S. Jaishankar in New York
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar addresses a meeting in New York | PTI photo
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External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s cancellation of a meeting last week with the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives continues to make waves, with Pete Buttigieg becoming the third US Democratic presidential contender – after Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – saying he is concerned about “political detentions, communications blackouts and other steps being taken by the (Modi) government that could threaten (India’s) long standing democratic traditions.”

Jaishankar cancelled the meeting with Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who introduced a House resolution that severely criticised India removing Jammu and Kashmir’s special status through Article 370. He told reporters in Washington DC that he had “no interest” in meeting people who had already “made up their minds.”

Clearly, Jaishankar feels justified in refusing to engage with someone who disagrees with him. Jayapal was reportedly gate-crashing a meeting he had asked for and she was not on the agreed list. When Jaishankar found she was coming, he called off the meeting.

The foreign minister’s action is of apiece with the Narendra Modi government’s – and indeed, Donald Trump administration’s – policies. Either you are with me or against me. If you’re with me, fine, let’s chat. If you’re not, don’t call me, I’ll call you.


Also read: ‘Win over those who disagree’ — Jaishankar rebuff to Pramila Jayapal evokes mixed response


Going with Modi’s playbook

No one need be surprised by Jaishankar’s assertiveness. He had pointed in this direction at the Ramnath Goenka lecture last month. In response to a question on international criticism on Kashmir, he said, “My reputation is not decided by a newspaper in New York.”

In fact, India’s ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, was forced to reach out to The New York Times in September to explain India’s position on Kashmir – mere weeks after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote an article on Kashmir.

Certainly, Jaishankar is taking a leaf out of Modi’s book by being dismissive of critical media – and why not, he’s part of the PM’s inner circle. Remember, Modi has held only one press conference since he came to power five years ago, preferring to give one-on-one interviews instead.

Jaishankar also believes, rightly, that the noisy Democrats who control the House of Representatives cannot make much difference to the India-US relationship as long as Republican President Donald Trump is in power – he is likely betting that Trump will be elected president again in 2020.

Now, this is all very well when the going is good – when the economy is doing well, when people are largely satisfied with Modi government’s leadership and when the certainty of power is, well, certain.


Also read: Jaishankar’s foreign policy audit sits uneasy with his reading of current global situation


Listening to the critics

Both India and the US are sharply polarised societies today, around Modi and Trump, respectively. But even Modi couldn’t have dreamt, as he won 303 seats this May in the Lok Sabha election, that he would lose state after state – Jharkhand is the fifth in the last one year – and that despite regional parties voting in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, several like Bihar’s Janata Dal (United) and Punjab’s Akali Dal are now turning tail.

What if 2020 sees a presidential upset in America? Will Jaishankar’s refusal to engage with America’s Democrats today upset the bipartisan nature of the Indo-US relationship?

Jaishankar will argue that his job is not to foretell the future. That he has to push India’s interests today and not one year from now. But that is a limited argument, best suited to him when he was foreign secretary, and certainly one he shouldn’t make now as Foreign Minister.

As the representative of the world’s largest democracy, it wouldn’t have hurt to hear a critic, even one of Indian origin. It might be useful to remember that Democrat members of the US Congress, while much more sensitive to human rights issues in Kashmir and elsewhere, have contributed as much to the pursuit of the India-US relationship as their Republican counterparts.

In 2005, then Senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar co-sponsored the Naval Vessels Transfer Act that led to India’s acquisition of the first US-built warship – Biden is now the leading Democrat presidential contender. And in 2008, when the US Congress passed the Indo-US nuclear agreement, none other than Democrat Eliot Engel and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led the way.

As the head of the House foreign affairs committee, it is the same Eliot Engel who last week allowed Pramila Jayapal into the meeting with Jaishankar that never took place.

Some say Engel knew she was coming, some say he didn’t. Whatever the truth, fact is that Indian diplomats and political leaders have not been able to convince or effectively project their point of view or worse, failed to listen to critical voices, at least in one part of the US Congress.


Also read: China war, Simla pact, 26/11 — Jaishankar critiques India’s foreign policy until Modi


Safe, for now

Perhaps, India remains smug about the fact that Modi isn’t that different from most of the world’s strong leaders – Trump, Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro (chief guest for Republic Day 2020), Boris Johnson, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Xi Jinping or Mohammed bin Salman, take your pick.

At the UN Security Council discussion, also last week, China was forced to postpone a discussion on Kashmir, when the other permanent members were shown the mirror – certainly, none of those nations, especially Trump’s America, can be described as picture postcard-worthy especially on citizenship issues and treating illegal immigrants with respect.


Also read: What IFS Jaishankar’s speeches reveal about Minister Jaishankar’s roadmap for India


So, for the time being, Modi and Jaishankar seem safe. Global opprobrium either on Kashmir or CAA or NRC, it appears, remains unlikely.

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24 Comments Share Your Views

24 COMMENTS

  1. They are safe because lifelong democrats like me and others in the Indian American diaspora will be switching party affiliation to GOP. For sure not voting for the 3 clowns mentioned in the article. Not a personal fan of Trump per se but idiots like Jaypal will make sure that we vote Republican. As it is it’s clear the Democrats do not care for the legal immigrants.

  2. If these Indian Americans are so concerned about India, let them renounce their US citizenship , become Indian citizens and stand in the election, win and lead the country. It is damn easy to pass comments for publicity.

    • They are torn between two – India and US – for personal gain. None of them have interest of any one of the countries. Only personal. That is the real hypocrisy.

