Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj Explains Why She Has Kept A Low Profile, And Modi Is Not The Reason

01/06/2015 7:53 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Narendra Modi, right, and Sushma Swaraj greet each other before his oath taking ceremony, in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi won a resounding victory in state elections was sworn in Wednesday for a fourth term as chief minister in the western Indian state of Gujarat. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

NEW DELHI — Asserting that a "proactive" Prime Minister was not a "challenge", External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said Narendra Modi has not imposed any "restrictions" on her and it was she who prefers to keep a "low profile".

"Proactive Prime Minister is a support and never a challenge," Swaraj said when asked if PM Modi's proactive attitude was a challenge for her.

Addressing a press conference here to highlight NDA government's achievements in the last one year on the foreign policy front, Swaraj also noted that she keeps a "low profile" because she believes that it "goes with her role".

"There is never a competition between the team members for number one, two or three. Team plays together. Competitions happen between opponents and not among team members. All my colleagues are working as number one and doing their best.

"As far as low profile is concerned, this is what goes with my profile. Prime Minister has not imposed any restrictions on anyone so why will he put it on me. But why you feel that I am low profile is because I have become External Affairs Minister from the position of Leader of Opposition. In LoP's profile, I had to speak everyday.

"But as Foreign Minister, my opinion is that I should not speak on domestic issues. Because when the Foreign Minister speaks, it is not his/her personal opinion or party's but country's opinion. Therefore, a foreign Minister should not speak....So I decided that the profile I have got, I should not speak and I follow that," Swaraj said.

Her response came as reporters repeatedly kept asking about Modi hogging the limelight in international arena and she maintaining a low profile. She said in the past also foreign ministers kept a low profile.

Highlighting the work done by her government in its first year in power, she said emphasis has been on three areas -visits, dialogue and outcome- and noted that 162 diplomatic engagements have taken place with 101 countries between Modi, herself and Minister of State for External Affairs.

Apart from the details of engagements with neighbours including Pakistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan, she also spoke at length about India's involvement with world superpowers such as the US, China and Russia.

Noting that the focus of foreign policy would be on "diplomacy with development", Swaraj said major domestic flagship programmes of the government would be incorporated in the international engagements.

Swaraj also released a booklet 'Transformational Diplomacy: New Milestones, New Horizons' in which India's important international engagements have been projected.

Giving details of Modi's interactions with world leaders including US President Barack Obama, Swaraj said when Prime Minister travelled to the US last September, there was an apprehension that his history with America, which did not grant him visa as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, may come in the way.

"But I saw that Obama was more than eager to hug him, welcome him," she said, adding this led to Obama being the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in January.

Asked why then Obama gave a lecture on religious tolerance before his departure from India, Swaraj said leaders who try to teach India about religious tolerance don't know about its social fabric.

When quizzed about government's "out of box" ideas to deal with China in resolving vexed issues including the boundary question and stapled visas, she said there was no timeline for such an approach. She expressed hope that "still unresolved" issue of stapled visa will be resolved but rejected any comparison with India granting e-visa to Chinese tourists.

About New Delhi's reaction to increasing Chinese influence in South China Sea where it objects to India's oil wells, she said government has always pitched for freedom of trade and navigation and does not support "threat or use of threat" to resolve the dispute in the region.

On ties with European Union, which had given a cold shoulder to India's proposal for Modi's visit during his Europe trip in April, Swaraj said the Prime Minister visited two big European countries -France and Germany-- and there was a special invitation for him to visit EU headquarters in Brussels.

On the issue of German being removed as third language from Kendriya Vidyalayas, the minister said the government has sent a proposal to Germany that it could be taught as an additional subject provided Sanskrit or any modern Indian language was taught in their schools. "A response is awaited," she said.

Asked about her biggest satisfaction and regret in last one year, the External Affairs Minister said the world now recognises India as a "strong country which has a strong government" and that gives her a big satisfaction. However, not being able to secure the release on 39 Indians held hostage in war-hit Iraq was the regret, she added.

The minister, once again, reassured that the government has written reports from eight sources that these Indians, who had been taken hostage last year from Mosul, are alive.

Efforts are on to secure their release, she said.

Swaraj said immediately after assuming office the Modi government had to deal with four major challenges -evacuation of Indians from Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Yemen apart from extending massive assistance to its neighbours like Nepal and Maldives.

Swaraj said this year the big focus would also be on engaging with Africa when India hosts the India-Africa Summit in October. Leaders from all 54 African countries will be invited.

Asked about the secret of her success, Swaraj quipped, "Stay away from the media and do your own work."

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