Veteran journalist-turned-politician M.J. Akbar, who was inducted as Minister of State on Tuesday and given the External Affairs portfolio, is expected to handle India's relations with the Middle East - giving added impetus to the Narendra Modi government's stress on its 'Link West' policy of outreach to the oil-rich Muslim nations.
Akbar, 65, who joined the BJP in 2014, is expected to lend his considerable knowledge of international affairs, especially of the Gulf region, in his handling of India's sensitive relations with the region.His being a Muslim is expected to give him added advantage in dealings with the Gulf region, and to carefully balance India's ties with Sunni and Shia countries. He is also expected to handle matters like the Haj pilgrimage, according to sources.
Akbar, who was recently re-elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, was till Monday the Bharatiya Janata Party's national spokesperson. A good orator and author, Akbar is expected to add a degree of finesse to the ministry, especially in the wake of the unsavoury comments and controversies stoked by the other MoS, V.K. Singh.Akbar's getting the MEA portfolio will also mean reduced responsibilities for V.K. Singh.India's engagement with the Middle East has been gathering momentum, with Modi having visited Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, and Qatar. The region provides India with most of its oil imports and is home to around six million Indians who work there, mostly in blue-collar jobs.
V.K. Singh has invited controversy more than once, most recently for his comments on the killing of two Dalit children in Haryana,Asked about the burning to death of the two children last October, Singh said the government cannot be held responsible for the deaths, adding "For everything like, if somebody throws a stone at a dog, then the government is responsible, it is not like that."His remarks drew wide condemnation and even led to uproar in Parliament with the Opposition demanding an apology for the "anti-Dalit" comments.Another time, he called the media "presstitutes", evoking an uproar.The controversy was triggered when Singh told a news channel in April last year that visiting the Pakistan High Commission was "more exciting" than evacuating Indians from Yemen. The comment was labeled as insensitive by the media outlets and social media.Reacting to the negative comments, Singh took to Twitter labelling the media as "presstitutes".