (b. 1952), Pramod Mahajan (b. 1949) and Sushma Swaraj (b. 1952). Mahajan has been chief whip and held Information Technology. Jaitley has been Minister for Law. Swaraj, a woman, may be the best bet as a strong campaigner, having held the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the post of Chief Minister of Delhi.

The third question is the shape India's political system will take after these elections. If the BJP-led alliance wins, it will mark the last act for the Congress Party, Asia's oldest continuing political entity (founded 1885). A BJP victory will also open the door for its wild-eyed followers to prosecute even more enthusiastically their plans for making India a more Hindu state. That signals discomfort for the 17 per cent of India that isn't Hindu, not to mention the 22 per cent that is untouchable or tribal.

An India in which the cities expand, a burgeoning middle class turns to religious-based politics and more cars and air-conditioners put further pressure on the environment, raises questions for which present political leaders offer no coherent answers. Nowadays no one talks of Mahatma Gandhi and the glory of simple rural life-yet few in electoral politics talk of the health and environmental perils that must be faced.

Border Games, Broader Meaning

Professor Brian Stoddart
Pro Vice-Chancellor International at Victoria University

The current cricket series between India and Pakistan might be the best-ever rebuttal of the nonsense that "sport and politics do not/should not mix".

India and Pakistan had their first cricket meeting in 1951, against the backdrop of Partition butchery. Pakistan was captained by a man who had played for India, India by a man born in Lahore. Inevitably, that sporting contest and its successors were invested with meaning other than simple physical sport. Cross-border complexities have characterized Indo-Pakistani cricket relations ever since.

Half a century (plus three shooting wars and the creation of Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan) on, the playing feats of Dravid, Sehwag, Inzamam, Shoaib and their colleagues take on similarly complex hues.

The world has been alarmed increasingly by nuclear capability within both India and Pakistan, and by their willingness to threaten its use, along with recent revelations that in Pakistan, at least, that capability has been sold into other regimes.

Add to that two recent assassination attempts on Pakistan's President Musharraf, a legacy of his role in the Coalition of the Willing's war on terror, plus the elections in India, where Hindu-Muslim tensions are palpable and the far right of the "India for Hindus" movement has dug up cricket pitches in protest at the sellout to foreign culture.

Given all this, it is a wonder the teams and their countries are "playing" at all. Understandably, there have been long periods without play, and this series ends a fifteen year gap. From 1947 until now the neighbours contested just 47 tests and 86 one-dayers. In the same period, England and Australia played over 150 test matches.

More remarkable still is that wins by each side have been greeted graciously, even enthusiastically by all spectators, and player feats have been treated as sporting rather than national ones. Media reports from around the world note the warmth of the people-to-people links that have emerged during the series so far.

All this is significant because of sheer scale. While Pakistan has issued only about 8,000 visas for Indian cricket fans, many others are in the crowds. The Pakistan Cricket Board will collect something like US$20 million, such is the interest. The associated known betting will reach about US$15 million. The television audience in both countries is reckoned at 600 million, a high proportion of the total population.

If the mutual perceptions can be broken in even a small way, then the wider social and political implications are encouraging. What is happening in Pakistan gives not only some prospect of lightening tensions between the two countries. It also gives the rest of the world-even those for whom cricket is a cultural mystery-some hope that a flashpoint might at least be delayed to give space for a more meaningful and permanent solution.

Further links:
  Profile Top  

This month we profile Dr Andrew Southcott MP, (, the Liberal member for the South Australian electorate of Boothby. Dr Southcott has a long-standing interest in Asia. In September 2003, he sponsored a motion introducing the ASAA's report Maximising Australia's Asia Knowledge into the Federal Parliament. Dr Southcott studied medicine at the University of Adelaide from 1985 to 1990. He has also done an economics degree at Flinders University, undertaking subjects in economics as well as international relations and Australian history. More recently, he completed an MBA at the University of Adelaide. In late 2003, he was appointed Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

Q. When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?

A. I first became interested in Asia in 1996. I was studying the Political Economy of the Asia Pacific at Flinders University under John Fitzpatrick and led a Young Political Leaders Delegation to Japan for a ten-day visit in October 1996. I recognised how important the region was to Australia and have gradually learnt more about the region.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. My current activity is focused on maintaining the resource we have in Australian tertiary institutions. The ASAA report, Maximising Australia's Asia Knowledge, was a useful report and the parliamentary motion was to encourage the Government to respond to it. I am also Chair of the Australia-Japan Parliamentary Friendship group.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. As chair of the Australia-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group I meet with visiting members of the Diet and in December 2002 with the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. I also worked to ensure that this royal visit went ahead and that Australia is represented at the A'ichi World Expo in Japan in 2005.

Q. What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?

A. I hope that university students can see the importance of Asian studies to Australia and that many students seek the reward that a career focused on Asia can bring. I hope that Asian studies continues to adapt so that students get a great experience. The development of 'in country' language training has been an enormously positive step in this regard.

