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Transcript of Interview of External Affairs Minister with ANI during his visit to the United Kingdom

May 05, 2021

Journalist: Hello Sir. What is the outcome and how do you look at the India UK Summit?

External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar: Naveen, I don’t use this term lightly but I think this was really in many ways can be transformational for the relationship. There were four big outcomes, there was a very very detailed roadmap for the relationship till 2030 which we have worked out which pretty much covers all the aspects of India UK could be doing. There is an enhanced trade partnership which envisages a free trade agreement and which provides for some immediate economic trade gains for both parties. There was a global innovation partnership, because as you know UK has very strong technology and innovation skills and programs, this is something where we have worked together in the past and we are trying to take it forward and I myself signed fourth outcome that is migration and mobility partnership agreement with home secretary Preeti Patel. It provides for more legal flows of migration and mobility and it encourages talent flow between the two countries, that’s very important because when we look, whether its manufacturing, whether it is knowledge economy, education, the ability of people to work after education, these are all aspects which are very important. You can already feel the change today in the relationship, I was informed infact due to changes of the policies in recent months, and from October actually 58 thousand more Indians have qualified to come to the UK. So this is the relationship, infact to use Prime Minister Boris Johnson words, we are not looking at something evolutionary we are looking at something transformational and our Prime Minister also highlighted the living bridge which is a very very unique talent. But I am also here at the time when Covid challenge is so big in India and is uppermost in our minds.

As Foreign minister, I’m very involved in harnessing the enormous good will that we have in the world and UK has been really a very very solid friend. We are getting oxygen plants, concentrators, cylinders to address the oxygen challenge, cryogenic tanks and you of course know the vaccine collaboration we have, covishield is the outcome of that which is the main vaccine that is made in India. Our scientists are working together on sequencing as well. So it’s an important day today for the relationship, but it is also a day today when I feel sitting in UK the enormous support and feeling which people in UK, Indian community here has for the covid situation and how much would they like to contribute to our efforts to deal with.

Journalist: Jaishankar Ji, Now you will be moving to G7 meetings after this. And as you mentioned in your answer that this is very serious Covid situation so what will be your agenda in G7 vis-a-vis covid situation? Will you be raising this issue with them? Will you be seeking help from them? Can you give us a brief outline?

External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar: G 7 had its own agenda. It’s G7 and there are four of us who are guests, ourselves, Australia, South Korea and South Africa. The agenda already had covid very much in it, because it is today the biggest challenge which not just India but the entire world faces. Now when it comes to G 7 Foreign Ministers, bear in mind I am pretty much in touch with all of them. They actually have been through it, many of them. The US has been through it, UK has been through it, Germany, France Italy and not just been through it, they have been through very very severe form of it last year and the beginning of this year. In fact if you look at it proportionally in many cases their intensity is as much as we are going through it in India. Some ways it is even more than what we are going through and a lot of our situation and our stresses today, you know the hospitals situation, oxygen situation, New York has seen it, France has seen it, Italy has seen it. I was infact, though he is not here, just while coming in was talking to my counterpart in Portugal, he was telling me, he said just a few months ago we went through it, we had the highest per capita cases and fatalities but we have come through it. So my message going to G 7 is this is a global challenge and everybody knows that all of you have been through it, we are going through it right now, there are various factors and reasons why it is serious and severe as it is and global pandemic requires global effort and in the past we have contributed to that global effort, being part of other people solution and I am sure beginning with the meeting that I already had with Secretary Blinken yesterday, I think rest of the G7 feels the same.

Journalist: Sir will you be talking about the aid? The material aid which these countries are giving and Sir, is it a shift in our policy because I think we are asking for aid after some decades and aid is coming in from foreign countries. Can you just touch on this topic?

External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar: I think quite honestly to my mind this is not the accurate way of projecting the situation, as I said covid is a shared problem for the whole world. Now just look at last year or even this year, when it came to medicines we gave hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol, we gave to US, we gave to Singapore, we gave to European countries, we sent medical team to Kuwait, we gave vaccines to some countries in the Gulf. Now what you describe as aid we describe as friendship and as support. I think we have to understand the uniqueness of the problem we are facing today, so when you say it is not like what it was before, look there was no covid before, we never really had it. In my lifetime, I’m older than you, I have never seen a global crisis of this proportion. A global crisis require people to come together so I think this kind of aid and this kind of argument, this is sort of point scoring. I think people are not connecting conceptually to the problem; they are not connecting emotionally with the suffering and the danger happening in India. The kind of situation which I am seeing and you are seeing in Delhi, I will do everything in my power to get help to our people. So I will leverage all my relationships, I will call in every I owe you I have and I have many because I have done my shift in the past and people know that. I had foreign minister saying this I would like to do this. There are people who say at least I am morally with you, I feel I like to do something, I have limitations. You must understand to say this is aid, this is different, have you gone down in life because we are getting support from outside, I don’t think so. For me, I have one objective; my people are going through a very difficult phase of covid in the second wave. As Foreign Minister, as someone heading a Ministry which has relationships around the world, I will do everything which I have accumulated in many many years to help my people, its natural.

