At panel meet, Rahul, others question govt’s foreign policy

Gandhi, it is learnt, asked the government to spell out its strategy to counter an increasingly aggressive and assertive China.

At a meeting of the Consultative Committee on External Affairs on Saturday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar faced probing questions from opposition Congress members, including Rahul Gandhi, on the government’s foreign policy. The minister was told the government should be mindful that some of its internal policies and decisions have been critically viewed by some countries.

Among the raft of questions — posed by Gandhi and Congress members Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor — were those on how the government plans to engage with the new US administration, its strategy to counter China, the need to find a balance between India’s ties with the US and Russia and the geopolitical contest that has broken out between the US and China. The government was also asked to restore the internal dialogue and consultation process on foreign policy issues.

Gandhi, it is learnt, asked the government to spell out its strategy to counter an increasingly aggressive and assertive China. He said there are fears that the world could gravitate towards a bipolar global order where the US and China may emerge as the two major powers. Observing that China may fail in its design, Gandhi pointed out that India should nevertheless have a strategy to pre-empt that kind of a situation.

Jaishankar, it is learnt, replied that the world will not turn bipolar in the immediate or foreseeable future and pointed out that the role of big powers like Russia, Japan, Germany and the European Union cannot be discounted.

Sharma, it is learnt, pointed out that there has always been a national consensus on foreign policy which is being diluted now as the government does not hold dialogue or discussion within the country even when there are abrupt changes and turns in policy. He demanded that the internal dialogue and consultation process be restored.

All the members, it is learnt, complemented the MEA for its prompt response during the lockdown, especially for evacuating Indian citizens and students from abroad.

Congress members also asked the government to be mindful that some of its policies and internal developments are getting negative comments globally. Some domestic politics also had an adverse fallout in some neighbouring countries, they pointed out. Both Sharma and Tharoor were Ministers of State for External Affairs in the UPA government. Sharma was also Commerce Minister.

Earlier this month, several British MPs across party lines had urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take up the farmers’ protest in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sharma said the protesting farmers cannot just be labelled “Khalistanis” and pointed out that given the presence of a large Indian diaspora in many countries, questions are bound to be asked.

In 2019, the US Congress had held a hearing on India’s removal of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. Earlier, the US House Foreign Affairs committee, a powerful bipartisan committee in the US Congress, made critical observations about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

In Saturday’s meeting, some Congress members are learnt to have asked the government about its plans to engage with the incoming Joe Biden administration in the US, and pointed out that New Delhi should balance its ties between the US and Russia.

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