New Delhi: In his first full-fledged press conference after his sudden elevation as external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar displayed all the signs that the former foreign secretary was now a seasoned politician.
The media interaction was to mark the first 100 days of the second National Democratic Alliance government. Not only did Jaishankar recite a list of India’s diplomatic ‘achievements’, but he also peppered his remarks with praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Press Conference by External Affairs Minister on 100 days of Government https://t.co/L6DP7miZbo
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) September 17, 2019
“[The] Prime Minster is extraordinarily energetic, and we try to emulate him,” he said.
Jaishankar had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, just before he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
He termed the presence of US President Donald Trump at the forthcoming “Howdy, Modi” event with Prime Minister Modi in Houston as an “achievement of the Indian American community”. This was also due to the personal charisma of Modi, contended Jaishankar.
“If Trump is coming for the event, then this shows the respect the community commands there…Of course, the community stands more motivated because someone like Modi is prime minster,” he stated.
The minister was quick to assert that despite Trump attending the event, India’s relationship with the US was bipartisan.
Jaishankar also argued that the two nations’ differences on trade reflected signs of a “substantive relationship”. Describing the relationship as one which is in “very good health”, he asserted that the ties were “90% full”.
The minister, who will also be travelling to the US, said that he felt that there was “growing understanding” about India’s position on the modification of Article 370 to change the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.
He asserted that “most people understand the flow of logic” that Article 370 is a temporary provision, which was dysfunctional and “feeding [a form of] separatism” that had been taken advantage of by Pakistan.
On the statements from US Congressmen criticising the security and communications clampdown in Kashmir, Jaishankar pointed to his own gleanings of how Capitol Hill functioned, indicating that US politicians are responsive primarily to letters and phone calls from their constituents.
However, this may “not necessarily be a function of their knowledge”, he said and added that some may have “transposed from their experience”.
We should be calling for an immediate restoration of communication; respect for human rights, democratic norms, and religious freedom; and de-escalation in Kashmir.
International organizations should be allowed to fully document what is happening on the ground.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 26, 2019
I continue to be deeply concerned about credible reports of a humanitarian crisis in Jammu & Kashmir. Even in complex situations, we look to strong democratic allies like India to uphold basic human rights and due process.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) September 11, 2019
“I expect to be in DC fairly soon and if I were to meet a member of Congress I would ask them – you have confronted terrorism, what was your response? You have confronted separatism, what was your response? What would you do if the laws of your country don’t apply everywhere?” he asked.
To a question on whether foreign media has been fair in its reporting on Kashmir, Jaishankar said, “I have noticed two things… I have very rarely seen a story that brings out [the fact that Article[ 370 is a temporary provision. You need to google and see how many people have reported that… Somewhere that is at the heart of the issue”.
Jaishankar also complained that it has been made out that India “did something on August 5 that terribly complicated a situation”. This assumes, he asserted, that “things were happy and normal before August 5”.
“I don’t want to make this a criticism but my observations as an avid follower of media would be that it would be fair to take some of these facts into account if you are reporting something serious…Do the required diligence and [do] not make sweeping judgement, necessarily based on momentary impression.”
At the same time, Jaishankar said in answer to another question on Kashmir, “there was no need to worry too much about other people’s views as it was an internal matter of India.”
“Beyond a point, don’t worry too much about what people will say on Kashmir. There is a complete predictability about my position. My position has been clear since 1972 and my position is not going to change. At the end of the day, it is my issue. On my issue, my position has prevailed and will prevail,” he said.
Jaishankar reiterated that there was no question of speaking with Pakistan till it denies support to “terrorism” as part of its foreign policy. He also indicated that there would likely be no conversation with Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi when the two attend the SAARC foreign ministers’ gathering on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
In an answer to another query about statements of ministers on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Jaishankar endorsed them and said that India’s position has always been clear about POK and “we expect one day we will have physical jurisdiction over it”.
Recently, Union home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh had stated that India will only talk about POK (and not about the portion India administers of Kashmir) with Pakistan.
He defended India’s U-turn in accepting Pakistan’s supervised conditions on consular access to Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav as necessary to “ascertain his well-being”.
“We wanted to begin the proceedings, however, unsatisfactory they may be. Whether the Pakistanis carried out in letter and spirt what the International Court of Justice wanted them to – the answer is obvious to all of you,” said Jaishankar.
He, however, did not answer a query on whether India had asked for a second consular access to Jadhav.
The minister also ducked when it came to a question on how the process of excluding people from the National Register of Citizens is an “internal matter”, if the aim was to weed out foreigners and deport them.
“NRC is an enumeration of citizens that any country does…NRC exercise is an internal exercise,” Jaishankar replied.
On China, he said that India was looking forward to a second informal summit next month, but did not confirm any dates.
He pointed out that even the recent “face-off” at the border with China demonstrated that the mechanisms put in place by both countries were working as the matter was resolved within a day.
On a query on Hong Kong protests, Jaishankar only commented that since India had investments in the city, it was watching recent developments with “great attention”.
Even on recent aggressive actions by China in South China Sea, Jaishankar remained vague. “We are working there in conjunction with the Vietnamese and the responses are being handled by Vietnamese, as it should be,” he said.
He refused to take a stance on India’s position on the question of allowing Chinese firm Huawei into 5G technology. “People are unnecessarily politicising it…Somehow the impression that it will be a foreign policy choice is not accurately perceiving that issue,” he said.
After Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed that India had not asked for controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to be deported, Jaishankar said that India had put in an extradition request for him since January 2018.
“We want him back and that is what we are working towards,” he added, explicitly rejecting the Malaysian leader’s contention.
Earlier, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had claimed that Zakir Naik’s extradition had been raised by Modi during his meeting with the Malaysian prime minister at Vladivostok.