  3. When you are close to the tree, you do fail to differentiate a tree from a forest.. They may think they got credit but it is all polite diplomatic response/feedback. No respect et al in diplomacy.

  4. The print fails miserably in putting forward it’s propaganda to mislead people by citing future discourse.
    Will The Print advise Indians how previous Congress govt. helped India by their actions and strategies.
    India during their tenure was being considered as a weak Nation with whom anyone can pressurized or negotiate on their term, but now with present Modi govt. the situation us totally reverse.

  5. This nonsense of “Global Censure” needs to be seen in perspective. India is not a weak and downtrodden country as it was after the aftermath of independence. We are a regional power and the fourth-largest economy in the world. The world is counting on our economic growth to fight recession.
    This should put some spine in us. Learn from China. It gives two hoots about “global censure”.

    • Rajdeep – the last big transformative change was during PVN Rao. Some people seem to suggest that it is only in the last 6 years things have gone downhill. No one is giving points to this BJP government for its dull-headed responses, but this has been a consistent pattern since UPA II came into power. As far as China is concerned, it may be siting on a pile of cash, but that cash will have no value when potential lucrative investment destinations decide to go slow. This is a faced paced movie; much will be unravelled in the coming decade.

    • A few articles back some of the prolific commentators on this website were also suggesting that those Indians who have taken up citizenship and sworn allegiance to the Queen OR the constitution of the US should mind their own business as they have no stake in Indian politics any more. How does P. Jayapal qualify on that parameter? Or do these prolific commentators believe in “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.”

  6. The author ignores Rep. Jayapal’s intention to rake up India-bashing as a domestic campaign strategy to overcome her unpopularity.

    There’s no reason why India’s MEA has to to play foil to her talking points.

    The liberal anti-capitalists in the US have a big problem. They can only rake up identity politics to gain traction from the far-left; not realizing that they come across as hindu-phobic.

  7. One statement one cannot endorse : Foreign policy is for today, not one year hence. I think both FS and EAM – sometimes we get two for the price of one – should actually be looking fifty years ahead, and set objectives and goalposts accordingly. Even if they are navigating the future in smaller instalments of time, coterminous with administrations at home and abroad. 2. As for meeting with Representative Pramila Jayapal, invited by Chairman Engel, there was no need to see red. In fact, Mr Engel called off the meeting when the Indian side asked that she be excluded.

  8. Jayshankar was sent to deploy his honed diplomatic skills to advance the Indian interest — which is to turn-around the negative in those in the US Congress who do NOT have ‘open minds’. Hmmm.
    But, as Minister, if Jayshankar had met Jaypal, he would have been the target of political criticism when he came back, given the circumstances. What External Affairs Minister Jayshankar could perhaps have done was to invite Jaypal, separately . “My apologies for being unable to juggle my time-table. May I invite you to my favourite restaurant in DC serving the best Uttappams outside Chennai ? “. If she accepted, Jaypal would have been at the table in the company of a virulent, anti-democrat Republican, “who I just met, by accident, as I came out of my hotel”. If she demurred, it is jaypal who would have been in a fix. If Jaypal gate-crashed anyway, he could have said (in Tamil, perhaps?): Oh! You have deprived me of Uttapams! And then gone on to demolish her right in front of all the others.

    Oops! Am I attempting to suggest footwork to a consumate exponent of diplomatic Kathak?

    • 🙂 you are suggesting that the old dog should learn new tricks, while the “consummate exponent” knows well it is not worth it because one cannot win them all. Plus, these countries have their own mess to clear before they can become beacons of morality. The list of violations is long and Jaypal would do herself a favour by looking inwards. Perhaps she can start with educating herself with the history of her adopted country, which includes the massacre of unarmed protestors in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

  9. The author is wrong. Pete Buttigieg is the fourth, NOT THIRD, Democrat who criticised Jaishankar’s refusal to talk to Pramila Jayapal. The third Democrat after Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren was Senator Kamala Harris, who has said that “It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,”

    Congressman Jim McGovern, also a Democrat, said “no foreign government should dictate who is or isn’t allowed into meetings on Capitol Hill.” He also “applauded” Congressman Engel for not succumbing to the Indian pressure.

    • You are a sovereign state that also takes dictation! India stopped, against its wishes, to import oil from Iran, under the threat of sanctions from the US. THUS iNDIA STOPPED IMPORTING OIL FROM iRAN LAST MAY, AND HAD TO LOOK FOR OTHER SOURCES, not so cheap.

  10. A simple answer to you “ What if 2020 sees a presidential upset in America? Will Jaishankar’s refusal to engage with America’s Democrats today upset the bipartisan nature of the Indo-US relationship?” is a BIG NO.

    It is amazing that a journalist of your experience, who perhaps has witnessed so many ups and downs, starting Nixon-Kissinger-Indira, think that it is important to acquiesce to every whim and fancy of West policy makers and media. Grow up!!!

        • JAI HIND! I wish life were so simple.

          Is it so difficult to understand that India lives in the real world? That India is not China that has economic and military power to resist the US, and that India doesn’t have that power? That these endless discussions of Modi and Shah will damage India as a destination for foreign investments which India badly needs to find working for its millions of young people? That this exercise will damage the interest of Indian engineers and technicians working abroad? That maybe the next time there will be no Nadella and Pichai because Indians will be seem through the filter of mistrust?

          Think again. Jai Hind again! And I hope soon you will be saying Jai Bharat as Hind smells of Hindustani ;).

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