Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Monday dismissed claims that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” slogan at the “Howdy, Modi” rally in Houston last week was an endorsement of United States President Donald Trump’s re-election bid next year, PTI reported. Jaishankar is on a three-day visit to Washington DC.

The Union minister said Modi had merely referred to what Trump had said during his presidential campaign in an address to the Indian diaspora in the United States.

“I think, please, look very carefully at what the prime minister said,” Jaishankar told Indian journalists when questioned about the implication of the prime minister’s slogan. “My recollection of what the prime minister said was that candidate Trump had used this [Ab Ki baar, Trump sarkar]. So PM is talking about the past.”

He urged the press not to misinterpret what was said. “I don’t think you’re doing a good service to anybody,” the minister added.

Jaishankar said India has a non-partisan approach to domestic politics in America. “So, our sort of approach to whatever happens in this country is their politics, not our politics,” he added.

The minister said Modi knew what he was talking about, and urged journalists to be accurate. “He was saying, this is what you said as a candidate, which showed that you were trying to [connect with India and its people even as a candidate],” he added.

Modi and Trump addressed more than 50,000 Indian-Americans at the event on September 22. “Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump, the words of candidate Trump. Abki baar Trump sarkaar rang loud and clear...,” Modi said, rephrasing his successful election slogan “Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar”.

Also read: ‘Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar’: Did Narendra Modi really endorse the US President for re-election?

Russian arms deal

Jaishankar also defended India’s right to buy a missile defense system from Russia despite the threat of sanctions from the United States, AFP reported. “We have always maintained that what we buy – the sourcing of military equipment – is very much a sovereign right,” he said ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The minister said New Delhi would not like any country to tell it what it can buy from Russia “any more than we would like any state to tell us to buy or not buy from America”. “That freedom of choice is ours and we think it’s in everybody’s interest to recognise that,” Jaishankar added.

Last year, India had agreed to buy five S-400 systems for $5.2 billion, and Russia has assured that delivery is on track. The US imposes sanctions on countries over “major” arms purchases from Russia because of Moscow’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria, and alleged meddling in 2016 US presidential elections.

In the interaction with journalists, Jaishankar also questioned attempts to “hyphenate” India with Pakistan after the Modi government’s decision to scrap special Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, PTI reported.

“You are really being very semantic about it,” he said. “How do you hyphenate a country, which is one-eighth of your economic size , which is ‘reputationally’ your exact opposite?”

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