S Jaishankar backs out of meeting with Democrat senator Pramila Jayapal
External affairs minister S Jaishankar backed out of a meeting with a group of US lawmakers on Wednesday as Indian officials feared it could be used by known critics of India, including Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic lawmaker to “harangue” the minister on Kashmir instead of engaging with him with an open mind, provoking a response from Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate who tweeted in support of Jayapal and emphasised the importance of “honest dialogue” between the two countries.
Jaishankar, an old hand at relations with the US as a former ambassador and one of few Indian officials familiar with the contours of American power structure, was scheduled to meet the leadership of the foreign affairs committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Wednesday after the 2+2 meeting, in an outreach to discuss recent developments in India that have caused some concern on Capitol Hill, home to the US Congress.
He met the Senate foreign affairs committee leaders, chairman Jim Risch (Republican) and ranking member Robert Menendez (Democrat), and gave his perspective on Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at the request of lawmakers. He offered a perspective, Jaishankar told reporters later, that was more truthful and comprehensive than what they had gathered from published reports.
According to people familiar with what transpired at that meeting, Jaishankar faced some sharp questions but he stayed and answered them.
The meeting with the House foreign affairs committee, however, was called off because Indian officials believed “they deliberately changed the rules of the game” from meeting the committee and its leadership to meeting the sponsor of a bill critical of the restrictions in Kashmir after the change in its constitutional status by the August 5 abrogation of Article 370.
Jayapal, a Democratic lawmaker of Indian descent, introduced the bill that urges India to remove restrictions and release political detainees. Rashida Tlaib, another Democratic lawmaker, has also moved a resolution seeking the same in language that’s been described as more vitriolic.
The Indian officials said the meeting with the House foreign affairs committee leadership — chairman Eliot Engel (Democrat) and Michael McCaul (Republican) — would be used by Jayapal and Tlaib, neither of whom is a member of the committee but were invited to attend (it was not immediately clear if both Jayapal and Tlaib had been invited to attend, or just Jayapal), to “harangue” Jaishankar. The Indians were “open to meeting those who are open minded and objective but not those who are not”.
Jaishankar himself did not mince words at a news briefing on Thursday when asked about Jayapal’s resolution and whether he wanted to meet her to change her mind. This was before reports of the cancelled meeting.
“I am aware of that draft resolution [introduced by Jayapal] [and] I don’t think it’s a fair understanding of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or a fair characterisation of what the government of India is doing,” he said.
He added, “I have no interest in meeting her. I have an interest in meeting people who are objective and (are) open to discussion but not people who have already made up their minds.”
Senator Warren tweeted: “Efforts to silence @PramilaJayapal are deeply troubling. The U.S. and India have an important partnership – but our partnership can only succeed if it is rooted in honest dialogue and shared respect for religious pluralism, democracy, and human rights.”
Jayapal herself saw the cancellation as evidence of the Indian government’s reluctance to see the other side. “This only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all,” she told The Washington Post, which first ran the story about Indians cancelling Jaishankar’s meeting with the House committee over Jayapal.
“The seriousness of this moment should’ve been a reason for a conversation, not dictating who’s in the meeting, which seems very petty,” she added.
Congressional sources confirmed the Post’s report and defended the decision to invite Jayapal to the briefing meant for the leadership of the committee. “You cannot force us to disinvite people invited by us to the briefing,” said one person familiar with developments.