Most Indians recognise that India’s global stature has risen in the past five years and this played a role in the NDA government retaining power for a second consecutive term, new external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said.
Speaking at a seminar in New Delhi, last evening, he also said India would aim to enhance regional cooperation under the Bimstec grouping as there have been certain problems with SAARC.
In his first public comments after taking charge of the external affairs ministry, which clearly indicate India’s preference for Bimstec now instead of Saarc, the new minister said that Bimstec is witnessing a great deal of positive energy and that it was decided to leverage that and invite the leaders of the Bimstec nations to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi last month.
These comments came on a day the MEA announced that Jaishankar would be making his first trip abroad as minister to Bhutan on Friday and Saturday, where he will meet both the King and the Prime Minister. The visit shows the importance New Delhi attaches to ties with Bhutan that comes at a time when China too has been extremely keen too to strengthen ties with Bhutan.
“SAARC has certain problems and we all know what it is. Even if you were to put terrorism issue aside, there are connectivity issues, there are trade issues,” Jaishankar said. He was foreign secretary for three years from January 2015 to January 2018, during the Modi government’s previous tenure.
The external affairs minister also said he would continue with his predecessor Sushma Swaraj’s social media outreach to help Indians abroad. He said “enormous emphasis” will be given to Indians in distress and they now expect the government to reach out to them. This has changed the image of the foreign ministry, he added.