Washington, April 13 (IANS) Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday expressed satisfaction with the level of understanding he encountered in his meetings with American interlocutors on India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war, but expressed frustration with the persisting lack of it in the public domain, chiefly, though he did not name anyone, the media and even some lawmakers.
“People in the administration, people dealing with policy, they are well-informed, (and) in many ways they understand where India is coming from,” Jaishankar said, adding, “At the same time, I would quite honestly say the narrative, the public narrative, sometimes is very, very different.”
Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh faced repeated questions at a presser with their American counterparts on Tuesday about India’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its continued purchase of energy from Russia.
There has also been a barrage of criticism of India among American lawmakers and experts.
“I think today, there is a gap between the policy and the narrative. And, you know, how do we narrow that and how do we bridge it,” Jaishankar said.
While the Joe Biden administration has expressed understanding of India’s historical ties with Russia and its longstanding dependence on Russian military hardware, there has been an outpouring of outrage in US media and among lawmakers over India’s steadfast refusal to condemn the invasion, and for continuing to buy Russian gas.
India has made it clear, however, that it is against the war and backs the use of diplomatic channels to resolve any and all issues.
India has also extended humanitarian aid to Ukraine and recently condemned the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and called for an independent investigation.
Among US lawmakers who have been critical of India’s refusal to condemn the invasions is Ro Khanna, an Indian-American member of the House of Representatives.
“First, India should condemn (Vladimir) Putin in the UN for the blatant human rights violations. Second, they need to realise, they have to pick sides,” he had said at a congressional hearing in March.
Jaishankar spoke to Indian mediapersons at the end of his three-day visit to Washington DC for the fourth edition of the 2+2 ministerial meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
The meetings were flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden on Monday with a video call, which was the first such high-level participation by the leaders of the two countries in these meetings.
The war in Ukraine dominated the meetings from the word go, including the Modi-Biden video call.
“A lot of our time went to the situation in Ukraine,” Jaishankar conceded, adding that the US side presented their analysis of the situation.
The war and related issues of food and energy security came up in his meetings with the US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
Asked if the US team – the President or his secretaries – asked India to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict or pass on a message to the Russians or the Ukrainians, both of whom have been in touch with India at the highest levels, the minister said no such offer was made or a message was asked to be passed on.
While the Indo-Pacific – another way to refer to the global threat posed by China – figured in the discussions as did the Quad (the security group India and the US form with Japan and Australia), the minister said in response to a question, there was no specific mention of the India-China border conflict in the discussions.
He, though, did not rule out the possibility of it figuring in Rajnath Singh’s discussions with Austin.
In fact, the India-China border conflict had indeed come up in Singh’s meeting with Austin.
“We’re facing urgent and mounting challenges to this shared vision,” Austin had said, adding, “Across the region, the People’s Republic of China is attempting to challenge and undermine the sovereignty of its neighbours.”
Jaishankar said an entire range of issues were discussed by the two sides at the 2+2 meetings and bilateral interactions between Indian ministers and their American counterparts — from the situation in the neighbourhood to Afghanistan, West Asia and the continued global threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the state of the global economy.