Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was reportedly not aware of the inclusion of non-member Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and two others to the list of lawmakers to meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Washington DC last week.
During his visit to Washington for the 2+2 US-India dialogue, Jaishankar had abruptly cancelled a meeting with senior members of Congress after the lawmakers refused demands to exclude congresswoman Pramila Jayapal who has criticized the Indian government’s policies in Kashmir.
Engel is believed to have learnt about the addition to the team only after the Indian Embassy objected to the changes in the list agreed upon, sources told PTI.
Engel got to know about the changes in the list only on the morning of December 18, they said, adding that it was too late and it would have been quite inappropriate for him to take any step that could have been seen as going against his own Congressional colleagues.
The Indian Embassy, miffed at the manner in which additional names of lawmakers who were not even members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were added without taking it into confidence, cancelled the meeting, the sources said.
Multiple sources privy to the deliberations in Washington DC last week indicated that in addition to Ms Jayapal, the list included two other lawmakers who are part of the same group and in the recent past have been hostile in their attitude towards India on the issues of Kashmir, human rights and religious freedom.
Before his US visit, Jaishankar had requested a meeting with the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican Senator is the Chairman and a Democratic lawmaker the Ranking Member. It is just the opposite in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Jaishankar’s meeting with the Senate committee went according to schedule.
Chennai-born Pramila Jayapal, 54, the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives, has been one of the few lawmakers, mostly from the Democratic Party, raising their voices against the Indian government’s move on Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier this month, Jayapal introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives urging India to lift all restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Jayapal has also criticised the CAA saying the citizenship law “adds a whole level of complexity to India as a secular democracy – one of the great prides of the country.”
Jaishankar’s decision to cancel the meeting had invited criticism from the US lawmakers, who termed it as India’s “unwillingness to listen to criticism” over the Kashmir issue.
Following this, government officials said that a “distorted narrative” was being put out by some over the decision of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Speaking on the criticism, officials, quoted by ANI said, “No Foreign Minister of any independent country should be pressurised into meeting politicians with their own agendas”.
“A distorted narrative is being put out by some about EAM’s meeting with the US Congress. The External Affairs Minister asked to meet the leadership of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Senate meeting took place as envisaged with a very open conversation. Some members of the HFAC also met the minister and discussed issues. But the HFAC invited others without even seeking consent. This is at the heart of the issue,” the officials clarified.
“Rep. Jayapal is not a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and her positions on India are well known. A meeting was not sought with her. Therefore, it was not India which put conditions for the meeting with the HFAC leadership, but the HFAC that insisted on unilaterally bringing a non-member,” officials added.
Defending his decision Jaishankar had earlier said, “I am aware of that (Congressional) resolution. I don’t think it’s a fair understanding of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or a fair characterisation of what the government of India is doing. And I have no interest in meeting (Jayapal)”.
(With PTI inputs)