External Affairs Minister Jaishankar: India Has Concerns About U.S. Human Rights Record

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and U.S. president Joe Biden met virtually last Monday to discuss their bilateral relationship, especially U,S, insistence that India not increase  its oil and gas imports from Russia, according to the New York Times, Biden Urges Modi Not to Increase India’s Reliance on Russian Oil and Gas.  Russian oil currently accounts for about one percent of India’s exports.

India has abstained from UN votes condemning Russian actions  in Ukraine. India has most recently condemned the killings in Bucha and called for a fuller UN investigation, but tellingly,  has not attributed those killings to Russia.  Per the NYT:

On Monday, Mr. Modi again declined to single out Russia by name even as he condemned the apparent human rights abuses in Bucha, which the United States and others have said are evidence of war crimes.

“The news about the killings of innocent civilians in the Bucha city was very worrying,” Mr. Modi said in public remarks at the beginning of his meeting with Mr. Biden. He did not attribute the killings to Russia, but said that “we instantly condemned the killings and have called for an independent inquiry.”

These talks were accompanied by 2 plus 2 meetings in Washington, between Indian external affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh and their U.S. counterparts, U.S. secretary of state Anthony Blinken and U.S. secretary for defense Lloyd Austin. This was the fourth such meeting.

Now, some have suggested – in NC comments threads, among other places – that Modi will respond to U.S. arm twisting by walking back India’s commitment to an independent multi alignment policy and instead capitulate to pursuing the sanctions policy against Russia  that the U.S. demands.

I think that highly unlikely, for reasons I outlined in a post two weeks ago, India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World. First, India has pursued a broadly non-aligned policy more or less from its Independence from the Raj. This new multi-alignment policy is the logical follow-on from that policy, in response to the rise of a multipolar world. Second, Jaishankar published a remarkable book in 2020, The India Way, which serves as a primer for understanding India’s current approach to managing its international affairs. If one wants to understand the terms in which Indi’s leaders see the current state of the world and the role India should play in it, there’s no better place to start than with this erudite, elegant book. Third, to be sure, Modi’s BJP government is advancing this policy. But Modi has time and time again demonstrated a facility to draw on the best of India’s technocrats – such as Jaishankar in this case – in designing and implementing BJP government policies. Moreover,  support for this multi-aligned policy extends across the Indian political spectrum – if anything, the Congress Party is even more committed to pursuing a non-aligned policy, as it was India’s first prime minister – and Congress Party member, Jawaharlal Nehru, who first charted India’s non-aligned foreign policy course. So, even in the unlikely event of an electoral upheaval, India’s multi-aligned foreign policy is here to stay.

Finally, it’s clearly in India’s self-interest to get the best possible economic deals for its people, especially – as Jaishankar has observed, India’s Russian oil imports are mere drops in the bucket, compared to Russian fossil fuel being taken in by Europe. According to The Hindustan Times, India’s 1-month oil from Russia less than Europe’s in one afternoon: Jaishankar:

Delivering a firm rebuttal to a widely held but factually inaccurate perception of India’s energy relationship with Russia, external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said those who are looking at India’s energy purchases from Russia would be better served if they turned their attention to Europe.

At the press meeting after the conclusion of the 2+2 dialogue in Washington DC on Monday, Jaishankar said, “If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe…We do buy some energy which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So you might want to think about that.”

Or, to put it more bluntly, if Germany and Europe cannot forgo their Russian fossil fuel fix, why should India do so – particularly when fuel is being offered on such favourable terms?

Aftermath of 2 + 2 Indo-U.S. Meetings

Let’s delve a bit more deeply into what happened on the immediate aftermath of the D.C. meetings. The U.S. defense department followed with release of a warm and fuzzy document, Readout of U.S. – India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue: From that document:

Secretary Austin and his counterparts exchanged views on a range of regional security priorities—spanning the Indian Ocean region to East and Southeast Asia to Europe. They agreed to maintain close consultations on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, including on humanitarian assistance efforts, and echoed support for an independent investigation into the brutal violence deployed against civilians in Bucha. In support of India’s leading role as a net security provider, the leaders discussed new opportunities to coordinate more closely together to ensure that the United States and India’s shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region continues to thrive.

