NEW YORK: External affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday that there is “a political effort” to depict the current government in India in a certain way and there is a difference between the political imagery that has been “concocted” and actually the governance record out there.
He was speaking with former US National Security Advisor General HR McMaster in ‘Battlegrounds’ session on ‘India: Opportunities And Challenges For A Strategic Partnership’ presented by the Hoover Institution. The minister hailed the recent LoC ceasefire agreement with Pakistan, while reminding that there are “bigger issues” in ties with India’s western neighbour.
Jaishankar also said that India is going through “a very stressful time” right now because of the pandemic.
‘No politics in NDA govt’s efforts to mitigate Covid-19’
“We are actually giving free food, last year for multiple months and right now again because of the second wave we have resumed, to as much as 800 million people. We put money into the bank accounts of 400 million people.
“This is what this government did. Now, if you are feeding more than two and a half times the population of the United States and you are funding more than the population of the US and you’re doing this pretty much anonymously and impersonally in the sense beyond the name and the detail, the bank account of the person. We’re not asking anything more. There is no criteria of discrimination,” said Jaishankar, also a senior leader of the ruling BJP.
“So I think when you come down to real governance judgments, you find that there is a difference between the political imagery that has been concocted and actually the governance record out there.
“So I think you should take it for what it is, which is really politics at play. You can agree with it, you can disagree with it but I would certainly see that very much as part of a political effort to depict our current government in a certain way and obviously I have a very profound difference with that,” he added.
Defending Modi govt’s secular credentials
“We Indians are extremely confident about our democracy… India is a deeply pluralistic society,” the minister said.
Jaishankar was responding to a question by McMaster on some “Hindutva policies” that could undermine the secular nature of Indian democracy, how he sees internal Indian politics evolving during the trauma of the pandemic and are India’s friends “right to be concerned about some of these recent trends.”
Jaishankar said he would respond to the question with a straight political answer and a slightly more nuanced societal answer.
“The political answer is that in the past there was a great reliance on what’s called vote bank politics, which is appealing to vote banks on the basis of their identity, or their beliefs or whatever it is. And the fact that we have departed from it has obviously been a difference,” he said.
He stressed that India is a country of many faiths and faiths everywhere in the world are very closely tied to culture and identity.
“I think what you are seeing in India, in many ways, is the deepening of democracy, if you would call it, a much broader representation in politics and in leadership positions and in civil society of people. Of people who are much more confident about their culture, about their language, about their beliefs.
Jaishankar added that the larger societal explanation he would give is that India is diverse in every conceivable sense of the term – ethnicity, language. “You name a parameter and you know it’s a broad spectrum sort of representation out there.”
On Pakistan-sponsored terrorism & infiltration
Noting that the recent agreement between India and Pakistan on LoC ceasefire is a “good step”, Jaishankar said that there are “obviously bigger issues” between the neighbouring countries.
“So, the basis for not firing is very clear because the reason for firing is infiltration so if there is no infiltration there’s obviously no reason to fire. That’s a good step. But I think there are obviously bigger issues.”
Talking about terrorism, Jaishankar said, “You’re very familiar with is the terrorism ecosystem that exists in Pakistan, in particular, and the danger that that poses to India.
“On our side there has been clarity of thinking, and the clarity of thinking is that we cannot accept terrorism, or we cannot accept that it is in any way legitimate as diplomacy or as any other aspect of statecraft. So let us see, you know where this progresses. Obviously everybody hopes for the best,” the minister added.