Washington: Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was not aware of the inclusion of non-member Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and two others to the list of lawmakers to meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar here last week, sources said.
During his visit to Washington for the 2+2 US-India dialogue, Jaishankar refused to meet Indian-American Jayapal, who introduced a Congressional resolution urging India to lift all the restrictions imposed on Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.
Jaishankar’s meeting with the Committee, headed by Engel, the Democratic lawmaker from New York, on December 18 was cancelled. Engel is believed to have learnt about the addition to the team only after the Indian Embassy here objected to the changes in the list agreed upon, the sources told media.
Engel got to know about the changes in the list only on the morning of December 18, they said, adding that it was too late and it would have been quite inappropriate for him to take any step that could have been seen as going against his own Congressional colleagues.
The Indian Embassy, miffed at the manner in which additional names of lawmakers who were not even members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were added without taking it into confidence, cancelled the meeting, the sources said.
Multiple sources privy to the deliberations here last week indicated that in addition to Jayapal, the list included two other lawmakers who are part of the same group and in the recent past have been hostile in their attitude towards India on the issues of Kashmir, human rights and religious freedom.
PTI was not able to independently verify the name of the two other lawmakers.
Before his US visit, Jaishankar had requested a meeting with the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican Senator is the Chairman and a Democratic lawmaker the Ranking Member. It is just the opposite in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Jaishankar’s meeting with the Senate committee went according to schedule.
The House meeting was scheduled at the same time President Donald Trump had agreed to meet Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his Oval Office, the sources said.
It was initially planned to be just a courtesy call and a photo opp. But Trump, reportedly in a cheerful mood, that too on impeachment day, went beyond his schedule and spent about 40 minutes with the visiting Indian leaders. In such a scenario, the meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership would not have had happened anyway, the sources added.
In its communication to the House committee, the Indian Embassy asserted that the External Affairs minister had only sought meetings with the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee and that is what was agreed upon.
The embassy reportedly asked about the rationale of adding at least one and possibly three non-members to the list and cancelled the meeting upon getting an unsatisfactory response.
In an interview to media last week, Indian-American Bharat Barai alleged that Jayapal probably wanted to indulge in a heated argument with Jaishankar and then go to the media for propaganda. Barai is widely seen as a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has been active in his overseas diaspora events, including the Madison Square event in 2014.
Chennai-born Jayapal, 54, the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives, has been one of the few lawmakers, mostly from the Democratic Party, raising their voices against the Indian government’s move on Jammu and Kashmir.
The resolution, introduced in the House of Representatives after several weeks of efforts by Jayapal, urges India to lift as swiftly as possible all restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir which were imposed following the abrogation of Article 370. It also asks that religious freedom for all residents be preserved.
India has defended the restrictions in Kashmir on the ground that they were imposed to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists following the abrogation of Article 370 which ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
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