….

The leaders discussed ways to coordinate more closely with like-minded nations—including Australia, Japan, and European partners—to ensure that our shared principles of the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states prevail today and far into the future. Today’s 2+2 Ministerial reaffirmed that the United States and India will continue stand shoulder-to-shoulder, rooted in common democratic values, as two pillars of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

in other words, all the correct noises were uttered in impeccable diplomat-speak. Alas, last September the U.S. had shocked India by peremptorily announcing a new trilateral security arrangement, AUKUS, among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, thus superseding the  Quadrlateral Security Dialogue – the Quad – among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. More than any other recent U.S. action, this move helped convince India that the U.S. is a less than reliable ally.  India had been a prime mover behind the Quad arrangements. Moreover, as part of the new AUKUS accord, the U.S. agreed to send nuclear submarines to Australia – after having dithered about sending such subs to India, due to concern about technology transfer to India.

While the U.S. defense department played good cop, state slipped easily into the bad cop role, choosing to highlight concerns about Indian human rights abuses at a joint press conference. According to the Hindustan Times, US monitoring ‘concerning’ human rights abuses in India: Blinken:

During his press appearance after the 2+2 dialogue — with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar standing next to him — Blinken said that India and the US share a commitment to “our democratic values, such as protecting human rights”.

“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values, and to that end we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police, and prison officials.”

While Washington has emphasised the need for protection of minorities and civil liberties in India, this is the first time in recent times that US has directly implicated Indian government officials in human rights abuses.

The Indian ministers did not respond on the dais.

Blinken did not elaborate, and it was not clear what specific incidents he was referring to….

The state department followed with the release of a report the very next day highlighting specific U.S. concerns aboutIndia’s human rights record, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: India. From the executive summary:

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The Hindustan Times article further discussed pressures from progressive Democrats “which have accused India of democratic backsliding in recent years.” Blinken and Jaishankar met again Tuesday in an event on Tuesday at Howard University, acccoring to The Times of India,Blinken & Jaishankar for enhanced US-India educational ties to boost bilateral relations.

How did India – specifically Jaishankar – respond to the U.S. concerns? Over to the Times of India, Have concerns about human rights in US: EAM Jaishankar:

Unfazed and unbowed in the face of American pressure, India is pushing back at Washington  on several contentious issues- including the threat of sanctions. and its crusade for human rights – while maintaining that ties between the two sides are strong enough to accommodate differences.

In a blunt rebuttal to the US menacing New Delhi with sanction threats over its purchases of Russian S-400 missile system, external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday said CAATSA, the US domestic law that enjoins sanctions for such transactions with American adversaries, was for Washington to sort out.

“It is their legislation and whatever has to be done has to be done by them,” Jaishankar said, implicitly declaring that India will do what it takes to safeguard its security without worrying about sanctions.

Jaishankar similarly pushed back at US criticism of human rights in India, attributing it to American lobbies and vote banks.

“People are entitled to have views about us.We also are entitled to have views about their lobbies and vote banks.We will not be reticent. We also have views on other people’s human rights, particularly when it pertains to our community,” Jaishankar retorted in one of the strongest repudiation of the constant American lectures on human rights. Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.

Is anyone in Washington listening? Well, this subsequent report in Firstpost, suggests that perhaps Blinken now understands that the US bullying isn’t likely to yield the results the U.S. seeks, The latest reset: India and the United States amid Ukraine war. Blinken’s next-day comments were much more cordial:

After Blinken raised concerns about human rights in India, Jaishankar responded by saying India too has concerns about human rights in America. The next day, Blinken noted: “The US and India have always had much to learn from one another… interactions with Gandhi influenced a key figure in our nation’s journey: Martin Luther King, Jr. We share a special bond indeed.”

As to what happens next: I think it’s safe to say that India is not going to join the UK, and much of Europe, in entering the U.S. kennel, acting like a poodle happily yip yapping at America’s heels and allowing Washington to set the tone and course of its future relations with Russia – or any other country, for that matter.

