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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, June 02 2009. 13:07

Editorial : Aussie Wines and Racial Attacks

If the spate of racial attacks on Indian students continue in Australia and the government is unable to control the situation, the snowballing effect might end up in drop in Australian wine consumption due to the anger and frustration building up in the Indian citizens

In every party or a gathering I have recently been to, I have noticed the anger and anguish expressed by the wine drinking friends and strangers alike on the senseless attacks the number of which seems to be mounting with some new report surfacing in the media every day with no visible action from the government.

The media may be accused of sensationalism and overplaying the incidents but the horrible tales on TV and the police brutality seen on several channels is likely to enrage the viewers even more. What is surprising is that the Australian government, apart from making some luke-warm statements of wanting to come to grips with the problem, has not been able to control the situation. The action by the police on the peace marchers over the week-end and the statement by the Victoria police chief handling the peaceful, non-violent march of the students is reminiscent of the days of the British Raj in India.

Australia has been making tremendous strides during the recent years in exporting to India, especially in the wine and food sectors. Austrade has been doing a laudable job with the total support of the High Commission. The Senior Trade Commissioner for South Asia, Peter Linford who came to India last year and his colleague Michael Carter, the Trade Commissioner have made visible efforts in many sectors including food and wine. It would be a shame to see their efforts go waste for no fault of theirs or most of the countrymen.

Certainly, the Australian wine producers are beyond reproach so far racism is concerned and are an extremely friendly lot, like in most of the wine world. However, one cannot but think back about a similar situation when the French who were openly against the US invasion of Iraq were boycotted by the US consumers and marketers with stories of even the First growths of Bordeaux being consigned to drains by some wine merchants. The Americans even renamed French Fries as Freedom Fries during that short period of animosity as a mark of patriotism.

Granted, this is not a case of patriotism here, but it might get increasingly more difficult to sip an Australian wine knowing that some innocent countryman is getting stabbed somewhere in Melbourne at that moment or when you have a relative who is living in fear for his life in some part of Australia.

It is no coincidence that the superstar of yester years and a force to reckon with in Bollywood, the Big B declined to accept the doctorate degree to have been awarded by Brisbane University next month. Surely, no university in Australia would encourage or accept the racism against Indian, Chinese or any other foreign students who are anyway, a big source of income for them. But the not-feel-good factor made Mr. Amitabh Bachchan refuse the honour which has otherwise done him and the country proud.

And that not-feel-good-factor is a cause of concern for these friends who may turn away from Australian wines-hopefully only for a while. Interestingly, most importers don’t like to talk about it as this would hurt their business. They are already reeling under recessionary trends in the hotel industry and any negative actions by the hotels due to the customers refusing to order Australian wines, might affect their business yet again. Aman Dhall, owner of the largest import company, Brindco was forthcoming in his comment, ‘the negative effect, if any will be known in 4-6 weeks but I hope there will be no impact of this unfortunate situation.’ Most importers agree with him and are keeping the fingers crossed.

But with the media beaming over Australia and looking for every bit of news to highlight the problem is no help. This morning, there has been news of Indian tourists now cancelling their planned visits to the country which saw a surge of 11% during the Jan-Mar quarter this year- just like in the case of Australian wines. Travel agents have started issuing advisories to their clients to divert their plans and not visit Australia.

A query was sent by delWine to Peter Linford expressing concern over the happenings and seeking an assurance that something positive was being done by their government. It was diplomatically passed on to the High Commissioner who has not responded so far. Hopefully he is busy, frantically trying to convince his government to take some positive action and soon, and is awaiting some positive steps before coming back to us.

Peter is a wine liberal who concurs that Indians should drink more wine-from any country. Even if it is Indian wine made with the collaborative efforts of Australian expertise. He is sure that with the expanding market, Australia will gain more share in this growth. His department has been working hard on the FTA (Foreign Trade Agreement) with the Indian government. Although the feasibility study has been completed, the negotiations did not begin yet because of the recent general elections. The current atmosphere may not be conducive for the government to begin the talks and it may put it in the back burner for a while, if the situation is not brought under control soon.

One only hopes that the recent attacks are like an unexpected big, bumpy speed-breaker one comes across on the Delhi roads, that wakes up our Municipal Corporation into action and forces them to remove the other nasty ones in town, so that we may have smoother ride. Australia has a lot to offer not only in terms of food and wines, winemaking and viticulture but a lot in the hospitality sector- all of which have a noticeable presence in India.

Subhash Arora     


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