Minister Jaishankar hits back at attack on Indian democracy

Hitting out at sections that have talked of democracy indicators sliding in India, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has said that there is no need to necessarily take what comes in the foreign media at face value and that there are "multiple standards" that are practised.

In an interview with ANI, Jaishankar said that in one of the chapters in his new book 'Why Bharat Matters', he has talked of Prime Minister Narendra Modi feeling "the need for a new construct" after the BJP-led government came to power in 2014.

Asked about articles in foreign media about assertive India at one level and, at another, of democracy-indicators sliding, Jaishankar said he had made some references to "democracy narrative" and that is also a "mind game".

"Just look at it this way. There are people who apparently feel more confident of their support outside India, and inside India, they get support from outside India. So we have this constant barrage. We've had this from 2014, it increased up to 2019. I'm sure it will become very shrill as we lead up to the summer of 2024, who will constantly come at you and say you are less of a democracy? They'll pick what they believe are flaws or failings that we have. Again, we must have the confidence to judge it," Jaishankar said.

The minister said he is not saying that there is no room for improvement in India's democracy.

"I'm not saying we're perfect. I'm not saying we don't have room for improvement. Everybody does. We certainly do. But I would say, please look at their motive and their agenda. They are not agenda-less, they are not motive-less, they are trying to push a certain line because they have a certain interest, so don't necessarily take what comes in foreign media at face value... because when you look at the multiple standards that they practice... you are talking of state of democracy in this country, give me any yardstick of democracy. Are your elections fair, is your participation growing. Are broader and broader sections involved, are your institutions working. I would say I am doing as well as any other democracy. Frankly, if anything, I could be passing judgement on whole lot of other...," he added.

Jaishankar talked of the initiatives of the Modi government to expand India's relations including growing ties with the countries in the Gulf.
"... PM Modi comes in 2014 and really weighs the foreign policy, which now he has taken charge of...that's essentially the chapter which I describe where you can see, he feels the need for a new construct – that one where the neighbourhood is the very generous, non-reciprocal policy towards the neighbourhood, which bring the neighbourhood in closer," the minister said.

"Two, the fact that we have an extended zone. The Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf, Central Asia. Now we had made some progress in South-East Asia, but you look at the Gulf, it is a region so near us, so many Indians living there, so much oil imported from there...yet politically very, very neglected," he told ANI.

The External Affairs Minister said a country like United Arab Emirates did not have a prime ministerial visit before PM Modi went there after Indira Gandhi had visited the Gulf nation.

"Look at the Indian Ocean...again we were dealing with it like you know this island, that island...piecemeal...there wasn't a single integrated construct. And again in the case of Central Asia, that intensity of connection wasn't there," he said.

"Then, the ability, really to engage major powers, engage not in the sense of 'keep us out of your problems' because that's a kind of 'I don't want to get caught in the big debates of the day', that's not what we are saying. We are saying that 'we have stakes in the big debates of the day'... I will take my call but there is no exclusivity in any of my relationships, I reserve that I have to deal with each one of you as per my national interest and also preparing for a larger footprint...you know global footprint... then the entire approach, the diaspora has undergone a change," Jaishankar added.


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