Instead, as Dr. Sunandan Roy Chowdhury, editor of Eastern Review magazine, pointed out to me in a telephone interiew:

India will not toe a US line not only because of its understanding of its relationship with Russia, but also India is acutely aware of its geopolitical location in Asia, its biggest neighbour is China, and Russia and China are poles that India will not ignore because India knows if it does so, that will be in effect to the detriment of its own self-interest. Geostrategic reasons may even override the immediate economic benefits of cheap petrol.

As for the U.S.: Will Washington once again learn how to practice effective diplomacy? I’m not so sure. During recent decades, diplomatic skills seems to have been lost, forgotten or outright abandoned, both along the Potomac and in the extensive outside interactions between the United States and the wider world.

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30 comments

  1. ChrisRUEcon

    This is so delectable, as to almost invite the feeling one has when consuming a wonderful dessert.

    Love it! Love it! Love it!

    The US has no moral high ground. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

    Side note that this is turning weasels like Modi and his entourage into “heroes”, but … #KenJeongIWillAllowItMeme

    Wherefore art though, Pakistan?!

  2. Troglodyte

    Recent history suggests that India is turning away not only from a US-aligned approach in geopolitics but a rejection of America’s version of economic globalization.

    IT outsourcing in general has brought low-value employment to India’s booming masses that are long on cost savings but short on capital development. As a result, India is acutely aware that these de facto dead end jobs are at great risk of being wiped out by digitized capital goods development, like deployment of AI for call centers and mundane software engineering needs.

    The Indian populist right often compares Bangalore to Shenzhen, noting (correctly) that a knowledge of English and an interest in slotting into Western ideas did not by themselves translate into India becoming an “IT superpower.”

    The rise of Bharat Biotech and Covaxin suggests a future more in line with China and now Russia’s preferred economic model. The frank and open anti-West discussions on Republic TV previously noted on NC suggest to me all that’s left is to demolish Hollywood’s grip on the populace.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe that IT jobs are neither inherently low-value jobs, nor necessarily short on capital development. Those are traits IT jobs acquire through Neoliberal Economic practices. The kinds of knowledge transfer implicit in many of the IT jobs outsourced to India could have been exploited, had Indian firms been willing to invest in exploiting that knowledge … but that would run contrary to the principles of Neoliberal capitalism, and as in the u.s., some Indians became very wealthy and powerful. I believe the wonders possible through “deployment of AI for call centers and mundane software engineering needs”, though much ballyhooed, are much inflated.

      I have never watched it — is Republic TV openly anti-West, or would it be more accurate to say it is merely anti-Neoliberal and anti-Neocon? I also wonder …
      Does Hollywood still have a grip on even the u.s. populace? I am definitely on the fringes, but I have not heard of many recent Hollywood movies that made me anxious to see them [possibly the new “Dune”(?) but I cannot think of anything else and I am not sure the new “Dune” is “Hollywood”].

      1. Fritzi

        Well, I have never in my life been anxious to see a Marvel movie (and that’s putting it nicely), but they still seem crazy popular.

        There was a link to an article that fretted about American blockbusters slowly losing their appeal in China.

        I definitely found myself hoping that’s true.

    2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I don’t think Hollywood has all that much of a grip on the Indian populace, which instead dances to a Bollywood beat.

      1. Troglodyte

        I should have been clearer in my metonym usage – perhaps Madison Avenue? Whoever has successfully given Indians the impression that America is a land of milk and honey and that making it, either yourself or your children, is seen as a status symbol.

  3. lance ringquist

    the skills were lost because the free traders took over, its a idiotology that says whats mine is mine, whats yours is mine, and there will be no discussions about this period.

    you saw the hammer come down on yugoslavia, you could be next!

  4. Bugs

    India could have cut much deeper on human rights violations in the US but their foreign service still practices diplomacy. Something Blinken et al could learn from.

    1. Oh

      People like Blinken dare to talk about other countries’ human rights record and treatment of journalists when they are so guilty of persecuting true journaists like Julian Assange. Such hypocrisy!

  5. timbers

    Did Modi sanction Biden’s maid, chef, valet, mistress, Jill’s male companion, the entire WH servant staff and the guy who changed Biden’s car oil Friday, prior to the virtual meeting? NO! Clearly India has learned nothing from Western tutelage and set herself up for failure.

