In November 2014, India’s Narendra Modi became the first sitting Indian prime minister to visit Australia for 28 years. Australia’s conservative prime minister Tony Abbott introduced Modi to the Australian parliament, and lavished praise upon India and the future of India–Australia relations. Amid the platitudes, he commented that ‘Australians admired the way India won independence – not by rejecting the values learned from Britain, but by appealing to them; not by fighting the colonisers, but by working on their conscience.’ 1 Australia and India had fought together before, he argued, and would do so again. Modi’s speech to the parliament similarly suggested that India is linked to Australia ‘by the great Indian Ocean; by our connected history and our many shared inheritances – and, even more by our deeply interlinked destinies’. 2 ‘Shared inheritances’ implies India and Australia’s similar institutions resulting from having the same colonizers. But Modi’s choice of historical anecdote was telling:
More than 150 years ago, an Australian novelist and lawyer John Lang fought the legal battle for a brave Indian freedom fighter, the Queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmi Bai against the British East India Company in India’s first War of Independence. 3Where Abbott cited various battles to protect British colonial interests such as Gallipoli, Tobruk, Singapore and El Alamein, as evidence shared history, 4 Modi cited a lone Australian lawyer defending a ‘freedom fighter’ after India’s ‘First War of Independence’. Modi’s had similarly made Abbott’s assertion that India did not fight its colonizers but won them over with their own British values appear absurd.