External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, delivered a strong message in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, stressing that political expediency should not define global responses to terrorism and extremism. Coming in the wake of the ongoing diplomatic dispute between India and Canada over the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Jaishankar stressed the need for consistent respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs of a country, emphasizing that these principles should not be selectively applied. Projecting the image of a confident India, Jaishankar asserted that India’s vision of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ centers on addressing the concerns of many, rather than catering to the interests of a select few.
Significantly, the foreign minister made it clear that the days of a handful of nations setting the global agenda were over, while noting that India’s pursuit of great power status would not be driven by self-aggrandizement but by a desire to take on greater responsibility and make more contributions to global welfare. The speech at once challenged traditional power structures, called for principled diplomacy, and underlined India’s commitment to global welfare. And this needed to be said at a time when Canada together with the US and the other major western powers are unfairly blaming India for killing a Khalistani extremist in Canada. While New Delhi has declined any role in the killing, the union government has rightly taken on the west for its double standards.
Truth is that India is now a major power in its own right and it can’t be browbeaten to submit to the west’s idea of right and wrong as articulated by the foreign minister in his speech. Today India is in a position to demand parity in the terms of its engagement with the major powers. After all, India’s geopolitical relevance makes it as important to the west as the west is to it. So, there is a mutuality of interests and also values which make the relationship advantageous to both, perhaps more so to the west. As a result, the west’s outreach towards India has a structural incentive to carry on despite occasional challenges. Thus beyond a point, the controversy over the killing of Nijjar won’t be more than a passing irritant.
But while the west needs India, it has to also be mindful of India’s geopolitical interests and address them. Ever since independence, India has maintained and protected its strategic autonomy. And the major powers which court India have to make room for this for the relationship to endure. And the foreign minister’s UN speech makes the country’s position amply clear.
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