  6. Jeremy Grimm

    I am mystified how asking/compelling other countries to act contrary to their national interests might be called diplomacy. I had always thought diplomacy was much more subtle and shall I say ‘elegant’ than the threats, bribes, and bluster the u.s. has come to regard as diplomacy. U.s. diplomacy has the quality of threats coming from a grade-school playground bully afflicted with acute asthma on a windy, spore and pollen filled day.

    This post disappointed me when I read it looking for expression of External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and India’s concerns about the u.s. human rights record, as the post’s title promised. “We also have views on other people’s human rights, particularly when it pertains to our community,” Jaishankar retorted in one of the strongest repudiations of the constant American lectures on human rights.” Ouch! Is that really Jaishankar’s strongest repudiation of the u.s. on human rights that he may express!? Spank hard on the u.s. with a cat-o-wet-noodles! This post seems to more fully describe the u.s. chiding of India’s human rights record. The u.s. chiding any country about human rights … impresses me as beyond risible.

    I also have concerns regarding considerations of Indian affairs without keeping Pakistan in the foreground and vice versa. Even given my limited knowledge of the two countries, their history, and the nature of their conflicts — though they may have split in 1948, I cannot think of their futures separately. Where is Pakistan in these fractures of relations resulting from the u.s. ‘diplomatic’ incompetence [a word too kind]. I believe the u.s. diplomatic disasters are mindlessly crafting an outline of the new world hegemonic structures for this and the next century. I believe the u.s. place will be greatly withered by present u.s. stupidity, arrogance, and cupidity [a statement too kind].

    1. Ben Speller

      Indian FM was actually being diplomatic, in contrast to the naked bullying by both by Blinken, and the Deputy NSA Daleep Singh a few days earlier. (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/us-deputy-nsa-raises-war-consequences-in-india-101648730876864-amp.html). I assume that the language was much stronger in the actual meetings. Totally agree that the USA deserved a stronger whack. But India probably feels they have a little more rope left to give to the USA. Biden is hurtling towards the cliff in ’22 & ’24, while Modi is the clear favorite by a sizeable margin for 2024, for another 5 year term. So why waste precious diplomatic capital with an outburst at the incompetent government of a declining country?

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        I agree. I think Jaishankar chose his words carefully. He was a career diplomat for decades, before becoming India’s MEA. By contrast, the U.S. is a one trick pony: it does naked bullying- not particularly well – and not much else.

    2. Glen

      It really does make one wonder. America seems to be working hard to re-define “the stick”, but seems to have no more “carrot” at all.

  7. William Verick

    Contra Anthony Blinken: Martin Luther King never interacted with Ghandi. When Ghandi died in 1948, King had just graduated from Morehouse University. King was 19. He never met Ghandi.

    It was the Communist Quaker Bayard Rustin who had gone to India in 1948 to study Ghandi’s brand of non-violent activism and who in the mid ’50’s convinced King to foreswear use of violence in his activism.

    What Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman applies to Blinken: Every word is a lie, including “a” and “the.”

  8. RobertC

    My RobertC April 17, 2022 at 12:16 pm analysis that India is at risk with “BJP’s attempt to turn India into a Hindu nationalist state”.

    A “GenX” perspective Why I’m Losing Hope in India

    Call it buyers’ remorse. Those of us who thought that muscular leadership would revive India’s dream of mimicking Chinese-style double-digit expansion are not just disappointed. For many of my generation, our long-cherished hope for a better, greater India is all but gone. We wanted to trade some of our democratic chaos for a little bit more growth. We ended up with less of both.

    WRT to Pakistan I can’t think of a foreign policy and national security headache worse for its neighbors — Iran, Afghanistan, China, India — than treacherous Pakistan. Perennially failing, nuclear-armed, increasingly Islamist, essentially military-ruled, etc etc. Today’s example Pakistan stirs up Pashtun hornet’s nest. And then there’s Balochistan.

