External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that Union ministers attend events organised by Overseas Friends of BJP, a group affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party, during foreign trips.

Jaishankar made the statement during the Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha while answering a question by Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale.

“I am very confident that many ministers would have attended such functions,” he said. “I have myself done so. And the reason why we have done so is, when we go abroad, we meet members of the Indian community. It is part of our tradition.”

The external affairs minister said that the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre values the Indian diaspora as it makes “an enormous contribution to the image and to the profile that India has today”.

Jaishankar said that the government treats all members of the diaspora with respect. “If members of the community happen to belong to a political party or have political affiliations, that is a fact of life,” he added. “The primary purpose for which ministers go is official business.”

In response to a question by Congress MP Syed Nasir Hussain, the external affairs minister said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha that Union ministers have made 220 foreign visits from 2020 till November 2023. He said that the visits by the Union ministers are a means “to foster closer relations with foreign countries and promote India’s multi-faceted engagements at bilateral, regional and global level”.

Gokhale on Friday described Jaishankar’s statements as a “shocking disclosure”. He asked in a social media post: “Why is Indian taxpayer money being used by Modi government ministers to attend BJP meetings and events in foreign countries during official visits?”