Indian foreign minister called off the meeting over the presence of Ms Pramila Jayapal, a US lawmaker of Indian origins who has strongly attacked the Modi government over its clampdown in Kashmir and targeting of religious minorities in India
NEW YORK — India’s Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Thursday canceled a meeting with US lawmakers, reportedly because the delegation from the House Foreign Affairs Committee included Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who has been criticial of the Indian assault on the Kashmir region.
“I have no interest in meeting her,” Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told Indian news agency ANI of Jayapal.
Jayapal told The Washington Post‘s John Hudson, who broke the story, that she was disappointed in the decision.
An unwillingness on the part of Indian authorities to hear other views, said Jayapal, speaks to a broader problem in the way the country’s government treats opposing views at a time when the world’s most populous democracy is riven by internal conflict over a number of hardline policies, including a controversial citizenship bill targeted at Muslims.
“This only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all,” said 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.”
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace India scholar Ashley Tellis told the Post that the decision to cancel the meeting represents “a missed opportunity” for the Indian government.
“Minister Jaishankar is incredibly thoughtful and articulate,” said Tellis, “and not engaging with Congress, which has traditionally been a bastion of strong support for India, is shortsighted.”
At issue was Jayapal’s sponsorship of a resolution that would lift the 4-month-long communications blockade on Jammu and Kashmir that followed India’s crackdown on the region in August and calls for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Jaishankar’s team asked Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to remove Jayapal from the group meeting the minister, but Engel refused.
“What are they hiding in Kashmir?” wondered Rutgers assistant professor of South Asian history Audrey Truschke.
Jaishankar was in Washington alongside Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for “2+2” talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The talks, which encourage a high level of bilateral cooperation, came while India continues to face international pressure and scrutiny over its treatment of Kashmir and the country’s 200 million-strong Muslim minority.
Jayapal tweeted on Thursday: “The cancellation of this meeting was deeply disturbing. It only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all.”
Along with the comment, she retweeted a post by a Washington Post reporter who had reported on the meeting’s cancellation. Jayapal, who is originally from Chennai, was elected to the House in 2016 and is on the left in the Democratic Party’s political spectrum
The Post said that Indian officials told the committee that Jaishankar would not meet them if Jayapal was included in the group.
The comment on Jayapal’s personal Twitter handle drew an angry response from BJP supporters. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation’s Anirban Ganguly said, “Uninformed, motivated, agenda-driven, laced with fake news, meant to push a false narrative and attempt to destroy the standing of a committed democracy and democratic government – isn’t dissent.”
Rep. Jayapal, along with a number of other US lawmakers, has repeatedly raised the issue of the Modi government’s unprecedented crackdown in Kashmir. She introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives asking India to end the communications blockade and the “mass detentions” in Kashmir.
She came down heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS at a hearing on Kashmir held by the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in October.
Ms Jayapal has been a strong supporter of India-US relations and has in the past championed religious tolerance and pluralism. However, she has been strongly critical of the BJP’s targeting of religious minorities, especially Muslims. She said that religious minorities in India were in danger and felt threatened.
In 2017, she told The Hindu that India’s strength was its religious tolerance and New Delhi should do everything possible to nurture it.