India’s External Affairs Minister of India, Dr S Jaishankar was in London in November. To mark his visit, I was invited to a special event, entitled, How a Billion People See the World, organised by foreign policy agency Wilton Park in partnership with the High Commission of India in London. It was an in-conversation session, with Lionel Barber, ex-editor of the Financial Times with the Minister held at the Royal Over-Seas League.
It was a gritty conversation and Barber put Dr. Jaishankar in the hot seat, where China, Canada, Russia, oil, and India’s rise of secularism were discussed and climate change came up twice. On the issue of China, Dr. Jaishankar emphasised that the rise of China is a reality but there is an equal reality which is the rise of India, and said, “The rise may be different…quantitatively or qualitatively they may not be identical.” While on Canada’s allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, he said, “Look, if you have a reason to make such an allegation, please share the evidence with us. We are not ruling out an investigation and looking at anything that they may have to offer. They haven’t done so” adding that Canada has not yet shared any evidence on Nijjar’s murder with India.
On the topic of secularism, he said it does not mean non-religious, but equal respect to all faiths, that the “appeasement” government policies of the past made the biggest religion of the country feel like it had to be self-deprecatory in the name of equality, adding that the political and social changes seen in India in the last few years have partly been a reaction “at an intellectual and political level” to this sense of unfairness. Jaishankar was also asked if India had changed since the Nehruvian era to become less liberal and more “Hindu majoritarian” under the BJP-led government. While asserting that India had certainly changed, Jaishankar was categorical that the change did not mean India being less liberal but rather “more authentic” about expressing its beliefs. “We are more Indian, more authentic. We are not today, either currying favour before a global audience or really trying to live up to some kind of left-wing liberal construct which a lot of Indians felt was not us.”
This question-and-answer session marked the minister’s final engagement in London as he concluded his five-day UK visit, oh and to add we were all given a copy of Dr. Jaishankar’s book that day, and I managed to get mine signed!