New Delhi: Foreign Ministers of India and Singapore snubbed the Delhi Chief Minister for causing needless diplomatic stress by his irresponsible and incorrect remarks on a ‘Singapore variant’ of COVID 19.
The fine art of mature diplomacy defeated opportunistic politics in no time. It took India's overworked diplomats almost a day and a half to shake hands once again with their generous counterparts in Singapore. By Wednesday evening, Singapore said that it was heartened by the clarifications and assurances put out by Indian authorities and would like to bring a closure to the episode and focus on the task ahead.
Provoked by Arvind Kejriwal’s demand for immediate cancellation of air services to Singapore over fears that “the new form of COVID-19 that has emerged in Singapore is reportedly extremely dangerous for children’’, the Singapore High Commissioner had summoned Indian High Commissioner P Kumaran.
Following this, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tweeted, “Politicians should stick to facts! There is no Singapore variant.”
Balakrishnan attached to his tweet a link which detailed the spread of the B.1.617 variant. The B.1.617 variant was first found in India and has since spread to many countries, including United Kingdom and Singapore, it was pointed out.
Later, after both sides had reached out to each other, Singapore's High Commissioner in India, Simon Wong, said that the Singapore Foreign Minister has told his Indian counterpart that they want to focus on the task ahead while they fight COVID. "We wish to put an end to this episode. We are heartened by the assurances and clarifications of the MEA.'
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also attempted quick damage control through tweets. He expressed gratitude to Singapore for lending a helping hand to pandemic hit India, dismissed the Delhi Chief Minister’s remarks as ‘’irresponsible’ and said that the chief minister did not speak for India. “Irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage long-standing partnerships,” Jaishankar remarked.
Indian High Commissioner P Kumaran who was put in an embarrassing position due to Kejriwal’s remarks, clarified that the Delhi Chief Minister had “no competence to pronounce on COVID variants or civil aviation policy.”
The Spokesperson of India’s External Affairs Ministry, Arindam Bagchi, tweeted that “the Singapore High Commissioner called in our High Commissioner today to convey strong objection to the Delhi CM’s tweet on “Singapore variant.’’
On Tuesday, India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had reminded the Delhi Chief Minister of the status of international flights to and from India. "Kejriwal ji, international flights have been closed since March 2020. We do not even have an 'air bubble' arrangement with Singapore. There are only a few flights - Vande Bharat Missions - to bring back Indians stranded there. After all, these are our own people," Puri tweeted.
"We are keeping our eye on the situation and all precautions are being taken," Puri added.
Wednesday was certainly not Kejriwal's day. The Delhi High Court asked the Delhi government not to stretch the matter on the possibility of a third wave of COVID coming from Singapore or some other country. "Let's be very clear. There is no wave from Singapore," and "we don't need one from any other country. We have our own variants of the virus," said a bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh, who interjected when Delhi government Counsel was making submissions that the next wave could be coming from Singapore or some other country.
Describing the new form of COVID 19 in Singapore as extremely dangerous, the Delhi Chief Minister voiced apprehension that it may come to India in the third wave of the pandemic. On Tuesday, Kejriwal had tweeted to the Centre, “The new form of COVID-19 that has emerged in Singapore is reportedly extremely dangerous for children. In India, it may come as part of the third wave. Here are my appeals to the Central government: 1. Air services with Singapore be cancelled with immediate effect. 2. Priority on vaccine options should be worked out for children too.’’
What followed on Wednesday were allegations by the BJP, media management by Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and numerous reactions on Twitter.
BJP Spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused the AAP Chief of “serious violation of Constitutional propriety” by speaking on matters of foreign policy. The BJP said that Kejriwal’s statements are not only jeopardising lives of Indian citizens but also friendly relations with countries that are coming forward to help us.
Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia accused the Modi-led BJP government of being only concerned about their image globally and not about the well-being of India’s children.
Addressing mediapersons, Mr Sisodia said, “It is only Kejriwal who is worried about children being put to the risk of getting infection and not the Central government. They won’t get vaccines for children, but they are worrying about Singapore. The issue is not Singapore. The issue is the children of our country. A few months back, a new strain was detected in London as well. Today, the entire country is suffering because of the Central government’s negligence. Thousands have died,” he said.