NEW YORK – India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, reveled in a mini ‘Howdy Modi’-like session himself in New York on Monday, December 16, 2019, where he addressed and interacted with some members of the Indian American community from the Tristate area, at the Asia Society auditorium.
Singh, the senior-most Cabinet minister in the Modi government, after Home minister Amit Shah, was in a jovial mood and looked relaxed at the more two-hour long evening meet hosted by the Consulate General of India in New York.
Singh arrived in New York early morning on Monday. He stopped here on his way to the second 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, in Washington, DC, scheduled for December 18.
India’s Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, attended the evening meet too, and introduced the minister to the audience, which comprised of invited community members, including from the India-America Chamber of Commerce and the FIA (Tristate).
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will join Singh in Washington, DC, to hold talks with their US counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Mike Esper, respectively.
In his speech, Singh touched upon a number of issues that are making daily headlines in India, including the raging protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, the stagnant, floundering economy, and dealing with Pakistan and its rampant terrorism.
Later, he took some questions from the audience, and then was gracious enough to pose for group photos with almost everybody present in the packed auditorium. It was evident that Singh has kept an astute watch of Modi’s popularity with the Indian diaspora, and was keen to emulate that success with his talk and approachability.
Singh spoke at length on the CAA, reiterating that the measure is not anti-Muslim, as perceived by its critics and certain opposition parties.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which is now law, is not anti-Muslim,” Singh said in his speech spoken in Hindi, adding that the situation in India after the passing of the CAA was under control, and that “any confusion will be removed.”
According to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), refugees from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have emigrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to India, as of December 31, 2014, after facing religious persecution in those countries, will be considered for Indian citizenship. The protests have emanated from Muslim community being excluded from the list of religions, and the apprehension that the secular fabric of India will be destroyed in the years to come.
Singh said Muslims are not included in the CAA as these three countries are “theocratic” and “Islamic” states and “in an Islamic state, at least those who follow the religion of Islam do not face religious persecution. Maybe they face some other persecution but not religious persecution because the religion of that state is Islam.
“That is why, we didn’t give it to Muslims. Otherwise we are not the ones to discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion. Our culture does not teach us to hate. I consider every Muslim living in India as my brother, as my family member,” he said, adding that it is India which has given the message of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ to the world.
Singh stressed that one cannot win over people by bringing in a “sense of alienation with our behavior. If we have to make someone ours, we can do that only by instilling a sense of confidence in them”.
Singh also made it clear that the Modi government was open to suggestions to make changes in the act, if necessary.
“I want to make it clear that the CAB is not anti-Muslim. If anyone can tell me that the CAB is anti-Muslim, then we will rethink about CAB,” he said.
Singh assured the audience that the Modi government has been decisive in its actions, and whose thinking is that politics is meant to advance nation’s development, and not just for the sake of seeking power. He said he is confident that India’s economy will recover soon, adding that India too had been impacted by global economic slowdown.
Singh’s sentiment was reiterated by Amit Shah too, in India, speaking at the Times Network India Economic Conclave 2019.
“I also accept that there is global economic slowdown and India is also impacted by it to some extent. But I can say with full confidence that India will come out of this difficult situation in only few months’ time,” Singh said.
“We can face and tackle the global economic slowdown only by increasing consumer demand,” he said, adding that the government has taken several structural and procedural reforms whose impact is now visible.
“Despite the global economic recession, India has not been impacted because as compared to other countries, India’s consumer demand is comparatively better. We will definitely come out of this difficult situation, he said.
India’s GDP growth slowed for the sixth consecutive quarter in the July-September quarter to 4.5 per cent as manufacturing slumped on low domestic consumption.
Singh pointed out that it is not the first time that India is getting affected by the global economic slowdown, having faced reverses during the time when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister, and before that during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time.
Singh outlined some of the major initiatives taken by the Modi government, to improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalized in India, including a firm focus on building toilets to end open defecation, and to provide electricity and cooking gas, in villages.
Singh received thunderous applause when he spoke of the measures taken in Kashmir, to make it an integral part of India, which it had not been before the abrogation of Article 370.
“I can say with confidence that the BJP accepted this challenge of crisis of credibility. We have done what we said,” he said, pointing out that the BJP had promised to end the special provisions in Kashmir, as far back as 1951, once they get majority in Parliament.
In response to a question on the Sikh community, Singh said India will never be able to forget the contributions of the Sikh community.
“No one has given the kind of sacrifices that the Sikh community has made to protect the culture of India,” he said, to appreciative applause.
Singh also played to the gallery by his strong words on how India plans to deal with Pakistan if terrorism continued to emanate from across the border.
With the induction of Rafale fighter jets in India’s air force, India will not have to cross the borders to “eliminate the terror camps” in Pakistan but can do it from the country itself, Singh said.
“If we have to eliminate the terror camps, there will be no need to take the planes to Pakistan. We can do it from India”, Singh said, adding in response to a question from the audience that India considers Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir as its territory.
Singh pointed out that India has been mindful of how to diplomatically deal with terrorism in Pakistan which created mayhem in India.
“…Not a single civilian was killed and neither did we attack any Pakistani military establishment. We never want to attack a country’s sovereignty. This is our character,” Singh said.
Later, Singh tweeted his appreciation of his interaction with the diaspora: “Had a wonderful interaction with the dynamic Indian community in New York. During my interaction I appreciated the contribution of the Indian American Community and also lauded their role in the super success of ‘Howdy Modi’ event earlier this year in Houston.”