Washington (USA): Dr S Jaishankar, a diplomat-turned cabinet minister in the NDA government, is one of the most visible Indian politicians in the international circle. In the US, where he has been camping for the past several days in connection with the UN General Assembly session, he had over 50 official engagements. Jaishankar had been interacting with world leaders, diplomats, and trade groups.
On a sunny yet chilly Sunday afternoon on September 25 in Washington, DC, Jaishankar took a break from his busy diplomatic schedule. An adoring crowd from the Indian diaspora had packed the Grand Ballroom of a DC hotel.
In the diaspora, Jaishankar is loved for his confident and eloquent exposition of both PM Modi’s vision for India and India’s cultural and civilizational ethos. They strike a chord with the Desi crowd. His clarity about “India’s interests and stand on complex issues,” according to Rakesh Malhotra, “has helped position India as a global leader.” Malhotra is the president of the Federation of Indian Associations and flew in from Chicago to listen to Jaishankar. Jaishankar’s clear and concise communication about India’s priorities, adds Malhotra, “commands great respect in the diaspora.”
This quality of Jaishankar was on full display during a lively, and no holds barred Q & A session. Taking issue with the coverage of India in the US media, Jaishankar called out American media’s anti-India bias. “You know, there are some newspapers you know, exactly, what they are going to write, including one in this town,” said Jaishankar in an apparent reference to the hometown newspaper of repute – the Washington Post.
On the question of a visible increase in anti-India activities in the US, Jaishankar suggested that anti-India forces are running out of space domestically. “Look, the more India goes its way and the people who believe that they were the custodians and the shapers of India lose ground in India, the more actually, some of these debaters gonna come outside,” said Jaishankar.
Minister implored the diaspora to be vigilant and contest the anti-India narratives. “It is important not to sit back,” said Jaishankar, “so as not to let other people define me. That is something I feel, as a community, is very important for us.”
On the question of the Biden administration’s approval of a $450 million sustenance package to India’s neighbouring Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Jaishankar had said everybody knows where and against whom F-16 fighter jets are used. “You’re not fooling anybody by saying these things [that the package is to fight terrorism].” Jaishankar contended that the US-Pakistan relationship has “not served” either of the two countries.
Reacting to EAM Jaishankar’s comments at the diaspora event, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States had independent relations with India and Pakistan. “The relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own,” Price told a news conference. “We also want to do everything we can to see to it that these neighbors have relations with one another that are as constructive as can be possible.”
The US has a long history of defence partnerships with the Islamic Republic, going back to the Cold War era. The new package comes after former president Donald Trump suspended (in 2018) about $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan over its failure to clamp down terror networks and safe havens.
Regarding India’s dependence on Russian defence equipment and strong defence ties with Moscow, it is not because New Delhi didn’t approach Washington to get those from the US., said Minister Jaishankar.
The event drew a cross-section of diaspora, with many travelling from as far as the West Coast, Texas, Colorado, etc. There was a strong contingent of young scholars and academicians from institutions such as Harvard and Princeton University. “We had invited several second-generation scholars and students,” said Amitabh Mittal of Chicago. Mittal is the president of the US India Friendship Council (USIFC).
The USIFC and the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Students (FIIDS) jointly organized the event.
Avatans Kumar in Washington, DC