New Delhi, Sept. 8(Source: telegraphindia) : Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was today caught unawares about Scotland’s upcoming referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.
“Scotland’s referendum?” Sushma asked, taken aback by a question from a British journalist on the September 18 vote that could sever the UK politically. “A break-up of the UK? God forbid. I don’t think any such possibility exists at the moment,” she added.
Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh rose to the occasion, leaned towards the minister and whispered a few words.
Recovering swiftly, Sushma said: “The people of Scotland have to decide for themselves.” (On Page 3 today, The Telegraph is publishing an essential guide to the referendum, for the benefit of the foreign minister and others.)
Sushma’s initial surprise reflected the relatively low priority the Modi government has so far accorded to the UK and the rest of Europe.
Over the past three months, several European nations have wooed Modi — with the UK, France and Germany sending foreign ministers. Their primary interest: India’s 1.2 billion-strong market and the prospects of easier business here.
But Modi’s own focus on “economic diplomacy” has so far not overlapped with Europe’s goals. The Prime Minister has instead looked primarily towards China, Japan and the US for investments.
By the end of 2014, Modi would have visited the eastern extreme of Asia, North America, South America and Australia, and would have hosted leaders from the bulk of Africa’s 54 nations at a jamboree planned for December. He isn’t scheduled to visit Europe in this period, and no major head of government or state from Europe — apart from UK Prime Minister David Cameron — is likely to visit before 2015.
Scotland’s referendum itself is significant for India because of the rumblings for “independence” that frequently reverberate in Jammu and Kashmir, and because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s once-promised plebiscite that New Delhi has since distanced itself from.
Other referendums for independence — such as Quebec’s vote for separation from Canada — have been closely watched in Kashmir.
Contrary to Sushma’s suggestion of Indian indifference, India’s foreign office is firming up a position on the Scotland referendum.
The foreign minister isn’t expected to know contentious issues raging across the world but the foreign office, which briefs her ahead of media interactions, is expected to prepare for all possible questions its boss may have to face.
On Monday, the foreign ministry had prepared Sushma well enough on upcoming elections in countries as small as Fiji. “Yes, we are sending four observers to Fiji for the elections,” the foreign minister replied confidently to a question.
But the foreign ministry did not deem it important enough to brief the minister about a vote the world is watching, one that may sunder the UK, carving a new country out of the empire that once ruled India.
Sushma talked of the Prime Minister’s visit at the end of the month to the US, and mentioned that five senior American officials had visited India since Modi took over.
“Everywhere, let me tell you, the respect for India is growing,” Sushma said. Europe received no mention.