The ghost of Indira Gandhi must be smirking. Her party might have been drubbed out of power but she remains as relevant as ever. The bahu she favoured is leading a march to the President of India to protest the Prime Minister’s silence in an atmosphere of “fear, intolerance and intimidation”, which all makes it sound eerily like Indira’s Emergency. But memories are short and irony can just rust in peace as the Iron Lady’s descendants suddenly become crusaders against intolerance.
Meanwhile the other bahu, the one who fell out of favour and is now a BJP cabinet minister, is telling the media that this #AwardWapsi is part of an “international conspiracy” to defame the government. Whether Maneka Gandhi intended it or not, she just resurrected her mother-in-law’s favourite bête-noire--the infamous 'foreign hand'. The foreign hand has not only returned in Indian politics, this time around it is also forcing other hands--to return awards.
To be honest the foreign hand, like the Congress party symbol, never quite went away. If Indira Gandhi was blaming it for spreading Janata Party propaganda, her son Rajiv fingered the “invisible” foreign hand for stymieing development in India. The end of the Cold War meant the real foreign hand aka the KGB and CIA lost a lot of ground, but the “foreign hand” bogeyman was quickly reincarnated in other avatars--Greenpeace, the New York Times, Katrina Kaif. Manmohan Singh blamed foreign NGOs for trying to derail the nuclear plant at Kudankulam being set up with Russian help.
"Mr. Modi might have campaigned to bring about a Congress-mukt Bharat but his government too finds it handy to hold on to its foreign hand. "
During the height of the Anna Hazare agitation in Jantar Mantar, the Congress claimed darkly there were powers out there trying to destabilize not just the government but also the country. When Mamata Banerjee was running for election in 2011, the Left Front, left in the dust by her bathroom slippers, muttered darkly that the helicopter being used by her belonged to an American company.
Mr. Modi might have campaigned to bring about a Congress-mukt Bharat but his government too finds it handy to hold on to its foreign hand. Consider the zeal with which the government went after NGOs vis a vis foreign funding even as it courted foreign funds for everything else, including defence. It is completely proper to audit an NGO to see if it follows the tax laws but foreign funds is not automatic proof of diabolical conspiracy.
When Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel, his critics promptly tweeted about his German and American funding with raised eyebrows as if it was gotcha proof of shady morals. The simple fact that escaped no one is there are NGOs a government likes and NGOs a government does not like and if foreign fund regulations can be used to castrate the pesky ones, so be it.
"The end of the Cold War meant the real foreign hand aka the KGB and CIA lost a lot of ground, but the “foreign hand” bogeyman was quickly reincarnated in other avatars--Greenpeace, the New York Times, Katrina Kaif. "
The irony is everything else that is foreign is embraced with open arms in the new India--foreign brands, foreign hospitals for cancer treatment, foreign cheerleaders. Mr Modi even went to Madison Square Garden to thank those NRIs in foreign shores for the hard work (and dollars) they put into his campaign. But the foreign hand has remained the favourite tool of paranoia-mongering as if the Berlin Wall had never fallen. A New York Times editorial about the costs of Hindu extremism to India’s development agenda thus becomes clinching evidence of the foreign hand at work. The advantage of seeing fingerprints of this invisible hand all over our national discourse is that it obviates the need to rebut the actual charges--whether raised in an editorial or a Greenpeace report. The “foreignness” becomes reason enough to dismiss them out of hand.
And if the foreign hand is obviously not foreign we can just chak them there. Shah Rukh Khan tells an interviewer that religious intolerance and not being secular is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot. BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya immediately sees the Bharat-virodhi foreign hand conspiring to defeat India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. He lets us know that Khan has joined “international forces” out to defame India and “dampen the Prime Minister’s development agenda”. Khan, he tells us, lives in India but his soul lives in Pakistan. Where that puts his hand is anyone’s guess.
But Pakistan is very definitely the ultimate dumping ground of the foreign hand leading some on Twitter to opine that instead of a heart-shaped Like tool, the company would have done much better to provide a GoToPakistan button.
All this to say, we should indeed beware the foreign hand. Whenever we hear it trotted out, it means the powers that be are struggling to marshal real arguments and real data. Whether it’s Indira Gandhi trying to deny the Janata Party’s actual grassroots appeal or the Left Front smarting at Mamata Banerjee’s rise, the foreign hand is usually flailing evidence of a bankruptcy in actual arguments resulting in all-around paranoia. The more a leader points fingers at the foreign hand, the greater should be the suspicion that there is something very rotten in our own backyard.
But if we have to track down this dangerous destabilizing force that has infected everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to 90-year-old Krishna Sobti, perhaps Mr. Modi himself should lead the charge to find this damned elusive foreign hand. He certainly shakes enough foreign hands on all those trips abroad.
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