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A giant missed opportunity, says Jayapal on cancelled meeting with Jaishankar

Hindustan Times, Washington | ByYashwant Raj
Aug 11, 2020 11:50 PM IST

Pramila Jayapal has been critical of restrictions in place in Kashmir since the August 5 abrogation of Article 370.

Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal has said that the cancellation of a meeting External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was to have on Capitol Hill during a recent visit on account of her presence was a “sign of weakness” and a “giant missed opportunity” for India.

Jayapal has been critical of restrictions in place in Kashmir since the August 5 abrogation of Article 370. She spoke forcefully against them at two hearings and has moved a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives to seek the lifting of curbs in the Kashmir Valley.

It is a “sign of weakness for any great democracy to refuse to allow those who have some criticisms to participate in a meeting,” Jayapal has written in an oped in the Washington Post on Tuesday about the December 18 meeting cancelled on account of her presence. She added it was a “giant missed opportunity for two countries that value dialogue and dissent”.

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Jaishankar was scheduled to separately meet the leadership of the foreign relations committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate on the sidelines of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue he and defence minister Rajnath Singh held with their American counterparts last week. The meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee was cancelled as the Indian side felt Jayapal could use the opportunity to “harangue” the minister.

The Congresswoman’s hard-hitting opinion piece continues a back-and-forth between her and the US House panel on one side and the ministry of external affairs on the other into its seventh day even as some people on both sides are arguing it was time to “move on”.

Jayapal wrote that she was surprised that New Delhi informed the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee that the minister will not attend the meeting if “I was present”.

Indian officials declined to comment on the piece, indicating that the government had already made its position clear on the cancelled meeting. Jaishankar had confirmed calling off the meeting. “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,” he told reporters last week before wrapping his US visit.

The Congresswoman, who has been backed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris on the issue of the cancelled meeting, vowed not to be silenced. “As a member of Congress and as an Indian American, I will continue to speak out on fundamental principles of democracy such as freedom of the press, religious freedom and due process,” she wrote. “Protecting these rights — particularly in the most difficult of circumstances — is the only way democracies can survive and thrive.”

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