External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar defended the Modi Government against concerns around the issue of minority rights, arguing that equal access to benefits and services was evidence enough to address these concerns. He also suggested that ‘vote banks’ in India and abroad had a role in motivating such criticism.
Mr. Jaishankar was speaking at the Hudson Institute on Friday. He was asked by the moderator, academic and TheWall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead about his response to critics of the Modi Government’s attitude towards religious minorities in the country.
Not wanting to address specific individuals, Mr. Jaishankar offered, as “a broad proposition”, the view that the underlying culture of India was “deeply pluralistic”. He said it was, on multiple axes, the “most diverse space in the world”.
A space with such a degree of diversity would always have its own conversations and “there will be attempts to get a certain balance right, there will be corrections, there’ll be re-corrections” the Minister said.
Indian society had “almost a natural inclination to disagree and that is our national character”, he added, suggesting that people abroad, who may not share a similar experience, were picking up parts of the discourse and forming an opinion based on those bits of information.
The test of “fair and good governance” or “balance” of a society was, according to Mr. Jaishankar, whether there was discrimination in terms of amenities, benefits, access and rights. He said the biggest change happening in India today was the creation of a social welfare system.
“I defy you to show me discrimination,” the Minister said in terms of access across domains. This is an argument Mr. Jaishankar has made previously.
“In fact, the more digital we have become the more…faceless the governance has become, actually it’s become fairer,” he said.
He said in a globalised world, people “gripe” about it but that much of this complaining was also “political”. There was “griping” in India too, the Minister said, because there had been a “culture of vote banks”.
“There are sections who had, in their own eyes a certain privileged access, who today may resent the fact that they don’t,” he said, adding that this was part of the “turbulence” of a democratic society.