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S. Jaishankar cancels US meet over Pramila Jayapal

The move has warmed the cockles of the BJP’s support base while seemingly further antagonising the Democrats

By Anita Joshua in New Delhi
  • Published 21.12.19, 3:26 AM
  • Updated 21.12.19, 3:26 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
External affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s decision has surprised South Asia experts and policy wonks in the US Telegraph file picture

External affairs minister S. Jaishankar has cancelled a meeting with a US congressional delegation after it refused to exclude from the interaction Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who has been critical of the clampdown in Kashmir.

The move has warmed the cockles of the BJP’s support base while seemingly further antagonising the Democrats, the preferred party of the Indian diaspora in the US.

According a report in The Washington Post, Jaishankar abruptly cancelled the meeting this week after the US lawmakers refused Indian demands to exclude Jayapal, a Democrat who has moved a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives criticising the Kashmir clampdown.

Soon after the cancellation of the meeting, scheduled

for Wednesday, Jayapal’s resolution got 10 more co-sponsors —all Democrats — raising the question whether the Narendra Modi government had gone too far in burning its bridges with that party. The resolution now has 29 co-sponsors.

Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for the US presidential elections, tweeted: “Efforts to silence @PramilaJayapal are deeply troubling. The US and India have an important partnership — but our partnership can only succeed if it is rooted in honest dialogue and shared respect for religious pluralism, democracy, and human rights.”

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s HowdyModi diaspora event had been seen by many as providing a platform for US President Donald Trump in an election year at the risk of annoying the Democrats despite the bipartisan support the India-US relationship has enjoyed on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday’s scheduled interaction was one of a series of meetings planned during Jaishankar's visit to the US along with defence minister Rajnath Singh.

Subsequent to the Post report, Jaishankar told ANI: “Don’t think it (Jayapal’s report) is fair understanding of situation in J&K or fair characterisation of what Government of India is doing. I have no interest in meeting her.”

The Post, in an editorial on Thursday titled “India marks a new low for a democracy”, condemned the Internet shutdown in Kashmir and asked “how long a country that follows this sinister path can truly be called a democracy at all”.

Jayapal described Jaishankar’s cancellation as deeply disturbing. “It only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all,” she tweeted.

Commenting on this, former junior external affairs minister Shashi Tharoor said: “This is totally unworthy of a great democracy like India. I can’t believe @DrSJaishankar with all his diplomatic experience would refuse to engage with a critic; whether you agree with him or not, he is able to debate anybody! This intolerance of dissent is a BJP political failing.”

The meeting was apparently cancelled because new names had been added to the list of lawmakers to meet Jaishankar. Jayapal was one such addition along with some others the Indian mission in Washington views as India-baiters.

Jaishankar’s decision has surprised South Asia experts and policy wonks in the US.

“I would’ve preferred Amb. Jaishankar met with the Codel (Congressional delegation). He’s India’s most articulate advocate and no stranger to verbal jousting. Reps would’ve benefited from his perspective. But it’s his call to make. This more assertive posture has been foreshadowed in his recent speeches,” tweeted Jeff Smith, research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Vipin Narang, security studies professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tweeted: “Unless there is more, I am still struggling to understand why GoI thinks it can dictate to a Congressional committee meeting *in the House in DC* which members of Congress they can or cannot invite.”

Jayapal had introduced her resolution — co-sponsored by a Republican — earlier this month. She had planned to advance the resolution to this week but had been persuaded to wait till after the planned meeting with Jaishankar.

Jayapal had also participated in the House committee on foreign affairs’ hearing in October on human rights in South Asia where she and other lawmakers had grilled state department officials on what Washington was doing to ensure that democracy was not subverted in India.

Many from India’s diplomatic corps are surprised that Jaishankar has cancelled the meeting despite being privy to the innards of Capitol Hill and to how the US Congress works. He had been one of the first IFS officers to be tasked exclusively to deal with American lawmakers.