Vajpayee played transformational role in shaping India’s foreign policy: Jaishankar

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee played a transformational role in shaping India’s foreign policy that led to a new beginning in relations with the US, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.

In his opening remarks at the maiden Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture, Jaishankar said the late premier “introduced corrections, some bold and others more nuanced,” in a range of national security and foreign policy issues.

“Atalji’s vision of India-US cooperation has been advanced, particularly in recent years, by the leadership and commitment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Overcoming the hesitations of history, we are today focused on addressing contemporary challenges and emerging opportunities,” he said.

Describing Vajpayee as a “titan of his times who left an indelible stamp on many of our national policies”, Jaishankar said he had an “intuitive understanding that the post-Cold War world required India to drastically rework its relationships and interests”.

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“This vision led to a new beginning with the United States that has since been developed by successive governments on both sides. It required us, as a nation, to overcome difficult moments and continuing concerns. Only someone with Atalji’s enormous self-assurance could, in the early days, have visualised how natural this partnership would become,” he said.

At the same time, India’s relationship with Russia has remained steady partly due to Vajpayee’s endeavours, Jaishankar said. India’s principled approach of engaging China on the “basis of mutual respect and mutual sensitivity” too reflects Vajpayee’s thinking, he added.

In India’s neighbourhood, Vajpayee “radiated goodwill and friendship, while being clear that terrorism and trust could not coexist”, Jaishankar said.

Vajpayee could “finesse difficult issues” while warmly reaching out across regions and continents, he said, pointing to the country’s relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and with countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

“And most notably, he embraced the Indian diaspora in a way that had no parallel till then,” Jaishankar said.

Nisha Desai Biswal, president of the US-India Business Council and former assistant secretary for South Asia in the US state department, delivered the address focused on India-US relations.

India marked the 96th birth anniversary of Vajpayee, who died in 2018, on Friday.

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