New Delhi: Union External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s refusal to meet US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has evoked mixed response from political and diplomatic circles in India and abroad, with some calling it “intolerance” while others supporting his “strong” stance.
Jaishankar was scheduled to meet US lawmakers earlier this week, on the sidelines of the recently concluded India-US 2+2 dialogue in Washington. He, however, cancelled his meeting after the American lawmakers refused to exclude from their delegation Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had introduced a resolution urging India to lift restrictions in Kashmir.
Congress leader and former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “This is totally unworthy of a great democracy like India. I can’t believe @DrSJaishankar with all his diplomatic experience would refuse to engage with a critic; whether you agree with him or not, he is able to debate anybody!”
“This intolerance of dissent is a BJP political failing,” Tharoor said.
This is totally unworthy of a great democracy like India. I can’t believe @DrSJaishankar with all his diplomatic experience would refuse to engage with a critic; whether you agree with him or not, he is able to debate anybody!This intolerance of dissent is a BJP political failing https://t.co/jkACJH9kJZ
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 20, 2019
The meeting was supposed to take place between the Indian delegation, led by Jaishankar, and US lawmakers comprising chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot L. Engel, the committee’s top Republican, Michael McCaul (Tex.), and Jayapal among others.
According to a report in The Washington Post, Jaishankar cancelled the meeting when Engel refused to exclude Japayal from the committee. She has been “sponsoring a resolution urging the Indian government to lift restrictions, restore communication and preserve religious freedom in Jammu and Kashmir”, the report states.
Diplomat and strategic affairs expert K.C. Singh also disapproved of the foreign minister’s decision. “Dear Jaishankar you are a politician now. You’ve to engage & win over those who disagree with you. That’s called being a minister & statesman & not FS/bureaucrat,” he tweeted.
Dear Jaishankar you are a politician now. You’ve to engage & win over those who disagree with you. That’s called being a minister & statesman & not FS/bureaucrat. https://t.co/haiclvFZWH
— K. C. Singh (@ambkcsingh) December 20, 2019
‘Jaishankar did the right thing’
Career diplomat Jaishankar retired as the foreign secretary in January 2018 and was appointed as the external affairs minister in May this year when the Narendra Modi government came to power for the second time. He has also served as India’s Ambassador to the US and China, among others.
Supporting Jaishankar’s action, Amarendra Khautua, former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “He did the right thing by not meeting her. Jayapal is educated and talented but she forgets that she is representing a diaspora and she has never understood our viewpoint on many issues.”
“Jayapal is a peripheral politician and plays factional politics. There is no need to meet her,” Khatua said.
Jaishankar has also defended his move, saying he has “no interest in meeting her” since her draft resolution is not a “fair understanding” or “fair characterisation” on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
EAM S Jaishankar on reports that India cancelled meeting with US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal over her report on Kashmir: Don't think it(report) is fair understanding of situation in J&K or fair characterization of what Govt of India is doing. I have no interest in meeting her. pic.twitter.com/EkWFZcR1nr
— ANI (@ANI) December 20, 2019
A former Indian Ambassador to the US told ThePrint, “What he did can be seen in both ways. One can either say he refused to engage and behaved in an intolerant manner, while it can also be said he took a strong stand that would stun the US Congress, which is not really a bipartisan body anymore.”
Jayapal, however, called it “deeply disturbing” and said it further shows how the Indian government is not “willing to listen to any dissent at all”.
The cancellation of this meeting was deeply disturbing.
It only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all. https://t.co/EMeqIr05VJ
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) December 19, 2019
Meanwhile, international commentators and specialists on the India-US bilateral ties expressed bafflement at the entire issue. MIT Professor Vipin Narang tweeted saying it may become difficult for India to maintain a cordial relationship with the US if the Democrats come to power.
“She is a member of the US Congress. Whatever their issue with her, this seems like a very bold move by Jaishankar and the GoI. Huge bet on Trump and the Republicans in 2020, because if the Dems win, they won’t soon forget this,” Narang said in a tweet.
Peter Lavoy, a former US government official and now an international government relations adviser at ExxonMobil, also expressed surprise at Jaishankar’s move. He tweeted, “Very surprised that @DrSJaishankar did this. He usually is resilient to this kind of engagement and criticism.”
— peter lavoy (@peter_lavoy) December 19, 2019