We have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval,” said Dr S Jaishankar lampooning a few western organisations who pass ‘verdict’ on Indian situations and domestic matters.
A mountain out of a molehill is a small thing. It’s rather a case of much ado about nothing and much ado about Sickularism and the intellectualism associated with it.
“We will liberate ourselves from a colonial mindset,” Dr S Jaishankar, Indian External Affairs Minister, has said.
This has provoked the Modi detractors. They are also the self-styled champions of intellectualism in India and would find virtues in everything associated with the ‘political palace/dynasty’ in India. Some reasons are obvious – do they, the ‘Congress-Liberal jugad culture?
They would therefore romanticise and call some of old follies and blunder as parts of the so-called Nehruvian legacy. In most cases, the ‘Nehruvian legacy’ seeks to lampoon India’s own tradition and culture.
Hence, they imply that by his remarks, Dr Jaishankar has committed a blasphemy by telling the UN that even after 75 years of independence India remains colonial and needs to be liberated. And now what bothers them — the remarks in effect “throws in the dustbin” India’s proud record of leading de-colonisation in the 1950s and 1960s.
Was the foreign policy really decolonised by a leader who benefited from colonial structures is another point of debate?
For a long time, Jaishankar has been ‘displeasing’ this sickularism club. They were upset that a capable man like Dr Jaishankar should be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trusted cabinet colleague, and that too – holding the prized portfolio of foreign affairs. Do they remember someone called S M Krishna who even read out Portugal foreign minister’s speech?
The articulate TV anchors (of today/yesterday grade) and website interviews (of mutual admiration club grades) might think of another interview with ‘pappu’ of Indian politics. One smart editor had even asked prince’s mom – what did she cook for the ‘laadla’.
In fact, since 2019 itself within months of joining the cabinet and within weeks India abrogated Article 370, this school of thought and ‘wisdom’ (sic) were very much uncomfortable with Dr Jaishankar.
That he jelled so well with the Hindutva principles of BJP and an assertive Prime Minister called Modi could never suit their analogy.
Hence, they do not miss to point out that India (following Nehruvian policies) earned “high-praise” from leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere.
In 2019 – during his first trip to the US as India’s foreign minister, Dr Jaishankar told an Atlantic Council gathering in Washington – “I would call a Goldilocks era of our relationship which is the West didn’t want India to get too weak, it didn’t want India to get too strong. So, it stirred the Indian porridge or tried to stir the Indian porridge just right and sometimes got it, say there were margins of error on either side”.
“So, you actually have a very interesting sort of situation where when India in 1962 after the conflict where we were defeated, actually the West comes to the assistance of India. But in less than a decade in 1971 ……. the West opposes India, so there’s a sort of bandwidth in which the relationship operates”.
This is candid talk. Prior to him, many foreign ministers would know of this but, importantly, not many would speak it out so candidly.
Dr Jaishankar has been candid about the misnomer around the efficacy of the so-called Nehruvian legacy in foreign policy, too.
He had said — “Krishna Menon is known for giving the world’s longest speech at the UN. I assure you I can say the same in six minutes”. (Lok Sabha speech, April 2022).
Dr Jaishankar made a veiled attack on the Nehruvian school of intellectualism and self-congratulating mutual admiration clubs.
“My point is today we should be less concerned in foreign policy about giving Gyan to the world. We should play our roles. We should make our contribution. We should look at our national interest”.
These India’s ‘interests’ have hardly bothered the intellectuals who would woo the western media houses for a certificate of honour.
Thus, certainly these remarks did not go very well with the anti-Modi club of wisemen and women. There are a few other instances wherein Jaishankar displays his oratory skill, albeit in his characteristic mild manner and yet being assertive about India’s growing stature.
Sample these — as assertive ‘New India’s assertions.
* — “For multiple decades, the western countries did not supply weapons to India and in fact saw a military dictatorship next to us as a preferred partner”.
(This was on Pakistan – another self-created ‘soft corner’ of candlelight clubs.)
** – “A connection is being made (between India voting on Russia-Ukraine conflict and China invading Taiwan) in order to influence us…. Our boundary disputes with China actually started in the 1950s. We are not oblivious to our interests. On the contrary, our interests required us to take the position (India took in abstaining). I will be driven on this by my interests, my experience and my thinking. And I will not allow other people’s mind games…”
*** – “India is one of those very rare societies where Jews never had to face persecution… this is something which if you go to Israel, they will tell you”.
** — “When we speak about democracy, is democracy actually an exercise of expression of opinion or is that actually in the name of political correctness opinions which are not liked are oppressed. Look at media, there are some newspapers you know exactly what they are going to write…including one in this town” – (in reference to The Washington Post)
*** – “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems”.
During the last eight years, Modi has pushed India’s global influence both on strategic matters and also on the soft power front.
In 2015, Modi staged a huge publicity coup on the global stage. The International Day of Yoga started from that year and the move was recognized by the UN unanimously.
In circa 2021, the essence of Diwali seems to have changed.
It assumed almost a global respectability, if not acceptability.
Indeed, it will be pertinent to maintain here that the acceptance of India’s Soft Power tools would have greater say provided the political leadership in India learn to behave more responsibly.
Acceptance of Diwali in the west or in the Middle East now makes it mandatory to ensure that Christians and Muslims should not feel aggrieved in India.
In 2019 again, Dr Jaishankar had said – “…. the West needs India, it needs India because India is an additional engine of growth that market access is important, that India’s human resources will become more relevant to the world, that we will move to a multipolar world”.
On Oct 11, 2022 at Sydney, Dr Jaishankar again echoed India’s national willpower for ensuring a coveted berth in the reforms UN when he said – “We completely understand that this is not something which is going to be done easily…but it’s something which has to be done. Otherwise, we will end up frankly, with an increasingly irrelevant United Nations”.
At this pace, if they do not shun the inherent negativism, some of these Indian intellectuals and experts will also become “increasingly irrelevant”.
To Indian voters, some parties like the CPI-M are already irrelevant. So would be even a pan-India party like the Congress which rejoices in calling the majority of Indians ‘bigots’ just because they manage to muster so-called trends on social media and a few favourable over repeated articles in some of these English media and websites.