Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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Debbie Abrahams, a labour party British MP, who chairs a parliamentary group on Kashmir, was denied entry to India Monday after her visa got rejected. Abrahams said she was put in a deportee cell and marched onto a return flight. In December, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar cancelled a meeting with the US Congressional delegation, which included US Representative Pramila Jayapal, another critic of the clampdown in Kashmir.

ThePrint asks: UK MP visa row: Modi govt intolerant or must engage with global critics on CAA, Kashmir?

Move to cancel British MP’s visa shows the govt has abandoned all interest in foreign policy

Talmiz Ahamad
Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman & UAE

The Modi government in its second term is driven by a mindless commitment to its ideology. It seems to have abandoned all interest in foreign policy and is entirely committed to fulfilling its Hindutva agenda at home. Its interactions abroad are entirely meant to obtain a modicum of support for its domestic agenda and are not in pursuit of India’s national interest.

The three steps the government has taken — the dilution of Art 370, the initiation of the NPR exercise and the passage of the CAA —are being viewed at home and abroad as an integrated approach to pursue government’s ideological agenda which consists of demonizing the Muslim community in general in order to give shape to a so called collective Hindu identity.

What the government has done is to deliberately internationalise these three matters in order to consolidate its agenda. With regard to Kashmir, it has brought in foreign elements into the state to project an idea of normalcy in a situation where there is no normalcy whatsoever. Anyone who has questioned the government’s pronouncement has been rejected and treated with considerable disdain and even humiliated.

In December, the external affairs minister had refused to meet Congresspersons in the US because one of their members was known to be critical of the Indian government. The humiliating deportation of the British Member of Parliament is the latest in this approach to avoid any discussion with the critics of the government.

Modi’s visa was also rejected. What is wrong with us doing it in our national interest?

Sushant Sareen
Senior fellow, ORF

I think every government must be intolerant towards things that cross the red line for a country’s national interest. We have been tolerating things far too long which challenge our sovereignty. However, it doesn’t mean we should stop engaging with people. We have been engaging with people who aren’t peddling an agenda, who are not with the enemy country, who aren’t’ approaching things from a premeditated mindset. There is a certain kind of ideological predilection that people come from, whether it is Debbie Abrahams or other leaders from the labour party or far-Left democrats in the US.

We have engaged with everybody who has come with an open mind and wanted greater clarifications over issues. Our government has been constantly engaging with such foreign entities and authorities. But how do you talk to a British MP who pretends she is going to lecture around India on how it should handle its own problems? In such a case, it is a perfectly valid thing that the Indian government has done this.

Visa is a sovereign right. If it’s given to someone, it doesn’t mean it is irrevocable. It has been revoked in the past also. If someone is a member of British Parliament that doesn’t mean they will be an exception, especially when the person involved has a prejudice towards India. Even the visa of Indian politicians has been revoked. PM Modi’s visa was also rejected. So, if they can do it, then what is wrong in us doing it in our national interest? 

British MP denied visa is a hostile element. Such people need not be encouraged through engagement

Kanwal Sibal
Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary

The British MP deported from India is associated with local anti-Indian Khalistani and Kashmiri lobbies. Such critics have a political agenda, often linked to the ethnic composition of their electoral constituencies. Given the MP’s political campaign against CAA and Article 370 dilution, hostile elements such as her need not be encouraged through engagement.

Critics of the CAA and Article 370 are not “global” in dimension. Almost all of Asia, the whole of Africa and Latin America, most of the Islamic world have treated these issues as internal to India. Only some traditionally anti-Indian US and European circles have been critical, encouraged by anti-Modi/BJP/RSS critics in India and Indian-origin commentators abroad.

We should shed colonial complexes and not feel answerable to some western opinion-makers whose own countries have inflicted massive human misery abroad through military interventions and regime change policies.

The Indian government, lawmakers, or the media are not campaigning against internal issues in other countries. Our democracy should be respected by western circles in particular. India has engaged in normal diplomacy by explaining the rationale behind the dilution of Article 370 and the amendment to the citizenship law to foreign interlocutors, governments, legislators or think tanks.

India is maintaining the right balance between engagement and repudiation.

Such actions provide a talking point for India’s adversaries to question its democratic credentials

Rajesh Rajagopalan
Professor of International Politics, JNU

Denying entry to a parliamentarian from another democracy, simply because she happened to be critical of Indian policy on some aspect, is rather foolish and self-defeating. This is not the action of a strong and self-assured power, but hints rather of pettiness and a lack of confidence.

A visa is not a right, of course, and even having a visa does not entitle anyone automatic entry into the country. But the issue is not one of whether India had the right to do what it did — which it did — but whether such action serves India’s interest. Even on the issue of interest, it is not that this will do irreparable damage: other countries will treat India on the basis of self-interest and India does have a lot to offer on that count. Even so, such actions increase the cost to India’s foreign policy because it would only fuel the growing unease among India’s friends about the course the country is taking, forcing India to work harder to keep its friends.

Instead of working to expand benefits, Indian diplomats will be working harder to limit damage, a waste of India’s precious foreign policy bandwidth. And it provides a talking point for India’s adversaries to question its policies, but much more importantly, its basic democratic credentials. The costs may be limited but the benefits are non-existent.

Also read: Former J&K CMs under PSA: Modi govt taking shortcuts instead of hard political engagement?

By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint

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  1. We need to distinguish between people who are genuine critics and willing to engage and people who has hardline positions against India. It is well known that in UK there are labor politicians that has large pak origin voter base. The committee that Abraham leads are mostly pak rogue elements. They will never want to engage and need to be identified and called out. When you ignore them they will create theatrics to attract attention.

  2. What is this nonsese about engaging with critics? She is a pak stooge. Keep her out. Just because she is a British MP, Indian Government need not genuflect before her.

  3. Do we need the world more, or does the world need India, the Vishwaguru it cannot do without, an incandescent economy that is surpassing China’s three decade long blitzkrieg ? Our new rules of engagement with the world bring to mind that childhood story of the daydreaming girl who tossed her head in disdain, dropping the pot of milk she was carrying on her head.

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