  9. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

    Thanks for these details about Rustin, of which I was unaware. As you mention, King was heavily influenced by Gandhian principles, although he never met Gandhi. According to Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute, India Trip :

    From the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to India’s Mahatma Gandhi as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change” (Papers 5:231). Following the success of the boycott in 1956, King contemplated traveling to India to deepen his understanding of Gandhian principles. To King, “India is the land where the techniques of nonviolent social change were developed that my people have used in Montgomery, Alabama and elsewhere throughout the American South” (Press Conference 02.10).

    Following an inquiry by then-Indian PM Nehru, King and his wife travelled to India in 1959. From the same source:

    King told a group of reporters gathered at the airport, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim” (Papers 5:126). During his time in Delhi, King discussed his perspectives on nonviolence with various heads of state: prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and vice president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. According to Coretta Scott King, he compared the sessions with the founders of independent India to “meeting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in a single day” (My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr.).

    Re the McCarthy quotation about Hellman, I think it goes, “I can’t stand her. I think every word she writes is false, including ‘and’ and ‘but.’” Such a wonderful quotation!

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      My comment above, which is improperly placed, is in response to William Verick.

  10. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Jerri.

    India’s stance is widely covered and praised in the former colonies that have an Indian diaspora, e.g. South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and in the Caribbean. It’s often pointed out in these places, which receive Doordarshan on satellite, that the Bidens have links with Ukrainian oligarchs, implying that the Bidens should do their own fighting and leave other people out of it.

    One wonders if the big story from this conflict will not be Russia, but the emergence of India as confident nation and one that will defend its interests and ignore what AUKUS, the quad, EU and others exhort it to do, i.e. fight China and Russia to the last Indian.

    Few people in the west are aware of India’s ties with the USSR and its successor state and how some Indians, including from the diaspora, study in Russia and sometimes return with a spouse. Indians and mixed couples being refused entry in Poland or herded off trains bound for Poland did not go down well at home.

    A fortnight ago, an Indian TV news programme featured a comparison between India and France, looking at economic, social and defence indicators. It was suggested that India should replace France at the G7 as it met all the criteria and more. One commentator, from Africa, suggested India should chart her own way and ignore these western power structures. I was puzzled why the comparison was not made with the UK as India has few ties with France. I can only think of Pondichery. I meant to e-mail you the link, but got caught up with something. If I can find it, I will send.

    Please keep an eye on Johnson’s forthcoming visit to India, apparently to enhance defence ties. One wonders if Johnson will dress down the natives like the, er, good old days. One wonders how the charlatan’s classical BS bingo will go down in that ancient culture.

    I will e-mail you more about this. Must dash as work intrudes.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      More than 20,000 Indians were studying medicine in Ukraine when the war commenced and needed to be evacuated.

      Indo-French ties are increasing, with a flurry of recent high-level meetings – some completed, many pending, as the AUKUS announcement dissed both countries. I outlined some of India’s AUKUS concerns above. As for France, the Aussies cancelled a French contract to supply submarines, and took the U.S. offer instead. Paris was not pleased. I discussed this further in my India post from earlier this month.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Jerri.

        There have been naval exercises, called Lapeyrouse after an 18th century French navigator, in the Indian Ocean involving France and India. French forces are stationed in Reunion and Mayotte. India is building a base in Agalega, an island owned by Mauritius.

        One notices an increase in interest in the Indian diaspora in Reunion and French West Indies.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          I’ll be watching these Indo-French developments with great interest and would appreciate if you would forward any links you might see. I follow the (English-language) Indian press quite closely but still miss lots of relevant stuff.

  11. William Verick

    This is from memory from way back, but I think it’s true. Ghandi got interested in non-violent civil disobedience, at least in part, by reading Thoreau’s essays, “The Duty of Civil Disobedience” and “Life without Principle.”

  12. Oh

    By necessity, India has to please the US as well as Russia. I wonder if the recent withdrawal of the tender to purchase Russian helicopters was a effort to appease the US. The excuse was they wanted to manufacture them indigenously. Jaishankar, the Indian External Affairs Minister appears to be an excellent diplomat. I’m not as impressed by Modi who seems to be a “Hindutva”.
    There’s an old Chinese saying that goes “Man who has one foot on land and the other on boat fall in water”. I hope Indian foreign policy has good balancing moves!

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