The minister also talked about a range of other issues, including Congress’s allegations, the timing of BBC’s documentary on PM Modi, and tensions with China.
Tensions with China
“India’s relationship with major powers is good. China is an exception because it violated agreements that we have inked and has a posture at the border. As a result we have a counter posture. Overall India’s relationship with major powers is good. Relationship with Europe is the best we ever had,” said Jaishankar.
Jaishankar said the Modi government had increased the budget by five times to ramp up border infrastructure.
Allegations by Congress, Rahul Gandhi
Hitting back at Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who has been targeting the Centre over China’s aggression along the LAC, Jaishankar said: “Please do not buy this narrative that the Indian government is on the defensive, that we are being accommodative … If we were being accommodative, then who sent the Indian Army to LAC? Rahul Gandhi didn’t send them. Narendra Modi sent them … It should be asked who’s telling the truth.”
“We have today the largest peacetime deployment in our history on the China border. We are keeping troops there at a huge cost with great effort. We have increased our infrastructure spending on the border five times in this government. Now tell me who is the defensive and accommodative person,” added Jaishankar.
On Congress claims that neither the PM nor Jaishankar’s ministry mention the word China, the EAM said: “They must have some problem understanding words beginning with ‘C’. It’s not true. I think they are deliberately misrepresenting the situation … This government is serious about border infrastructure. Look at the roads, bridges being made – it’s tripled.”
Dr S Jaishankar: ‘Modi sent army to LAC not Rahul Gandhi’
Referring to Congress and other opposition parties outraging over the Chinese building a bridge on the Pangong Lake last year, the Minister said the area had been under illegal occupation of China since the 1962 war.
“They (China) were building a bridge in Pangong Tso. When did that area come under China? The Chinese first came there in 1958 captured it in 1962. The Modi government is being blamed in 2023 for constructing a bridge that was captured in 1962? You [Congress] don’t have honesty to say when it happened?,” said the minister.
On India’s global standing
Talking about India’s evolving foreign policy, Jaishankar said that India’s global standing is “clearly much higher and quite strong”.
“Strategically, there is much more clarity in our own thinking and operations. We have been able to demonstrate to the world that we are an exceptional international power. On big global issues today, I think the expectation is that India will have an opinion,” the minister said.
Jaishankar said that the single most vital step the country had taken that improved India’s image on the global stage was ‘Vaccine Maitri’. “During the Covid period, India impacted global consciousness. India was not only a successful producer of vaccines for itself and the world, but also an inventor of vaccines.”
On Quad and other international ties
“India is going up, it is doing well. Why do we have so many partnerships? Because we get along with so many people. How are we managing such different partnerships? Maybe because we are good at it,” said Jaishankar on India partnering in groupings like QUAD and others
On allegations that India was moving towards the Western Bloc, the minster said that the people who claim such things “must have been on a holiday throughout January when we had 120 countries, mainly from Global South, engaging with us. Yes, we have good relations with the US, generally the West. It is in the national interest.”
Jaishankar on Pak economy: ‘Nobody reaches a difficult situation suddenly and without a cause’
“Our relationship with Russia too has been extraordinarily steady and it has been steady through all the turbulence in global politics. The opposition’s job is to criticise but I think today we are in a good position,” he said.
The minister added that the Gulf also sees today’s India as much more credible than the India of 10 years ago: “You ask people in the Gulf, do you prefer PM Modi or his predecessors? I am willing to take a bet that every one of the Gulf countries will say they prefer PM Modi.”
Taking a potshot at Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the EAM does not know much about foreign policy matters and needs to learn more, Jaishankar said: “If he has superior knowledge or wisdom, I am always willing to listen.”
On BBC documentary
Speaking about the BBC’s recent documentary critical of PM Modi, Jaishankar said that the timing of the incident was curious
“Do you think the timing was accidental? I don’t know if election season has started in India, but for sure it has started in London and New York. This is politics at play by those who don’t have the courage to come into the political field,” said the minister.
He also hinted that there may have been some collusion with group adhering to similar ideologies. “I am not a conspiracy theorist. But why is it difficult to understand that there are ideologies and political forces outside India that are similar to those in India. The two are working hand in glove. Part of the problem is when political forces in India, which are not doing well electorally, summon up this support system.”
On repeated anti-India narratives by Western media and NGOs, the minister said that it is part of a larger narrative: “Don’t view this incident by incident. Think of the last few years – an episode here, an adjective there, a photo somewhere else. It’s like drip, drip, drip on a stone … the idea is to shape your collective image in a way that you’re made to look like an extremist.”
Dr S Jaishankar: ‘Ideologies and political forces outside India have echo chambers here too and work hand in glove’
“We had a tough time during Covid … Look at the coverage of our Covid. Did people not die in other countries? Did we see that coverage, did you see that kind of photos from other countries,” he asked.
“There should be and there is a battle for narratives which goes on continuously. There will be narratives designed to damage us. We have put narratives designed to expose people or designed to put our viewpoint across,” he added.
From bureaucrat to minister
On his journey from bureaucrat to minister, Jaishankar said his elevation was completely unexpected. “I didn’t make the transition, it happened. From joining politics to becoming a Cabinet member and standing in the Rajya Sabha, it happened one by one.”
Dr S Jaishankar: ‘My aim was to become foreign secretary, but cabinet minister takes learning to a whole different level’
“PM Modi had asked me to join the Cabinet … I had met him first in 2011 in China. He had come there on a visit as Gujarat CM. He made a very big impression on me. By 2011, I had seen many CMs come and go but I had not seen anyone come more prepared than him,” said the EAM.
“It is a different world, different responsibility, a wider vision. I may have sat 40 years in the Parliament gallery but it’s not the same as being on the Parliament floor.”
Noting that he belongs to a family of bureaucrats and that the political opportunity as a union minister came as a bolt from the blue in 2019.
On father’s removal
Jaishankar said his father Dr K Subrahmanyam was removed as Secretary, Defence Production, by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi soon after she came back to power in 1980 and he was superseded during the Rajiv Gandhi period with someone junior to him becoming the Cabinet Secretary.
“I wanted to be the best foreign service officer. And to my mind, the definition of the best that you could do was to end up as a foreign secretary. In our household, there was also, I won’t call it pressure, but we were all conscious of the fact that my father, who was a bureaucrat, had become a Secretary but he was removed from his secretaryship. He became, at that time, probably the youngest Secretary in the Janata government in 1979,” Jaishankar said.
Dr S Jaishankar: ‘Indira Gandhi removed my father as secretary in 1980’
“In 1980, he was Secretary, Defence Production. In 1980 when Indira Gandhi was re-elected, he was the first Secretary that she removed. And he was the most knowledgeable person everybody would say on defence,” he added.
Jaishankar said his father was also a very upright person, “may be that caused the problem, I don’t know”.
“But the fact was that as a person he saw his own career in bureaucracy, actually kind of stalled. And after that, he never became a Secretary again. He was superseded during the Rajiv Gandhi period for somebody junior to him who became a cabinet secretary. It was something he felt…we rarely spoke about it. So he was very, very proud when my elder brother became secretary,” said Dr Jaishankar.
Jaishankar said he became a Secretary to the government after his father passed away.
Watch Dr S Jaishankar: ‘I look very carefully at what people are doing both at my party and others’