Mumbai: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who started his India visit from Mumbai where he arrived early Thursday, paid homage to the 26/11 terror attack victims, addressed business leaders, launched Australian Government's New Colombo Plan in India, and attended felicitation ceremony of young cricketers by Oz cricket greats Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee at Cricket Club of India.
India's cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar also attended the ceremony.
Tony Abbott is expected to sign the agreement to sell uranium to India when he meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi tomorrow. He is also scheduled to hold talks with President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday.
A clutch of pacts in areas including mining, finance and education could be signed. After being accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the morning, Abbott will lay wreaths at Rajghat and India Gate before meeting Prime Minister Modi at Hyderabad House.
`India an emerging democratic superpower`
On the first day of his two-day India visit from the commercial capital, Abbott said he looks forward to making the most of the abundant opportunities for business in the country.
Describing India as an "emerging democratic superpower", Abbott said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call "come, make in India" was "close in spirit and in intent" to the phrase he had used in respect of Australia that "we are open for business".
".....This is a country which has amazed the world over the last few decades with its growth and its development, the world's second most populous country; on purchasing power terms, the world's third largest economy, clearly, the emerging democratic superpower of the world and a country with which Australia has long and warm ties.”
"The purpose of this trip, as far as I am concerned, is to acknowledge the importance of India in the wider world, acknowledge the importance of India to Australia's future, to let the government and the people of India know what Australia has to offer India and the wider world for our part, and to build on those stronger foundations," he said, addressing a 30-member business delegation accompanying him on the trip at Hotel Taj Palace.
Abbott also noted how India has changed "enormously" since his last visit 33 years ago as a backpacker.
"I can remember on my first day in Mumbai watching a bullock cart take material to a nuclear power station...Well, 33 years on, there aren't that many bullock carts left in urban India, and the power stations - the nuclear power stations - are more sophisticated than ever," he said. Notably, he is expected to sign a civil nuclear deal with India, efforts for which have been underway since 2012 after Labor party reversed its decision to ban the sale of uranium to India because of New Delhi not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who is travelling with Abbott, said Canberra was now happy with India`s precautions to ensure Australian uranium exports would be used only for peaceful purposes.
Abbott, who had visited Taj Hotel, India's icon of hospitality, during his three-month trip in 1981, and had lunch there, described it as one of the truly magnificent hotels in the world.
"Back in 1981 I spent three months as a backpacker roaming around India, this mysterious, fascinating, enthralling sub-continent, this world in one country, and I spent a lot of time in third-class compartments of railway carriages, I'd spent a lot of time in two rupee a night hotels and I thought, I'm going to have to treat myself.”
"So, I came here to the Taj Hotel and I had the best lunch this hotel could provide and I'm sure that the breakfast we're about to enjoy will be no less splendid than the lunch I had here 33 years ago," he told the delegates, fondly reminiscing about his visit.
Abbott said though there is no dearth of opportunities elsewhere in the vicinity of Australia, there is "an abundance of opportunities" in India.
"I am determined to make the most of them, I know all of you are determined to make the most of them and I look forward to working very closely with you and with our Indian interlocutors over the next two days," he told the delegation.
'New Colombo Plan'
Pushing for his government's initiative to create greater awareness among students of Australia about the Indo-Pacific region, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will ensure "hundreds and thousands" of students from his country study in Indian universities from next year.
"Presently there are thousands of Indian students studying in Australian universities, but there are very few Australian students here. This will change now. Australian students will now come here to study. From next year onwards, there will be hundreds and thousands of Australian students studying in India," Abbott said.
Addressing a gathering of Chancellors of various Australian universities and Vice Chancellors of some of the top Indian universities at the launch of his government's 'New Colombo Plan' in India, Abbott said.
The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian government which aims at enhancing the knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting undergraduates from that country to study and undertake internships in the region.
He said the Australian government, by starting the New Colombo Plan, now wants to "return the compliment" to India for sending thousands of students to study in Australian universities under the Colombo plan launched in 1950.
Colombo plan is a collective inter-governmental effort to strengthen economic and social development of member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The primary focus of all Colombo Plan activities is on human resource development.
Though formally the organisation was born out of a Commonwealth Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Sri Lankan capital Colombo in January 1950 with only seven countries, including India and Australia, it has now transformed into a truly international initiative with 27 member nations with inclusion of non-Commonwealth countries.
"In 1950, when the Colombo plan was launched, about 14,000 Indian students came to Australia for studies. We now want to return the favour to India and send some of our best students to study here," Abbott said.
"We have much to offer to India and India has much to offer to Australia, so much we can learn from each other," he added.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was exchanged by the heads of various Australian and Indian universities to felicitate the entry of Australian undergraduates into Indian universities under the New Colombo plan.
The Chancellors of several Australian universities, including those at Sydney, Queensland, Melbourne and Western Sydney, attended the event at the Mumbai University along with their counterparts from Delhi University, University of Calcutta and University of Mysore.
(With PTI inputs)