He was Australian Prime Minister for nine years and succeeded in changing Australia’s international profile.

 

Former Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke died on Thursday aged 89. I first met him in November 1983. He had come to participate in the Commonwealth Summit. Indira Gandhi was the chairperson of the conference. She had appointed me chief coordinator.

It was Bob Hawke’s first summit. He had been elected Prime Minister earlier in the year. He was leader of the Labour Party. His accent was pure Australian. No touch of British linguistic sophistry. Having been a long time trade union leader, he was not familiar with diplomatic subtleties and subterfuges. Indira Gandhi did not take to Hawke’s pugnacity.

Hawke was Prime Minister for nine years. From 1983 to 1992. He succeeded in changing Australia’s international profile. He was no anglophile. He strengthened his country’s ties with Asian and African countries and with the United States. He, along with Rajiv Gandhi, Kenneth Kaunda and other leaders spearheaded the Commonwealth’s efforts to impose economic sanctions on the racist South African regime.

In 1988, the election of the Secretary General of Commonwealth was due. We were backing Sonny Ramphal for a second term. In October, Rajiv Gandhi instructed me to carry a letter from him to Bob Hawke, seeking his support for Ramphal. Hawke was backing one of his predecessors, Malcolm Fraser.

The Australian airlines were on strike. I travelled by car from Sydney to Canberra. My meeting with Prime Minister Hawke was far from pleasant. His misplaced attempt to browbeat me did not succeed. I informed him that Fraser did not have the support of the majority of member states. Ramphal did.

The idea of driving back to Sydney the same day did not appeal to me. I learnt that Prime Minister Hawke was, in the evening, flying to Sydney to preside at the dinner being given in honour of Sir Don Bradman. Swallowing my pride I asked joint secretary A.K. Budhiraja to enquire from his counterpart if I could take a lift in Prime Minister’s special plane. The answer was positive.

I sat opposite the Prime Minister in his plane. Gone was the frostiness of the morning. He asked me if I would like to meet Bradman. Indeed, I would. And I did. He introduced me to the 5’ 7” tall Sir Don. Lady Bradman was with him. Also present was Sir Colin Cowdrey, the English cricketer. Sir Don spoke to me of his meeting with a minister from India, who had some knowledge of cricket. I told him it was Railway Minister Madhavrao Scindia. Prime Minister Hawke asked me to stay for dinner. I resisted the temptation and returned to my hotel.

Incidentally, Sonny Ramphal got his second term.

 

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The votes will be counted on 23 May. By the evening the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections will be known. This election has made repeated assaults on our democracy. The deeply offensive language used by the top leadership of the BJP, i.e., the Prime Minister, his party president and BJP state leaders, and by the president of the Congress party and his subordinate leaders (including Sam Pitroda) lowered the level of the electoral debate and debased the very great profession of politics.

That the BJP could field Pragya Singh Thakur as a candidate is mindboggling. The other day she crossed the red line. She called Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, a patriot. An Indian, an educated woman glorifying the man who killed the Father of the Nation, the greatest Indian since Samrat Ashoka, 273-232 BC, is outrageous beyond words.

The BJP and the Prime Minister have fortunately not only pulled her up but compelled her to publicly apologise. This she has done. The unsettling news from Indore is that Kumari Pragya Singh Thakur might defeat Digvijaya Singh!

 

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I have written this on 16.5.2019, my 90th birthday. I am enjoying my old age.

 

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