The Foreign Minister Protests Too Much

S. Jaishankar’s criticisms against Rahul Gandhi only serve to shine an unflattering light on how his government has recklessly lowered the bar for foreign interference in domestic matters.

In the petulant and pedantic style that he has adopted as a politician, S. Jaishankar recently complained about Rahul Gandhi criticising the BJP’s misgovernance in the United States. In an interaction at Delhi University’s Aryabhatta College, he stated, “If you say that India has problems and great concerns and the world must do something about it, this has big implications and that is not good for the country.”

Sadly, the learned Indian foreign minister seems to have forgotten not just what he studied at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, but also what he practiced as a professional diplomat. Among the very few rules that govern state-to-state relations is the principle of “reciprocity”. This governs everything from the establishment of diplomatic relations to the governance of international trade, and is probably most visible when governments fight by expelling diplomats from a country that has expelled theirs.

Reciprocity itself is based on the concept of sovereignty – what Jaishankar is ponderously defending in this case – that each country, no matter its size or resources, has the power to govern itself free from the wilful interference by other states. But Jaishankar’s boss, possibly because it was not a part of his course in Entire Political Science, and Jaishankar himself, have both dramatically lowered the threshold for interference in domestic politics.

When Narendra Modi said, “Ab ki baar, Trump Sarkar,” in 2019 at the Howdy Modi event organised as part of Trump’s re-election campaign, he was knowingly interfering in another country’s elections. When Jaishankar raised issues with the UK about violence in Leicester last year, he was inserting himself in the domestic affairs of another country. And just this year, when Modi asked the Australian PM, Anthony Albanese to take “strict action” against those responsible for graffiti against Hindu temples in Australia, he lowered the threshold even further.

We take hypocrisy for granted from politicians, and even accept misinformation. For example, despite Jaishankar’s insinuations, there is no evidence anywhere that Rahul Gandhi has asked “the world” to deal with the BJP’s misgovernance. But in trying to highlight an alleged wrongdoing – one that did not happen – Jaishankar is highlighting the reckless behaviour that he and his boss have indulged in.

By the principle of reciprocity, Modi and Jaishankar have opened India up to a slew of accusations. If Modi can ask Australia to safeguard Hindu temples, what stops the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation from asking India to safeguard mosques? If the MEA can ask about the Leicester violence, what stops the UK Foreign Office or the US State Department from asking about the sham case against Sudha Bharadwaj and the even more pathetic cases filed against Muslim activists in the 2020 violence, which were most likely engineered by pro-government organisations?

The honest truth is that Modi is too caught up in his own ego to care, and professional diplomats-turned-politicians like Jaishankar and Hardeep Puri are too self-serving and too pusillanimous to remember the vows they took to serve the national interest. They are willing accomplices in the vanity project that is the Modi sarkar, and little more, rushing to touch up the paint job on a train wreck that everybody can easily see as such.

A last note, there is one area in international relations that is not governed by reciprocity, and that is the Geneva Conventions. Under them, “collective punishment of a group of persons for a crime committed by an individual is also forbidden, whether in the case of prisoners of war or of any other individuals”. India is a global leader in internet bans, measures it often uses in a punitive manner. This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court, in its judgment on Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, had declared that, “the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet is constitutionally protected”.

If the foreign minister actually remembered his subject matter of study, or his practice as a diplomat, he would know that it is totally unnecessary for an opposition politician to raise these issues abroad. The BJP’s misgovernance has already opened the doors far and wide for any country to legitimately, under well-established law, to interfere in our domestic affairs.

Omair Ahmad is an author and journalist.