After Singapore conveyed its “strong objection” over Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s warning of a Covid strain from that country, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar assured the island nation that it was India’s “solid partner” in the fight against the virus. But in an unusual departure from norm, he also targeted Kejriwal for “irresponsible comments from those who should know better” and said the “Delhi CM does not speak for India”.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), too, took aim at the Delhi Chief Minister, saying he had “no competence to pronounce on Covid variants or civil aviation policy” in reference to Kejriwal’s call for a halt to air services from Singapore.
Responding to Jaishankar’s comments on Kejriwal’s controversial remarks, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the statement was intended to convey concern for the children of the country while “the Centre is only focusing on its image abroad”.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, too, spoke out on the issue, saying “politicians should stick to facts” and that there is no “Singapore variant”, while posting a piece on Indian Covid variants from “Nature”, the science magazine.
Thanking Jaishankar, Balakrishnan said, “Let’s focus on resolving the situation in our respective countries and helping one another. Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”
Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against Covid-19.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 19, 2021
On Tuesday, Kejriwal had said that a Covid variant found in Singapore could usher a third wave in India, and it could be especially dangerous for children. He also appealed to the Centre to immediately halt air services from Singapore.
On Tuesday night, Singapore’s Health Ministry responded that “there is no truth whatsoever in the assertions” and that there is no “Singapore variant”. “The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India. Phylogenetic testing has shown this B.1.617.2 variant to be associated with several clusters in Singapore,” it said.
On Wednesday, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said that it “regrets the unfounded assertions” and is “disappointed that a prominent political figure had failed to ascertain the facts before making such claims”. It said that the Ministry summoned Indian High Commissioner P Kumaran “to express these concerns”.
In New Delhi, MEA’s official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “Singapore Government called in our High Commissioner today to convey strong objection to Delhi CM’s tweet on “Singapore variant”. High Commissioner clarified that Delhi CM had no competence to pronounce on Covid variants or civil aviation policy.”
Minutes later, Jaishankar took to Twitter. “Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against Covid-19. Appreciate Singapore’s role as a logistics hub and oxygen supplier. Their gesture of deploying military aircraft to help us speaks of our exceptional relationship,” he posted.
“However, irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage long-standing partnerships. So, let me clarify – Delhi CM does not speak for India,” he posted.
In diplomatic circles, it is extremely unusual for the MEA to announce the summoning of its own top diplomat, and for the External Affairs Minister to publicly criticise an elected Chief Minister from his own country in this manner.
Speaking to reporters, Sisodia accused the Centre of not caring about children, and the BJP of starting “low-level politics”.
“Reactions from the Centre and BJP make it clear that while Kejriwal is worried about children, BJP and Centre are worried about Singapore. The Centre and BJP do not worry about children,” he said.
Sisodia also accused the Centre of not having taken seriously the variant that had been detected in London. “Scientists had warned about the new strain. The Government did not pay heed and because of that strain and because of the Centre’s laxity, look at what has happened in the country,” he said.
“Today doctors and scientists are again saying that children are at risk in the next wave but we are not ready to understand. The issue is not Singapore, it is children…You want to play politics over Singapore, we are asking with folded hands to save our children… The Centre is free to worry about their image, we will worry about our children,” he said.
Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendar Jain said: “When flights were coming from London, we raised an alarm and said they should be stopped…We will do anything we have to do to save Delhi and the country.”
As per current protocols, those under the age of 18 are not eligible for the Covid vaccine. Last week, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) granted approval for Bharat Biotech to conduct phase II/III clinical trial of Covaxin in the age group of 2-18 years.
Briefing reporters, Singapore High Commissioner Simon Wong said, “We want to put the unfortunate chapter behind us. I leave it to the Government of India to sort it out. Appreciate crystal clear clarification from the Government…prominent political office holders must have the responsibility to not spread misinformation.”
India and Singapore have been cooperating for international aid in the wake of the second surge. Singapore has sent cryogenic or ISO containers to enhance liquid oxygen supplies, apart from oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and BiPAP machines/ ventilators.
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