Singapore is a key strategic partner, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the country at least five times during his seven years in office, signaling close strategic ties at the highest level. The unusual decision to summon the envoy from such a close partner country is seen as part of a pattern of sensitivity to outside criticism that India has shown in recent years.
This susceptibility is, of course, different from India’s traditionally vigorous protests against declarations regarding the nation’s territorial integrity. Thus, over the past seven decades, he has always forcefully refuted statements made about Jammu and Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh by countries like Pakistan or China. Recently, India issued strong refutations of Nepal’s statements on the Kalapani issue.
India has also regularly dismissed allegations or comments from Pakistan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the situation of minorities, asking them to stay out of India’s internal affairs. While Turkey and Iran have occasionally made similar comments, New Delhi has pushed back strongly.
But of late, the government has reacted – often with seemingly disproportionate intensity – to statements made by leaders of partner countries with which India speaks of “shared values”. She also chose to respond to statements by lawmakers in those countries – made in or outside their parliaments – and comments posted by individuals on social media.
Many diplomats, however, believe that India’s reactions represent essential muscle flexing to project its power on the international stage – an affirmation of identity and a signal that no criticism would be accepted.
TRUDEAU, DECEMBER 2020: After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out in support of farmers protesting the Three Farm BillsIndia criticized his “ill-informed comments” on the “internal affairs of a democratic country”.
Speaking on Gurpurab, Trudeau told Sikh-Canadian leaders, “I would be remiss if I didn’t start by acknowledging the news coming out of India about the farmers’ protest. The situation is worrying. We are all very concerned for family and friends… Let me remind you that Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters. We believe in the process of dialogue. We have contacted the Indian authorities by various means to share our concerns with them. It’s a time for all of us to pull ourselves together. »
In response, then-official MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said without naming Trudeau: “We have seen misinformed comments from Canadian leaders regarding farmers in India. Such comments are unwarranted, especially when they concern the internal affairs of a democratic country. It is also preferable that diplomatic conversations not be distorted for political purposes.
India has also summoned the Canadian high commissioner and said that if such “unacceptable interference” in India’s internal affairs continues, it will have a “seriously detrimental” impact on bilateral relations.
The relationship between India and Canada has suffered some hiccups as Canadian political leaders have attempted to woo the numerically and socially significant Sikh diaspora. The government was frosty during Trudeau’s trip to India in February 2018, as Canada’s ruling party was seen as supporting some pro-Khalistan elements there.
RIHANNA AND GRETA, FEB 2021: After pop star Rihanna and teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg spoke out about farmers’ protests and the January 26 violence, the MEA released a lengthy statement, complete with the hashtags “#IndiaAgainstPropaganda” and “#IndiaTogether.”
The MEA had said: “The temptation of hashtags and sensationalized comments on social media, especially when used by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted: “Motivational campaigns targeting India will never succeed. We have the self-confidence today to hold on. This India will grow back,” using the hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
The Indian government eventually withdrew the Farm Bills.
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ENVOYED FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM, MARCH 2021: Besides Trudeau, Rihanna and Greta, at least a dozen UK MPs, Australia and Canada, and a US Republican leader also expressed support for farmers. There are significant Sikh populations in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, which have a strong influence on the political system in some places.
After the issue surfaced in the British Parliament, India summoned British High Commissioner Alex Ellis to protest what she called “unwarranted and biased” debate in the House. The debate, which took place in response to a public petition which garnered more than 115,000 signatures, saw lawmakers from all parties criticize the Indian government’s handling of the farmers’ protest, accompanied by appeals to the Prime Minister British Boris Johnson to raise their concerns in New Delhi. . Most MPs acknowledged that agricultural reforms were India’s internal affair, but noted that their constituents, who had close ties to India’s agricultural sector, were unhappy.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla made an approach to Ellis saying the debate in Parliament “represented gross interference in the politics of another democratic country”, and advised that “British MPs should refrain to practice vote-banking politics by distorting events, especially in relation to another colleague democracy”.
The Indian Mission in London had previously complained that ‘rather than a balanced debate, false assertions – without substantiation or facts – had been made’ by British MPs.
ENVOYED FROM SOUTH KOREA, FEBRUARY 2022: On February 7, India convened the the South Korean ambassador and expresses his “strong dissatisfaction” about an ‘unacceptable’ social media post from Hyundai Pakistan supporting Kashmir Solidarity Day in Pakistan. “It has been emphasized that this matter concerns the territorial integrity of India on which there can be no compromise,” MEA spokesman Arindam Bagchi said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong called Jaishankar, and as they discussed several issues, Chung also said his country regretted the offense caused to the Indian people and government.
Similar tweets were posted by Pakistani subsidiaries of Kia Motors, KFC, Suzuki and other multinationals. It is unclear whether India has also protested to other countries.
UNDER PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS: In December 2013, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded with outrage to the treatment of diplomat Devyani Khobragade by US law enforcement. India summoned US diplomats and sought certain diplomatic privileges, dragging bilateral diplomatic relations to a low point.
Long before that, Indira Gandhi regularly blamed the “foreign hand” for India’s internal challenges.