Rahul Gandhi Questions India’s Foreign Policy Approach, EAM S Jaishankar Offers Explanation

After Rahul Gandhi insisted on the bipolar world order and questioned India’s foreign policy approach at the MEA’s consultative committee meeting, external affairs minister S Jaishankar offered to explain New Delhi’s global strategy to the Congress leader by drawing sketches/graphics comprising concentric circles, according to sources aware of the development. Following foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s presentation at the Saturday meet that focussed on India’s Covid-19 diplomacy, multipolar foreign policy approach based on ties with the US, Russia, Japan, Germany and EU, neighbourhood approach, Act East Policy, Act West Policy and Africa outreach, Gandhi described them as a “laundry list” rather than a strategy, ET has learnt. The minister regretted that Gandhi’s comments showed his lack of understanding of the detailed presentation made at the meeting. Jaishankar emphasised that today’s India is confident and has a strategic and positive global approach and that India matters in the world as one of the key poles.

Subsequently, there were animated discussions between Jaishankar and Gandhi, with Congress’ Shashi Tharoor expectedly backing Gandhi, the source said.
While Gandhi appeared sceptical of Russia, Japan and the European Union as poles, Jaishankar said they “can’t be written off as powers”, making it clear that New Delhi would strive for multipolarity, with India as one of the poles, a source said. What was surprising was Gandhi’s comments that Russia-Japan-EU did not matter for India as partners contradicting his party’s own position on Delhi’s ties with Moscow and Tokyo. Sources recalled India’s strong ties with Soviet Union & Russia under the Congress governments since the 1950s and contribution made by Dr Manmohan Singh as PM under both UPA-1 & UPA-2 in expanding partnership with Japan.

It may be recalled that only a few weeks ago Gandhi had attacked the Modi government for “undermining ties with Russia” based on a media report, which alleged that Indo-Russian annual summit was postponed in 2020 due to differences. The MEA had countered by stating that the summit couldn’t be held due to Covid-19.
According to another source privy to details, when Gandhi said that India had overplayed Quad and China was trying to “behead India” through Pakistan and CPEC, Jaishankar retorted that India was ready with its strategies. The Minister referred to Quad in the context of a particular geography. With context to China, the minister also “compared the budget allocated for border infrastructure under the UPA and the Modi government”. Jaishankar said 4,600 crore was spent annually on the Chinese border till 2016 but the figure was enhanced to 11,800 crore afterwards, the source said. While Gandhi “appeared fatalist with regard to China”, the minister “appeared confident to handle the menace”. The minister also “highlighted India’s connectivity projects in the neighbourhood and emphasised that such initiatives have improved over the past six years”. Gandhi curiously was dismissive of the fact that projects do not reflect strategy. Jaishankar emphasised that projects are part of Delhi’s neighbourhood approach which is a priority for the government. He said ties with the Gulf countries under the UPA were limited to the Indian community, remittances and energy-related transactions but attained depth under the Modi government, the source said. In this context the Minister referred to growing trade and investment ties including investments from Gulf in India, defence partnership, security ties and effective intelligence sharing mechanism, sources pointed out. The Minister also referred to assistance that Gulf countries provided to Indian diaspora since the outbreak of pandemic. It may be pointed out that notwithstanding pandemic Jaishankar, MoS MEA and Petroleum Minister have trips to the Gulf and engaged with them via video conference. More visits are in the pipeline, ET has learnt.

With regard to Africa, Jaishankar mentioned that African countries have felt that they are now getting necessary attention. Every African capital has been touched by a Cabinet Minister during the last 7 years. India has hosted several incoming leaders.

Some Congress MPs at the meet felt that India should have joined RCEP but Jaishankar explained the reasons for staying away. On Congress MPs’ objection that minutes of the meetings were not being made available by the government, the MEA said the practice was started by the then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2008.

Following Saturday’s meet two MPs shared their experience through tweets. “Record three and a half hour meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on External Affairs began at 11.30 & just concluded. A wide-ranging, stimulating & candid discussion between EAM @DrSJaishankar & the dozen MPs who attended. We need more such interactions w/GOI!” Tharoor tweeted after the meeting along with photographs.

Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted, “Attended my first Consultative Committee-External Affairs as a member. Had an enriching discussion where EAM @DrSJaishankar ji, Chairman of the committee, patiently heard us all and answered every question put forward!” “Also @HarshShringla ji’s detailed presentation on MEA was helpful,” she said.