S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs, has said 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 the actual governance record out there.
During a conversation 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, Mr Jaishankar on Wednesday also said that India is going through a very stressful time right now because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Mr Jaishankar said.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“We Indians are extremely confident about our democracy; India is a deeply pluralistic society,” the minister said.
Mr Jaishankar was responding to a question by Gen McMaster on some alleged “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.”
Mr 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.
“Now in our society, we define secularism as equal respect for all faiths. Secularism doesn’t mean that you are in denial of your own faith or anybody else’s faith for that matter,” he said.
“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.”
“I would be very open about it. I mean these are people who perhaps are less, shall I say, less from the English-speaking world, less connected to other global centers. So there is a difference. And I think sometimes that difference is judged politically harshly and it is often used to create a certain narrative, he said.
Mr 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.”
Mr Jaishankar, who arrived in New York on Sunday and met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, travelled to Washington on Wednesday where he is expected to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It is the first visit by a senior Indian minister to the US after President Joe Biden assumed office in January.