On his first visit to the U.S. since the start of the Biden administration, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar called the India-U.S. relationship one of the most important relationships in the world.
“I think our relationship has come a long way. It is, today, one of the major relationships in the world,” He told former (Trump administration) National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster of the Hoover Institution, during a webcast discussion on Wednesday.
Mr. Jaishankar also said he had a “ big agenda” for the relationship.
“My own sense is that in Washington today there is a real appreciation of the potential of this relationship … and it’s true of New Delhi as well,” he said, adding that the challenge today is for countries to learn to work with each other more effectively in a multipolar world.
“I see a big change in the American mindset in that regard,” he said.
“The United States has not only an enormous ability to reinvent itself, it also has a great ability to assess its situation and re-strategise, in a way. And I do think today that when it comes to the big issues of our day …we have fundamental convergences. Convergences which are societal convergences, which are geopolitical . And I think the challenge before us is how to translate those convergences into actionable policies,” he said.
Last July, Mr. Jaishankar had said America needs to “go beyond” alliances and learn how to work in a multipolar world with plurilateral arrangements. The country has recommitted itself to multilateralism as a pillar of its foreign policy since the Biden administration took over from the Trump administration in January, rolling back a number of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies based on an ‘America First’ philosophy.
Mr. Jaishankar spoke about a world changed by the pandemic. The big take away from the pandemic is when you have a big problem the only way out is global cooperation, he said, describing the need for people to relate to the experiences of other countries.
“I think there needs to be that realisation that this could easily happen to us. In many cases, it has happened to us and the right response, therefore is to help each other out and I am glad to say we’ve [India] seen a tremendous outpouring of international support and solidarity at this time.”
India has, in recent weeks, received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assistance from the U.S. government and American private sector as well as assistance from other countries, including oxygen concentrators, PPE, medicines and vaccines, to help it fight a massive COVID-19 wave.
Since the pandemic, Mr. Jaishankar said he is increasingly hearing of ‘strategic autonomy’ or not relying too much on one set of supply chains.
“I think …the conversations are beginning to change towards more resilience …how do you de-risk the world,” making an argument for ‘decentralised globalisation’: where there are different centres of production and the world will not be “so completely threatened” as in the last year, when things go wrong.
The world is not going to be the same post-COVID, Mr. Jaishankar said.
Prioritising national interest is not right
“We can’t have a world which is part vaccinated and part neglected, because that world is not going to be safe. ‘How do we get through the global challenges in a global way?’ I think that’s the big question,” Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that countries pursuing their national interest at the cost of everything else is going to cause problems. His comments were in response to a question on how countries, like the Quad members, could continue to work to preserve their competitive advantages.
On the India-Pakistan reinstatement of a ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC), Mr. Jaishankar said it was “a good step” but there were “bigger issues”.
“We cannot accept terrorism,” as legitimate form of diplomacy or any other form of statecraft, he said.
“So let us see where this progresses; obviously everybody hopes for the best.”
There also needs to be a reflection on the Pakistani side about what terror has done to its own society, Mr .Jaishankar said.
Following the discussion on Pakistan, Mr. McMaster asked about “Hindutva policies that could be undermining the secular nature of Indian democracy” and whether “India’s friends are right to be concerned about some of these recent trends”.
Mr. Jaishankar’s answer referred to political motives behind the Modi government being depicted in “a certain way”.
He said the BJP had moved away from “vote bank politics” and that there was a broader representation, including in politics, of “people who are much more confident about their culture, about their language, about their beliefs.”
“These are people who perhaps are less from the English speaking world,” he said. “I think sometimes that difference is judged politically harshly, and it is often used to create a certain narrative.”
There is a difference between the “political imagery that has been concocted” and the actual governance record of the Modi government, he said, arguing that direct assistance during the pandemic was being given to peoplewithout discrimination.
“I would certainly see that very much as part of a political effort to depict our current government in a certain way and obviously I have a very profound difference with that,” Mr. Jaishankar said.