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"Big bullies don't provide USD 4.5 bn...": EAM Jaishankar responds sharply to 'barb' at book launch event

New Delhi: Responding sharply to a question whether "India was being a bully in the region" (sub-continent and the Indian Ocean region), at a book launch event in the national capital, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said 'big bullies' don't provide USD 4.5 billion in aid when neighbours are in distress.

"The big change today in this part of the world is what has happened between India and its neighbours. When you say India is perceived as a big bully, you know, big bullies don't provide four and a half billion dollars when the neighbours are in trouble. Big bullies don't supply vaccines to other countries when COVID is on or make exceptions to their own rules to respond to food demands or fuel demands or fertilizer demands because some war in some other part of the world has complicated their lives," EAM Jaishankar at the event on Sunday.

A video clip of Jaishankar's response to the 'barb' was widely shared across social media platforms.

"You also have to look today at actually what is changed between India and its neighbours. Certainly, with Bangladesh and Nepal, I mean today you have a power grid, you have roads which didn't exist a decade ago, you have railways which didn't exist a decade ago, there's usage of waterways. Indian businesses use ports of Bangladesh on a national treatment basis," Jaishankar added.

Underscoring the work undertaken to enhance and improve connectivity between India and its neighbouring countries, Jaishankar said trade, investments and travel with Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives have seen a sharp uptick.

"Today at the connectivity, just the volume of people moving up and down, the volume of the trade which is there, the investments which are there, it's actually a very, very good story to tell. Not just with Nepal and Bangladesh, with Sri Lanka as well, I would say even with Maldives," the EAM stated further at the book launch event on Saturday.

"And Bhutan...I mean I don't want to miss them out because they have just been consistently strong partners. So our problem in the neighbourhood, very honestly, is in respect to one country. And in diplomacy, you always hold out hopes that, yes, okay, keep at it, and who knows one day what the future holds," he added.

Stressing it was essential for an 'average person' to actively engage with foreign policy matters, EAM Jaishankar said, "Certainly, all Indians need to take more interest in foreign policy. it is very common all over the world, there is a belief that foreign policy is something complicated, esoteric, that should be left to certain people to deal with...which is not entirely without some justification."

"...But, to me, a number of events happened that showed why it's important for the average person to get involved, pay more attention to foreign policy...and some of those events, if you look, were the Covid," he added.

Invoking India's outreach towards friendly neighbours and global partners during the Covid-19 pandemic, the EAM said the unprecedented events at the time showcased how the world decided to not "leave you alone".

"Covid showed that if you were a person in some remote part of India, with absolutely no interest in the world. The world had decided to not leave you alone, the world actually entered your doorstep, so the idea that there is a world, and there is a is necessary for us to put that behind us," the EAM said. 

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