By Ajit Jain
TORONTO: After his university education and research work in Canada, Dr. Ramesh Thakur took up a teaching job in Australia and then went to New Zealand.
A few years ago he was the Rector of the UN Peace University in Tokyo when Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion, makers of the Blackberry, persuaded him to take up a job with Balsillie’s Centre for International Global Innovation in Waterloo (which’s governed jointly by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University).
Sadly for him, the relationship didn’t last long. Balsillie said to himself that if he was giving money for the international Centre, he also had the right to dictate academic policies. But that was not acceptable to Thakur and rightly so. Thakur was literally fired and the result was scathing criticism of Balsillie from the Canadian academic community, aftermath of which was seen last year when he offered to give $10-million to York University in return that he will dictate terms as to how the academic programs would function.
There was a rebellion in the Canadian academic community and Balsillie had to back out.
Thakur, of course, is back in Australia where he’s currently Director of Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at Australian National University in Canberra.
He was in Vancouver and Toronto recently to attend a number of seminars, including the one held at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History on Indian elections.
In an interview with this writer, Thakur laughed when asked about his experience of working with Balsillie. He pointed out to what happened at York University, adding that it should be enough for him to prove that he was right all along about Balsillie’s open interfering in academic matters.
Q: How do you compare relationship between India and Australia, and India and Canada?
I think the potential for India-Australia relations is probably bigger because it is on the same part of the world and there can be direct steady dialogues and even military cooperation between the two countries. They are both across the Indian Ocean.
If we go back to the 2004 tsunami, India, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and the United States were the coordinating countries. In all these respects there’s much more natural complementarities between India and Australia.
I think Australia is starting to become a little bit vary of Canada in the strategic sense of having very close relations with China. Again there are similarities and complementary interests between India and Australia.
In all these respects potentials for India-Australia relations is greater than for India-Canada relations.
The other problem is Canada is next to the US, so Canada will always be under American shadow. Indian thinking about Canada is the result of that.
As it is, there are more than one million Indians here in Canada which is another huge advantage that Canada has in consolidating relations with India if the government wants to do that.
Canada and Australia are similar countries in many ways and it doesn’t serve any useful purpose in ranking the two countries.
Canada is talking of closer relations with India, but India doesn’t seem much euphoric about Canada.
In India, neither Australia nor Canada are all that important. From India’s perspective, it is the US, China, Japan to some extent and the European Union are important. In the Asian region, probably Indonesia, and of course immediate neighboring countries – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal – can never be overlooked.
In the near future, India will also be preoccupied with what would happen in Afghanistan.
Canada and Australia will come after all these priority countries to Indian policy.
About your academic research work, where’s it better to work – Australia or Canada?
I think Canada was a better place for me to continue to work on UN issues because we are not far off from the United Nations. It is also closer to Europe from the East coast.
On the other hand, other than the UN, most of my research work has been focused on Asia and the Pacific. From that point of view, it is better to be in Australia than in Canada.