Abbott back in India as PM, not backpacker

It’s one of the world’s truly magnificent hotels, with views over the Arabian Sea and the imposing basalt archway built to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s arrival in British India.


Barack Obama, John Lennon, Roger Moore, Mick Jagger and Prince Charles are just a few who have passed through the grand entrance of Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.

But 33 years ago the hotel welcomed a far less glamorous guest through its doors.

A bedraggled Tony Abbott, just 23 years old and weary from three months backpacking on the cheap in India, decided it was time for a bit of luxury.

“I spent a lot of time in third-class compartments in railway carriages,” the prime minister told a business breakfast at the Taj on Thursday.

“I 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.”

Much has changed since he first toured the subcontinent three decades ago.

Mr Abbott is now Australia’s prime minister, and India has evolved into the world’s second-largest nation with an economy rivalled only by China and the United States.

The bullock carts Mr Abbott watched trundling down the streets of Mumbai – today India’s busy financial hub – have faded into history as the nation charged forward.

“(India’s) clearly the emerging democratic superpower of the world and a country with which Australia has long and warm ties,” he said.

Mr Abbott wants to deepen Australia’s trade and business ties with India and its leader Narendra Modi, the country’s pro-business prime minister elevated to power in May.

But before launching into the trade agenda of this two-day visit Mr Abbott paused to remember a darker chapter of India’s history.

He laid a wreath at the Taj to remember the 31 people murdered by terrorists at the hotel during the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The grand hotel was the scene of some of the worst violence during the attacks, with gunmen massacring guests and firing on police from within its grounds.

Mr Abbott wrote a tribute in the hotel’s memorial book to the 164 people who lost their lives, including two Australians – Brett Gilbert Taylor and Doug Markell.