NEW DELHI: Is India's foreign policy getting too "arrogant" or is it just a sign of a new "confidence"? Not a question that could be expected to get prime news space in usual conditions.
But a heated spat in the public sphere between Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar has touched a raw chord, and sparked off a debate that has broken through even amidst raging controversies over mandir-masjid and India’s economic woes.
Stung to the quick by Rahul's trenchant comments about how "the Indian Foreign Service had completely changed" and been infected by "the deep state", Jaishankar came out all guns blazing on Twitter on Saturday.
Yes, the IFS has changed, he retorted. "Yes, they follow the orders of the government. Yes, they counter the arguments of others. No, it’s not called arrogance. It’s called confidence...(and) defending national interest," he tweeted
Yes, the Indian Foreign Service has changed.— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 21, 2022
Yes, they follow the orders of the Government.
Yes, they counter the arguments of others.
No, its not called Arrogance.
It is called Confidence.
And it is called defending National Interest. pic.twitter.com/eYynoKZDoW
What sparked off such a testy response was partly where Rahul had spoken: at a public forum in London, called the 'Ideas for India' conference. And partly the fact that it revealed, in an all-too-visible space, what could be genuine international opinion, which the Modi government is quite sensitive to.
Amidst an omnibus denunciation of the ruling Modi government on all fronts, Rahul said that some "European bureaucrats" had told him during private interactions that Indian diplomats now "won't listen to anything -- they are arrogant".
And that they merely mouth what "orders" they get: "there is no conversation".
Juxtaposed with a remark that "the deep state is now chewing and eating up India, much like what happened in Pakistan", it was bound to stir a hornet's nest. In another inflammable metaphor, Rahul said the BJP had "spread kerosene all over the country and all it needs is a spark".
After Jaishankar's riposte, the usual war of words erupted between party spokespersons -- Randeep Singh Surjewala on the Congress side and Gautam Bhatia for the BJP -- and the Shiv Sena’s voluble Sanjay Raut joined in.