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Building Indian Narrative Over the Western View– S Jaishankar’s Style

India’s interests in foreign policy

Ever since the Modi government came to power back in 2014, the feeling that India has been increasing its gravitas among the comity of nations is felt by common people as well. One of our previous articles From ‘Restraint’ to ‘Right to Self-Defense’: How the Language of Diplomacy Has Changed in Favour of India has explained this trend at length. We have also explained how India has come out of bipolar geopolitics.

Post-2019, Modi government decided to bring in S Jaishankar, former foreign secretary as the new External Affairs Minister of India. With his induction, perhaps what India has seen in the past 6 months is the best articulation of India’s foreign policy approach. Mr. Jaishankar speaks in a language that can be understood by even those who are not familiar with the jargons of diplomacy and political science.

Here are some statements made by India’s External Affairs Minister that not only articulated India’s clear position in global scheme of things but also made international affairs interesting to the domestic audience.

On Nationalism: ‘Don’t Apply Your Concepts to Us’

In an interview given to the French daily Le Monde, India’s External Affairs Minister was asked about ‘nationalism’ and the possibility of it causing tension with Muslim community. This is how the Minister responded:

“Each country has a different understanding of nationalism, a different history. In the United States, it has an isolationist connotation. In Asia, at least in India, nationalism is a positive word. Nationalists have stood up against colonization, against the domination of the West. There is much to be done with the restoration of identity, of cultural trust. So yes, there is a sense of nationalism in our country. In India, a good nationalist is an internationalist, it is not contradictory. The problem is that you apply your concepts to us.

“There are few places in the world where you will see so many people with so many beliefs co-existing. There is a different understanding and appreciation of diversity in Europe. You tend to see us through your prism, you attribute to us a behaviour that you practice yourself. But we are not you!

Its My Ambition, Not Others’ Equations

The German weekly Der Spiegel asked this question: Many in the West see India as a counterweight to China’s influence in Asia. How does India see itself?

The answer came from the Minister may not only asserts India’s foreign policy at this juncture but also could be a philosophy of life itself.

“I find the idea of being someone else’s pawn in some “Great Game” terribly condescending. I certainly don’t plan to play the counterweight to other people. I’m in it because of my own ambitions.”

We Define Ourselves

In the recent Raisina Dialogues, S Jaishankar said something that may work as a piece of advice to those who are overly concerned about what the international press is saying on India.

“The question is whether we define ourselves or let others to do that. I firmly believe in the first.”

Even in an interaction with The Indian Express in November 2019, responding on a question over criticism of the government’s move by foreign press he said:

“My reputation is not decided by a newspaper in New York.”

To a question from Le Monde newspaper on how India will deal with America under the policy changes of Donald Trump administration, the answer came from a place of confidence.

“Europe is anchored in an alliance system. The changes that occurred in the United States had an impact on the alliance system – not only on Europe, but also on Japan. We have never been in an alliance arrangement. We are used to dealing with international relations on our own. Our mindset allows us to better deal with unpredictability. These changes are not only in the United States, there are also many changes in Asia, the emergence of China, India, ASEAN.”

Disruption vs Stabilisation

In the age of start up and innovations the word ‘disruption’ has been in use in a positive way. But it may not be a good idea to cling to that word in every discussion. India’s external affairs minister stood apart by offering a different interpretation in the foreign affairs context at the ‘Raisina Dialogue’ on January 15, 2020:

“I think it is not India’s way to be a disruptionist power internationally, I think we should be a stablising power. There are already enough forces of disruption in the world. Somebody needs to make up a bit.”

Of Varied Tunes & Orchestra – India’s Interests defined

In September 2019, in an interaction with an American think tank, answering a question on India and America’s strategic convergence on China, the External Affairs Minister defined the Indian interests and a pragmatic world view.

“My sense is big countries, perhaps more than big countries, maybe all countries today won’t have common score sheets. I think everybody would have their own lyrics and their own Tunes but there would be notes that they would strike together and occasionally it would be cacophonic and sometimes seem like an orchestra. I think we are we are moving to a world of convergences but a lot of it would be situational, a lot of it would be issue-based, a lot of it would be regional. I mean we may agree in Pacific but we may not agree in the Gulf.”

On Pakistan: Not a Noise, But a Bigger Picture

For the West, India’s problem with Pakistan is only concerned with Kashmir. It is interesting to see how S Jaishankar dismissed this notion and made them to realise bigger picture which India doesn’t want to be fooled on.

“The issue between India and Pakistan, I mean, it’s not like we agree on everything else and we have wonderful relationship and there’s a Kashmir issue. You know we had an attack on Mumbai City – the last time I checked Mumbai city was not part of Kashmir. So Pakistani terrorists can attack states and regions which are far removed from Kashmir. We got to recognize there’s a bigger problem out there. So, what’s the problem, the problem is really a mindset.”

These are only some of the examples in which Minister S Jaishankar pulled no punches in stating India’s interests in geopolitics. One may further interesting articulations on J&K, terrorism, global trade, RCEP etc through his various interactions with global think tanks.

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