Addressing the media, the minister discussed India’s foreign policy with the neighbouring countries and other issues including NSG membership and bilateral ties with Pakistan.
Graduating from a vocal political heavyweight to a low-profile minister under a hyperactive prime minister, the transformation in Sushma Swaraj, over the past two years, has been noteworthy.
Staying away from media, but focussed on her work, in her rare one-hour press interaction, she chose to address and reply questions only in Hindi, the favourite language of Modi, marking her two years in office.
Defending India’s aggressive diplomacy to claim the membership of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), she said that China was not opposing India’s entry, but was only talking about membership procedures.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar made an unscheduled visit to Beijing on June 16-17 to secure its support, ahead of the NSG plenary meeting in Seoul on June 24. Swaraj said India was hopeful that it will be able to convince China to give its backing.
The NSG works under the principle of unanimity and even one country’s vote against India can scuttle its bid. “I am myself in contact with 23 nations, one or two raised concerns but I think consensus is there,” she said.
Asked about the import of such global campaigning, when India already has an NSG waiver granted back in 2008, Swaraj explained that the climate change conference made a difference.
“When we committed to bring carbon footprints and pollution levels down, that means switching over to non-fossil fuels. And that means nuclear energy will be atleast one-third of our non-fossil fuel basket,” she added, emphasising that India wants a predictable atmosphere for those who will invest in nuclear energy. “That is why we want to become an NSG member,” she said.
Swaraj said that instead of talking about criteria with respect to India’s bid, its credentials should be discussed. She also said India was not opposing the entry of any other member, when specifically asked about Pakistan’s application.
“India, being a non-member of the NSG, cannot comment on its entry and its role. But we will not oppose the entry of any nation to the NSG,” she added. Pakistan, while seeking NSG membership, has been lobbying with other countries to block India.
Though keeping frail health, which also delayed her annual press conference by a month, sources close to Swaraj say that Modi has rejected her informal plea to shift her to a less-tiring portfolio.
It is believed that she may get another junior minister to assist her as her job entails a lot of travelling. Officials further said that, unlike her predecessors, she has deliberately kept a low- profile, refuses requests for interview from both national and foreign media, but have an influential say in foreign policy, which many see is being dictated by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Denying allegations that the Modi government was going slow on absconders Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi, she said extradition requests for the two will be processed at the earliest, reminding that previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was only talking about deportation.
Baring a few occasions, when Pranab Mukherjee was at the helm in South Block, the last word in foreign policy has been always been that of the Prime Minister’s Office.
But Swaraj has succeeded in keeping a balance, even though the PM is known directly to S Jaishankar, the man he brought in as foreign secretary.
She may not have raised herself to the status of Mukherjee, but Swaraj has not relegated herself to the status of Bali Ram Bhagat, who headed the MEA in the 1980s and is known in the corridors of South Block as the least empowered foreign minister.