India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Washington for the two-plus-two meeting with his diplomatic counterpart U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Dec. 18, apparently "abruptly cancelled" a meeting with the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after they refused demands to exclude Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a trenchant critic of the Indian government’s recent actions in Kashmir.
In an exclusive report on Dec. 19, the Washington Post said that during his visit to D.C., Jaishankar was to meet the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.); the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, and others including Jayapal, who has introduced a Congressional resolution calling on India to respect the religious freedom of all residents in Jammu and Kashmir and to expeditiously lift the communications blackout in the valley.
The Post said that Indian officials informed the committee that Jaishankar would not meet with the lawmakers if the group included Jayapal, but that Engel refused, and the Indians pulled out.
It quoted Jayapal as saying that “this only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all,” and arguing that “the seriousness of this moment should’ve been a reason for a conversation, not dictating who’s in the meeting, which seems very petty.”
The Post said that Jaishankar’s decision to cancel the meeting surprised analysts, who said it cuts against his reputation as a skilled statesman in times of turmoil.
It quoted Ashley Tellis, perhaps the foremost strategic affairs expert in the country, who is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Endowment, saying, “It’s a missed opportunity.”
“Minister Jaishankar is incredibly thoughtful and articulate — and not engaging with Congress, which has traditionally been a bastion of strong support for India, is shortsighted,” Tellis, who holds the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs at the prestigious D.C. think tank, added.
Jayapal, according to the Post had said the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that has triggered raging protests and violence across India, “adds a whole level of complexity to India as a secular democracy — one of the great prides of the country.”
It said she had planned to advance her resolution on Kashmir this week but was urged to wait until after meeting with Jaishankar, but that she now plans to renew her push for the resolution in January.
“My constituents care about the human rights situation, thousands of people detained without charges, and a communication crackdown that makes daily life more difficult,” she said. “It has been extremely brutal for families in Kashmir.”
Jayapal also tweeted that “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.”
Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow progressive, tweeted her support for Jayapal, saying that “efforts to silence Jayapal are deeply troubling,” and while acknowledging that “the U.S. and India have an important partnership,” argued that this partnership “can only succeed if it is rooted in honest dialogue and shared respect for religious pluralism, democracy and human rights.”
Another progressive, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian American and one of three Muslim American members of Congress, in response to Warren’s tweet, wrote, “That’s because they know they are violating international human rights laws that is leading to innocent lives being lost, and causing irreparable harm to children in #Kashmir.”
Tlaib, who has also introduced legislation that has been referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee, assailing India for human rights violations in Kashmir, in her tweet added, “Thank you @PramilaJayapal for speaking up for #Kashmiris.”
On Dec. 20, U.S. Senator Kamala Devi Harris, the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate, who recently withdrew from the Democratic presidential race, also came out in support of her close friend Jayapal, tweeting that "it's wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill.”
Saying that she strongly stands with Jayapal, Harris, referring to the Post report said, "I'm glad her colleagues in the House did too.”
Also coming out in support of Jayapal on Dec. 20 was Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tweeted, "Shutting out US lawmakers who are standing up for human rights is what we expect from authoritarian regimes - not the government of India. Jayapal is right. She must not be excluded for being outspoken about the unacceptable crackdown on Kashmiris and Muslims.”
Jayapal in thankingWarren, Harris and Sanders for their support, tweeted, "We're rapidly entering a world where it's not only acceptable but encouraged for foreign governments to shun the president's domestic political opponents.”
“This isn't a situation in which a coherent foreign policy can be developed," she said.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.) also came out in support of Jayapal on Dec. 20, with McGovern, tweeting, "No foreign government should dictate who is or isn't allowed into meetings on Capitol Hill," and declaring that "I stand with" Jayapal and "applaud" Engel,"and others for doing the same.”
"The partnership between the US and India must be grounded in open, honest conversation between friends," he argued.
Jaishankar, in a meeting with Indian reporters on Dec. 19, before he left for New Delhi, in confirming his decision not to meet with Jayapal, said he was not interested in meeting with biased individuals “determined to be misled,” on issues in India.
He said that Jayapal’s resolution is “not a fair characterization” of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and hence, he had no interest in meeting Jayapal and lawmakers who are “neither objective nor open to discussion and have already made up their mind.”
Jaishankar said he had provided the U.S. lawmakers he had met with and wanted his perspective on the CAB with “a more accurate picture than they have been getting from what they read.”
He said, "I am aware of that (Jayapal’s) resolution. I don't think it's a fair understanding of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, or a fair characterization of what the government of India is doing. And I have no interest in meeting (Jayapal).”
Jaishankar said, "I have an interest in meeting people who are objective and open to discussion but not the people who already made up their minds.”
He also denied that the Indian government has a problem with Democrats, who have been largely the ones who have been critical of India’s actions in Kashmir and now on the Citizenship bill that is perceived as anti-Muslim.
"No, I don't think so. Honestly, I don't think so,” Jaishankar said. “My own sense is that support for the relationship is extremely strong in a very, very wide cross section members of Congress and political leaders outside the Congress,” and added, “So, I wouldn't take a few voices and necessarily reach a sweeping conclusion, which your question seems to suggest.”
Jaishankar asserted, "I'm not personalizing this. I don't want to get into names. All I'm saying is we have always operated in this country because we are always engaged with everybody (who) was reasonable and open minded.”
On Capitol Hill, he met with the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Affairs Committee including its Chairman, Republican Senator James E.Risch and Ranking Democratic Member Senator Bob Menendez.
Earlier, on the eve of the two-plus-two meeting, Jaishankar also met with the senior-most Indian American Congressman, U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D.-Calif.), who recently took over the helm of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to India, and the outgoing chair of this Subcommittee. U.S. Rep.BradSherman( D-Calif.) and the Republicans on this panel—U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho and Francis Rooney.
Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also paid a courtesy call on President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, where the latter had reminisced on his joint appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ‘Howdy, Modi! mega event in Houston in September, which attracted an audience of over 50,000 Indian Americans from all across the U.S.
During their meeting with Trump, Jaishankar said, "There was little discussion on trade,” and that he and Singh had also briefed the President on the key highlights and take-aways of the two-plus-two meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Incidentally, the meeting with Trump, took place on the same day he was being impeached by the Democratic majority House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.