  Diary dates Top  

The Australia South Asia Research Centre (ASARC) is holding its tenth anniversary Conference at the Australian National University (ANU) on 27 and 28 April 2004. For further details see and/or contact: Stephanie Hancock, (02) 6125 4482,, or Raghbendra Jha, (02) 6125 2683,

There will also be a free lecture on Tuesday 27 April 2004 (5.30-6.30 pm) in the Common Room at University House, ANU, by Dr Vijay Kelkar, advisor to the Indian Minister of Finance. His lecture is called India on the growth turnpike. Enquiries: (02) 6125 4482 or

The 15TH Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia will opened by the Governor-General, His Excellency Major-General Jeffrey at the National Convention Centre in Canberra on 29 June. A strong feature of the conference will be the relevance of Asian studies to the contemporary world. Topics to be discussed will include media, foreign investment, labour, religion and the place of women in Asia. See 29 April is the final date for early bird registration for the conference (29 June-2 July).

A special event during the conference will be a major address at the National Press Club on 30 June by Dr John Yu, Chancellor of the University of NSW. Dr Yu will speak on Knowing Asia: Australia's Future. For bookings, see

For those in Canberra, there will be a book group meeting to discuss The Man who Died Twice (a biography of Morrison of Peking) by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin at 6 pm on 13 May. New members most welcome - RSVP for seating purposes greatly appreciated. Venue: Asia Bookroom, Weedon Close, Belconnen, (02) 6251 5191,,

Australia-China FTA Joint Feasibility Study: public submissions are due by 18 June 2004
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Study Taskforce is inviting public submissions and comment on issues relevant to the joint FTA feasibility study between Australia and China. The terms of reference for the joint FTA feasibility study and related information can be found at Submissions may be lodged electronically to

The Nuclear Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: A Russian Policy Perspective, a talk by Dr Georgy D. Toloraya, Russian Consul-General in Sydney on Friday 30 April 2004 from 3.30 pm to 5.00 pm in the Boardroom, Level 4, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, The University of Melbourne, corner Swanston Street and Monash Road, Parkville. The seminar is free of charge but seating is limited. To reserve a seat send an email to: with "Toloraya" in the subject line or call Asialink on (03) 8344 4800.

You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to:

  Student of the month Top  

When Michael Heazle graduated from Griffith University with his PhD in 2003, it was, in his words, "the end of one very long road but also the beginning of another even longer one." Michael's PhD, A History of Scientific Uncertainty in the International Whaling Commission (IWC), argues that policy makers in the IWC generally have accepted or rejected scientific advice on the basis of how well that advice matches or complements their individual political goals. Michael's introduction to Japan came in 1981 when he visited his older brother in Sendai on the north-east coast of the main island. Since then, he has returned to Japan at least six times working as a teacher and journalist. Most recently he worked in Kyoto, teaching at a university to support his research but also setting up a small production company and making a documentary on the IWC. Michael is now a sessional lecturer at Griffith's Department of International Business and Asian Studies.

Profile taken from article kindly provided by the Griffith Asia Pacific Research Institute (GAPRI) newsletter (

  Website of the month - The Ricksha Arts of Bangladesh Top  

This website ( is dedicated to celebrating one of Bangladesh's unique popular arts, the paintings and decorations on the three-wheeled cycle ricksha - or "rickshaw". The site is based on anthropological field visits to Bangladesh between 1975 and 1998 by its creator, Joanna Kirkpatrick. Dr Kirkpatrick is a cultural and social anthropologist, specialising in South Asia.

If you would like to nominate a site which contributes to the maximizing of Australia's Asian knowledge, please contact

  Congratulations Top  

The Australian National University's renowned China scholar, Geremie BarmÈ, has been awarded the 2004 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (Post-1900 Category) by the American Association of Asian Studies for his book, An Artistic Exile: A Life of Feng Zikai (1898-1975), University of California Press, 2002. The judges said: 'BarmÈ paints us a cultural world infinitely richer and more varied than the conventional twentieth-century story of revolutionary nationalism and ascendant Communism. This is an extraordinarily evocative and gracefully written portrait [of the foremost artist of China's cartoon/sketch painting style and a noted essayist, Feng Zikai]. The Levenson Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for Chinese scholarship.

BarmÈ's work extends also to film. His latest work, Morning Sun, examines the bloody realities of China's Cultural Revolution. See

  Recent article of interest Top  

For those wanting background on the maze of parties represented in Indonesia's recent elections or who want to find out more before the Presidential election in July, there is a comprehensive paper by Dr Stephen Sherlock available on the Centre for Democratic Institution's website. See

  Feedback Top  

What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Asian Currents is still taking shape. If you'd like to mould it to your needs, send your ideas to

  About the ASAA Top  

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia; supports teaching and research in Asian studies; and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asia Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference.

The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to establish a Council for Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge and Skills (C-MAAKS), chaired by an outstanding Australian, to oversee a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has detailed this proposal in Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset. See

Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA), thanks to a grant from the Myer Foundation made to assist the ASAA promote the study of Asia in Australia. It is edited by the ASAA's promotions agents, Francesca Beddie and Peter Rodgers.


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