External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday claimed that there was a “political effort” to show the Union government in a certain imagery that is different from what the Centre does on record, reported PTI.

Speaking at the “India: Opportunities And Challenges For A Strategic Partnership” event, Jaishankar said that the country was going through a stressful time currently because of the pandemic.

He pointed out that the government was providing relief to its citizens. The external affairs minister said the government was giving food to 80 crore citizens and given money to 40 crore people.

“Now, if you are feeding more than two and a half times the population of the United States and you are funding more than the population of the US and you’re doing this pretty much anonymously and impersonally in the sense beyond the name and the detail, the bank account of the person, we’re not asking anything more,” he said. “There is no criteria of discrimination.”

Jaishankar said that if one sees the governance decisions taken, there was a difference between the “concocted” political imagery shown and what the governance record shows.

“So I think you should take it for what it is, which is really politics at play,” he claimed. “You can agree with it, you can disagree with it but I would certainly see that very much as part of a political effort to depict our current government in a certain way and obviously I have a very profound difference with that.”

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the country, leading to shortages of essential medical supplies, including beds, medicines and oxygen. Social media has been filled with desperate pleas seeking oxygen or beds for treatment of the infection. The daily cases had climbed past 3 lakhs and even touched 4 lakhs before coming down to around 2 lakhs. Deaths too are being reported in thousands every day, while reports say there is a severe undercounting of the fatalities.

The Opposition, including the Congress, criticised the Centre on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. On May 12, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said the Narendra Modi government was betraying citizens and hiding facts about the devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic under the garb of “spreading positivity”.

Earlier in the month, medical journal The Lancet had called the Modi government’s attempts to curb criticism and open discussion during the coronavirus pandemic “inexcusable”. The Lancet had also castigated the Modi government for holding religious festivals and huge election rallies without considering that such events lack mitigation measures for the coronavirus. The violation of Covid-19 protocols during the Kumbh Mela had attracted attention from across the world.

Jaishankar on Centre’s secularism

On a question that the Centre’s Hindutva politics could undermine the secular nature of India’s democracy, Jaishankar said that the country was a deeply pluralistic society and the citizens were “extremely proud” of its democracy.

The minister said he would respond to the question with a straight political reply and a slightly more nuanced societal answer. “The political answer is that in the past there was a great reliance on what’s called vote bank politics, which is appealing to vote banks on the basis of their identity, or their beliefs or whatever it is,” he said. “And the fact that we have departed from it has obviously been a difference.”

Jaishankar said that there are many faiths in India. “Now in our society, we define secularism as equal respect for all faiths,” he said. “Secularism doesn’t mean that you are in denial of your own faith or anybody else’s faith for that matter.”

The Centre has also faced criticism for bringing in the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Registers of Citizens, which are seen as an assault on secular values inscribed in the Constitution.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December 2019, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years, and entered the country by December 31, 2014. Protests had broken out against it. The National Register of Citizens is a proposed record of all citizens of the country, so that “illegal immigrants” could be deported.

Critics fear that these two legislations, when combined, would affect Muslims and their citizenship in the country. If citizens cannot meet the eligibility criteria for NRC, they will lose their citizenship. For Muslims, they cannot be protected using the CAA that provides citizens as the religious community is excluded from the same, according to The Indian Express.

‘Ceasefire good, but bigger issues between India and Pakistan’

Jaishankar noted that India and Pakistan agreeing to a ceasefire was a good step, but added that there are “bigger issues” between the two countries, reported The Times of India.

He said that a terrorist ecosystem exists in Pakistan and that it posed a danger to India.

“On our side there has been clarity of thinking, and the clarity of thinking is that we cannot accept terrorism, or we cannot accept that it is in any way legitimate as diplomacy or as any other aspect of statecraft,” he said. “So let us see, you know where this progresses. Obviously everybody hopes for the best.”

The relationship between the two countries deteriorated after India abrogated the special status granted to Jammu in Kashmir on August 5, 2019. However, their relations saw multiple positive developments a few months ago.

In February, the two countries released a rare joint statement, announcing a ceasefire along theLine of Control. But the positive developments took a hit again, in April, after Pakistan deferred the decision to import cotton and sugar from India just a day after the country’s top decision-making body on commerce lifted a ban to facilitate the trade.

Later in April, a top United Arab Emirates diplomat said that the country was mediating between India and Pakistan to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. His comment had come after Reuters reported that top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held “secret talks” in Dubai in January to ease military tension regarding Kashmir.