External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar sharply rebuked Canada on Friday, lambasting its government for “giving space” to extremists, separatists and those who advocate violence. His remarks came in the wake of a float celebrating Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards, which was part of a parade in the Canadian city of Brompton.
Addressing a special briefing on the completion of nine years of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Jaishankar appreciated the development of relationships between India and its immediate neighbours Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar over the last decade, but ruled out the normalisation of ties with Pakistan unless Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism. He added that adequate progress on Sino-India relations could not be made, as China had sought to “coerce” India.
‘Space for extremists’
The Minister had sharp words for the Canadian government regarding a parade that was organised in the city of Brampton to commemorate the tragic anniversary of Operation Bluestar on June 5. One of the floats in the parade celebrated the assassination of Indira Gandhi, depicting an effigy of the then-Prime Minister being shot and killed by her bodyguards.
Mr. Jaishankar said that the Canadian government should learn from the history of Canada, and alleged that Ottawa has given space to Khalistani separatists because of “vote bank politics”.
“I think it is not about one incident, howsoever egregious it may be. I think there is a larger underlying issue about the space that is given to separatists, extremists and to people who advocate violence,” he said. The float had drawn condemnation from several quarters, including from the Opposition Congress leaders like Jairam Ramesh who urged Mr. Jaishankar to raise the matter with Canada’s High Commissioner. Responding to the Canadian National Security Adviser who had described India as one of the “top sources of foreign interference in Canada”, Mr. Jaishankar said emphatically that if there is anyone who has a complaint, it was India. “We have a complaint about Canada,” he added.
Article 370 was ‘vulnerability’
The External Affairs Minister defended the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 as a necessary measure, saying that it had become a “vulnerability” for India as the “world took advantage” of the provision. Abrogation of the article was, therefore, a domestic measure aimed at “remedying” the situation, he said.
Mr. Jaishankar came down on Pakistan for its alleged role in promoting cross-border terrorism. “The challenge with Pakistan is not new. The difference is that we are not ready to put up with cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Pakistan knows what it needs to do and the world knows that,” he said.
The Minister said that, over the last nine years, India’s relationships with all neighbouring countries — barring Pakistan — has progressed. India’s current focus on Afghanistan is not so much political as it is to help the Afghan people who have an age-old relationship with India.
Ashokan empire, not Akhand Bharat
Dismissing the controversy over a mural in the new Parliament building, which is being percieved as a map of Akhand Bharat or undivided India, and has drawn protest from Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Mr. Jaishankar said that the mural actually depicted the “Ashokan empire”. The mural did not depict a political map and should not be regarded as a “political issue”, he said. “Our friendly neighbours will understand that,” Mr. Jaishankar said explaining that he did not expect such understanding to come from Pakistan.
Speaking about the Act East policy, which has been one of the oldest declared policies of the Modi-led government, Mr. Jaishankar said that it would not be impacted by the ongoing civil disturbances in Manipur.
Steady ties with Russia
Highlighting India’s position on the Ukraine crisis, the Minister explained that India has maintained an independent position in its relationships with major powers and crises, but emphasised that India has a steady relationship with Russia which was not affected by the crisis.
Talking about Kulbhushan Jadhav and the eight former Indian navy personnel who are being held in Pakistani and Qatari custody respectively, Mr. Jaishankar said that he had not ruled out the possibility of finding a diplomatic solution to the situation. “I have never ruled that out. A large part of our outlook today is really that if Indian citizens are in difficulty, we should do whatever we can whether they are Indian students or military officers,” he said.
Over the last nine years, India’s relationships with the U.S., Russia, France, Germany and Japan as well as the ASEAN grouping has advanced, as “people worked very hard” to make that happen. “Our relations with all the major power centres have evolved. Prime Minister himself has sort of led the diplomatic efforts from the front. We have tried to find areas of agreement and collaboration and tried to advance technology and security partners and we have been largely successful. Now, why the exception [in the case of China]? Answer can only be given by China. Because China consciously, for some reason, in 2020... breaking agreements, moved forces and sought to coerce us,” said Mr. Jaishankar.
“We made it very clear to them that unless there is peace and tranquillity in the border areas, relation can not move forward,” the External Affairs Minister said, describing China’s actions as an “obstacle”.