Journalist: Sir, there is also a political angle. A lot of foreign media coverage covering this pandemic in India in a different manner. You are representing the entire coutry here in abroad so how do you defend this? There is some sort of politics around this covid situation in India, How do you look at it?

External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar: Sadly you are right, I wish it wasn’t so but what I can say is when it happened in other countries including UK, when Pandemic hits our society very hard, there are questions, there are arguments, there is a lot of second guessing, you should have seen it coming, we could have told you so etc and and it is not unique to India, it happens in other societies as well. In our case, yes I’m very conscious of our own debate that’s something I hear and involved in everyday. People have spoken about elections, now, obviously we are a democratic country you don’t stop elections in a place like India, the only time I remember we stopped elections is a era some decades ago when I was pretty much younger, where none of us really want to be associated with that kind of memory. Now, we are a democracy, we are very argumentative society, there will be this kind of point scoring. Somebody will say this crowd contributed to it, somebody else will say well that crowd contributed to it, somebody will say that some individual or leader A somebody will say leader B didn’t wear a mask there. So I would say when I go out, in my sense and my view, I think we need to put a pause to it. We have a serious national crisis. The fact is that societies are defined by their ability to come together when you deal with the crisis of this magnitude, it’s like a war, what happens when there is a war, people come together as a society. So I would hope very much that we should do. I realize when it comes to the press, our press, foreign press, people will focus on us, it’s natural. People in governance would understand the problem, because everybody has been through it or say well that could be me tomorrow. I think people of Indian community will get it because they are worried about their relatives and friends but when it comes to the media, there would be media where editorial lines are very strong. When I see comments, very frankly, I see a lot of analysis by people who write fiction, by people who are political commentators. I am not saying they shouldn’t have a view, everybody has a right to view this country. But I would rather take very seriously public health people who would sit very objectively and diagnose and analyze why we are facing this problem we are and the fact is that we are facing this problem due to two variants 117 and 1617, they have really hit us very very hard and they are far more virulent than the virus strain we saw last year. Just look at our numbers, I remind you where we were in February. At the end of February we were less than 10000 cases a day, today we have 350k cases a day. Today you can say well you should have seen it coming but let us face it you and I live in the same society; we saw societal fatigue with a lockdown. Today people are urging lockdowns, who are opposing lockdowns earlier. So I would say at the end of the day when I go abroad, I would try to make people understand that these are my challenges, this is where international partnerships come into being and yesterday most of my meeting with Tony Blinken was actually devoted to what would be the solutions, the solutions in India and solutions abroad and the heart of the matter will be vaccines and how will we get that kind of vaccination scales which means vaccination production and we can’t do it right now by ourselves. We are part of global pharmaceutical chain so we all need to sit and work this. So when I go outside, I’m not impervious to the debate at home, that’s part of vey effervescent society like India would be. I go out, look at what will be our national requirements today, but also make the case to people that I am part of global solution, today I’m going through this crisis, tomorrow someone else will be going through crisis and just as I get support from world today, I will be offering support to the world tomorrow as I did yesterday when my situation was better.

Journalist: After the second wave has struck, this is your first visit abroad. What is the kind of message you want to convey to our missions all over the world because there is a lot to be done and a lot is done by these missions abroad, so what are you telling them ?

External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar: To some extent it would depend on the mission. But I would say as a general message, there will be people who will be naturally be worried about what’s happening in India and understandably so. Some of it would be to explain to them what is happening but the key message would be, look, there will be debates in India, filter the noise, do what you have to do as a mission, do your job and what’s your job right now? Your job is to ensure that the key requirements, today oxygen is the major requirement, pharmaceuticals, remdesivir, other medicines are a requirement, vaccine supply chain is a requirement, so logistics for all of this is a requirement. I have embassies who are working with shipping lines, with airlines, different countries creating hubs, you know how big the oxygen challenge is, so we are getting liquid medical oxygen, we are getting cryogenic tankers, we are getting oxygen tanks, oxygen cylinders, you have to locate them, organize them, send them and you have seen now that support is flying in from different countries, all of that requires coordination. Now my message to Embassies is keep your eye on that and don’t get distracted by the rest of debate, that’s not relevant to what your focus should. Your focus should be right now a very serious situation back home, just like government is focused in addressing the pandemic at home single mindedly, you also please do that, we will deal with argument down the road, at the moment keep your eyes and energy focused on this.

Journalist: Thank you Dr Jaishankar for sparing time from your busy schedule in London. Thank you so much sir for talking to us.

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