Wong was also asked whether India’s banning of a BBC documentary about those riots had concerned Australia given its impact on press freedom.
“Obviously, we have engaged with the Indian system on those issues and on other issues,” Wong said.
The exchange reveals the complex nature of Australia and India’s relationship, especially in light of their burgeoning security relationship as well as their alliances with other Western allies such as Quad members Japan and the US, analysts say. The Quad is a security pact between Australia, Japan, India and the US.
Australia’s approach to India’s alleged human rights abuses compared to China could also put it in danger of being “anti-China” rather than a defender of democratic principles, analysts added.
In the first instance, Wong’s reticence on speaking openly about India did not mean she had not spoken to her Indian counterparts privately, Melbourne-based political analyst Grant Wyeth said.
Her comment that Australia had “engaged with the Indian system” could further support that Canberra had raised its concerns with some Indian officials privately and had chosen to continue those discussions quietly, Wyeth added.
“The Indian government is very sensitive to being publicly embarrassed, and the Indian press is prone to performative outrage. So it’s best not to provide them with any fuel,” Wyeth said.
As for India’s stance on Russia, Australia understood India’s delicate position with Russia, he said.
“Obviously India’s military is still reliant on Russian parts, so this makes it difficult to be too vocal about Russia’s behaviour,” Wyeth said, adding however that India has started to move away from Russia.
“And India’s conception of masculinity is one that aligns with the image Putin likes to project. I think Australia understands the Indian bureaucracy’s position and approach.”
Calling out India on Russia could prove difficult, analyst Joanne Lin said.
Australia and other Western nations understood that India had a non-aligned foreign policy with Russia, that is, a stand-alone policy not linked with those in other major powers which could not be unravelled overnight, said Lin, a Yusof Ishak Institute Asean Studies Centre coordinator.
Ashok Sharma, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said Canberra understood Delhi’s domestic politics, for example, that the Gujarat riots involving Indian-Muslims were “community-level issues” and not a national one.
“These human rights issues, they [the BBC] are free to report it but I don’t see any basis for that,” Sharma said. “India is a democracy, a big country. There will be policies, and people will oppose these things … it will keep happening. Australians know that.”
That said, Modi’s Indian nationalist BJP party is not a party that shares Australia’s values, Wyeth said.
“Canberra raising concerns about abuses early and often – even if quietly – is important though, as there are bound to be more incidents of religious minority persecution in India, and Australia needs to have a consistent demonstration of its concerns,” Wyeth said.
“Australia should realise that there’s great irony in that it is seeking to align with India as a bulwark against the threat to liberal ideas from the Chinese Communist Party but the BJP has a similar hostility to liberal democracy as the CCP.”
Wyeth said the Modi government’s sensitivity was manifesting itself in Australia in the form of threats to academic freedoms.
Last year, a group of 13 academic fellows resigned from the Australia India Institute of the University of Melbourne citing interference by the Indian High Commission to Australia.
The academics said there had been repeated instances where research or views that criticised India were blanked.
“We also are seeing local Hindu extremist groups flexing their muscles in Australia,” Wyeth said. “Both federal and state governments need to find strategies to combat this quickly, as it is something the wider Australian public won’t tolerate and it poses a threat to the overall immigration programme.”