Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar wrapped up his tour of the UK this week with a wide-ranging conversation on ‘How a Billion People See the World’, presenting India’s perspective on a broad spectrum of issues including secularism.
Senior British journalist and author Lionel Barber asked the Cabinet minister if some allegations levelled against the country becoming less liberal in recent years under the BJP-led government were accurate.
Dr Jaishankar responded: “I don't think so; I think on the contrary. I think people today are less hypocritical about their beliefs, about their traditions and their culture.
“We are more Indian, more authentic. We are not today, either currying favour before a global audience or really trying to live up to some kind of left-wing liberal construct which a lot of Indians felt was not us.”
He went on to elaborate on the “appeasement” policies of the Indian political debate which guided the direction in which politics went in the past.
“For us secularism doesn't mean being non-religious; for us secularism means equal respect to all faiths. Now, what happened in reality in politics was beginning with equal respect for all faiths, we actually got into a sort of politics of minoritarian pandering. That, over a period of time, I think, created a backlash.
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“More and more people started feeling that in a way, in the name of equality of all religions, in fact the biggest religion [Hinduism] had to be self-deprecatory and play itself down. A big part of that community felt it was not being fair.”
During the conversation organised by foreign policy agency Wilton Park in partnership with the High Commission of India at the Royal Over-Seas League in London, the Indian foreign minister was also asked about the decision to continue sourcing oil and gas from Russia when Western countries decided to impose sanctions in response to the Ukraine conflict.
He traced 70-year-long stable history of Russia-India ties and explained: “Just imagine for the moment had we not bought oil from Russia, global oil prices would have gone higher because we would have gone into the same market, to the same suppliers that Europe would have done and frankly, as we discovered, Europe would have outpriced us.
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“So, we've actually softened the oil markets and the gas markets through our purchase policies. We have, as a consequence, actually managed global inflation. So frankly, we should be thanked.”