Rethinking the Role of the Indian Diaspora in India-Australia Relations

Dr Alexander Davis1, Dr Amrita Malhi2

1University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia, 2Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

In recent years, both the Australian and Indian states have sought to leverage the Indian diaspora in Australia as a means of strengthening the international relationship, citing business and people-to-people ties. Narendra Modi has sought to speak to the Indian diaspora as a means of performing the idea of India as a civilizational power which has transcended its territorial borders. On the other hand, the Australian state has sought to instrumentalise the Indian diaspora in Australia with an emphasis on business and economic ties. This paper questions the assumption that the Indian diaspora in Australia is and will be uncomplicated benefit to the India-Australia relationship, and bring the two states together. We do so both through analysis of both India and Australia’s diaspora engagement strategies, and through the early results from a survey of people identifying as Indian living in Australia, which emphasises both their family stories of migration and their perception of their own role in the relationship. We argue that neither state’s approach captures the diverse experiences, histories and identities of the Indian diaspora in Australia, and that this has important policy implication for the India-Australia relationship.


Dr Alexander E Davis is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Western Australia. His research focuses on India’s borderlands and its foreign policy from a postcolonial perspective, focused on history and identity.

Dr Amrita Malhi is a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change in the College of Asia and Pacific at The Australian National University. There, she works on Malaysian history and politics, along with the new politics of diversity and minorities in Asia and Australia, including with industry partner Cultural Infusion.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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