S Jaishankar and the diplomacy of self-serving lies

A good diplomat lies to serve the country they owe allegiance to — an idea our external affairs minister applies to the party. Well and good, but what if the lie attacks the nation he is to serve?

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (Photo: social media)
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (Photo: social media)

Aakar Patel

Four centuries ago, the ambassador Sir Henry Wotton defined a diplomat as ‘an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country’. Our external affairs minister S Jaishankar (the ’S’ stands for Subrahmanyam, his father, who was instrumental in weaponising India’s nuclear programme and waging war on Pakistan) is a good spokesperson for the government. He was a good spokesperson also for the previous government, under which he served. What he says, therefore, should not be considered his personal view: he is sent to lie abroad for the good of our country. These days he is in Washington enlightening the world on the great things happening in India. At one of his meetings, a reporter asked him the standard question BJP leaders face when abroad: Why are you targeting other Indians, especially Muslims? Jaishankar replied, as reported by the news agency ANI: “I defy you to show me discrimination.”

It is obvious and does not need to be shown to those who have eyes and ears, but since the gauntlet has been thrown down, it must be picked up perforce. There are three levels at which the BJP discriminates. The first is through exclusion. For the first time in our history, we have no Muslim Union minister, no Muslim government MP, no Muslim BJP MLA anywhere in India (the party has over 1,000 MLAs countrywide)—and this exclusion does not surprise anyone. If in the United States, Joe Biden’s party did not have a single African American or Hispanic American senator, Congress member or state legislator, it would be a scandal. Here in India, this has been made normal.

The second way in which the BJP targets minorities is through law. Beef lynching as a category of violence was gifted to India after the prime minister went after what he called the ‘pink revolution’. In 2015, two BJP-ruled states, first Maharashtra and then Haryana, legislated laws criminalising the possession of beef. The lynchings began shortly thereafter.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in 2019, was according to India’s home minister one part of a pincer. The other was the National Register of Citizens. Their purpose, he explained, was to filter out non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring states and then go after the Muslim ones.

Muslims are the only Indians for whom divorce is a criminal offence. It is a civil wrong for all the rest. This happened through a change in law in 2019. Starting in 2018, BJP states began legislating laws criminalising interfaith marriages, targeting what they called ‘love jihad’. The BJP in Parliament admitted has that there is no such thing as love jihad, when asked a specific question—but the laws are needed nonetheless. Madhya Pradesh’s law, passed in 2021, retains the power to undo a marriage—including one that has resulted in children. The laws have come to BJP-led states of Uttarakhand (2018), Himachal Pradesh (2019), Uttar Pradesh (2020), Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh (2021), Karnataka and Haryana (2022) already.

In 2019, Gujarat amended a law so as to forcibly ghettoise Muslims. It gives the district collector the authority to undo property sales and leases on the grounds of ‘improper clustering’. Meaning that Gujarati Muslims cannot rent or buy property in Gujarat’s neighbourhoods where foreigners can. The amendment gave the government more authority to ensure this forced ghettoisation. In Gujarat in 2017, the punishment for cow slaughter, which is an economic crime, was life imprisonment. No other economic crime in India, including bank fraud of thousands of crores, attracts a lifetime in jail. Why was the punishment increased? To harass Muslims, of course. In Uttar Pradesh, it was reported recently, of the 139 people jailed under the National Security Act, 76 were people who were accused of cattle slaughter.

We could go on with the laws but let us move on to the third way in which Jaishankar discriminates against minorities, and that is through his party’s actions. The convicted rapists of a Muslim Gujarati woman were released in 2022 on the instruction of Jaishankar’s government. The woman’s infant daughter had been murdered by these rapists.

The men convicted of lynching a Muslim were garlanded by Jaishankar’s fellow Union minister in 2018.

Jaishankar’s MPs abuse Muslims inside Parliament. The list of things said by his colleagues is too long to be listed here and perhaps someone else might compile them in another column. After having said what they did, they have been rewarded. A woman who called Muslims something unspeakable is a minister in the Union government’s rural development ministry, as is a man who said India would be better off today if all Muslims were asked to leave. Jaishankar sits next to them at meetings. Again, it does not surprise anyone of us to look at these facts because we have been living with them since 2014. Not only is bigotry and prejudice and discrimination common in New India, but it is also one of the reasons why Jaishankar and his party are politically popular. The consequence of unleashing this is damage which is also visible all around us—at least to those who have eyes and ears. All nations have flaws, and diplomats are expected to lie abroad. But—and Jaishankar must be told this—it is meant to be for the good of their country in the end.

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