Blaming others for our own failures
A singular lack of nuance and self-confidence has marked our response to growing international criticism of our domestic policies and mishandling of situations at home
George Soros is a multibillionaire investor and has been in the news for the last four decades for his espousal of what he characterises as ‘Open Society’, a term he borrowed from his London school of economics teacher Karl Popper and his now classic Open society and its Enemies. An academic till the 40th year of his life, he then decided to take the plunge in the humdrum of finance and the rest is history.
A symbol of the globalising zeal of capital, his investment fund Quantum and his Open Society Foundation have been at the centre of global investment in both finances as well as ideas of legal, institutional and political drive for more democratic and ‘open’ societies. This has had its share of supporters and critics even in India, although India does not appear to be even at the periphery of his activities. It therefore came as a surprise to see Soros targeted in recent weeks by some very stringent attacks by a section in India.
In late 1980s Soros established his Open Society Foundation which supported democratisation, a move many in those and other societies held with suspicion. Many of the societies where he operated had a history of militant nationalism affiliated with fascist organs and totalitarian systems.
Democratic practices and institutions were undoubtedly weak and people in large numbers had suffered political and social victimisation. While Soros was and presumably remains committed to globalising capital, his support for activists and organisations are seen by many as covert support for regime change. The suspicion was strengthened when President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze was forced to flee after ‘people’ took over the capital in what has come to be known as the Orange Revolution.
In any case, spirited attacks on anti-Semitic and anti-democratic forces have remained his political signature. His criticism of the rise of violent nationalism in India and of attacks on minorities has been portrayed as his design to support a regime changing architecture where Soros and his funding sits at the centre.
The issue of outside forces triggering regime-change is not unknown in international politics. Since the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA engineered a coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mossadeque in 1953, one is familiar of the ways external agencies engineer the downfall of unfavourable governments and usher in more favourable ruling dispensations in foreign countries.
India too has been accused of participating in such efforts beyond its borders. The case of the Indian Prime minister campaigning to bring President Trump back to power is of course recent history. But virulent attacks on Soros seem to be a pre-emptive exercise so that other relatively less powerful voices do not see the Indian situation with any critical eye.
Democracy, Human Rights and now Climate Change are now global concerns. US foreign policy was driven for some time by Human Rights since 1976 when President Carter made violation of such rights a justification for American intervention. In recent years Hillary Clinton’s extension of gender discrimination had also added a new dimension to such interventionist agenda.
Similarly, several governments and international organisations have come out in support of environmental concerns. Voices of support for larger concerns for humanity therefore cut across geographical divides, despite being seen through adversarial lenses by many. It gets problematic when such support to issues is seen by ruling dispensations as a threat to their stability.
But viewing protests in the country receiving support from outside as synchronised acts is not necessarily or always an act of wisdom. With globalisation of the economy and extreme extraction of profit and natural resources, states are increasingly seen as siding with Capital and with powerful capitalists. It is easy to see why popular and individual voices are raised against such bias and inequality.
It is when the state fails to be responsive to protests and people that protests draw international attention and support. Support for Indian farmers have come from not just farmers in the US, Canada and Australia but also from the British Parliament and one of the most progressive Hollywood actresses, Susan Sarandon.
Sarandon, it is worth pointing out, has been the face of demands for raising daily minimum wages for American women. But she also criticised Hillary Clinton, with whom she had a close rapport, for waging war across the globe. If her support to Indian farmers is labelled as her opposition to the Indian Government or the ruling party, the media advisors to the government need to be changed.
Soros and his ‘Open Society’ came up in eastern and central Europe after totalitarian communist governments collapsed in 1989. Soros and his Foundation supported the minorities and the persecuted, Jewish, Roma and others. His cause was seen as aligned with the larger American goal of freedom and his investment in such projects linked to globalisation of capital.
The Central European University which he set up has done enormous work in creating a new rung of an ‘Eastern European, English- speaking elite’ committed to some sort of universal academic ethos. It was a praiseworthy exercise.
One may well have reservations about ulterior financial motives, i.e., fostering globalisation, but his critique of human rights violations in India by themselves do not call for a vilification campaign based on what he allegedly encouraged in central and eastern Europe and where of late he has been vilified.
What depths of insecurity can drive such campaigns? It is the robustness of our institutions, our cause and our intentions which actually matter more than stray utterances of support for a cause. Soros is being attacked for supporting NGOs and using them for regime change.
By attacking him we expose ourselves on two counts. One, this is seen as admission that our institutional mechanisms to address citizens’ concerns and grievance redressals have failed. Had they not, it would not have drawn attention of international agencies or Soros for that matter.
Secondly, Soros has been very active in eastern and central European countries where nationalism was channelized into violence against minorities of all kinds. By aligning ourselves against his position on the kind of nationalism involved in the persecution of minorities, we will be viewed as surrendering Indian national ethos to what is described as ‘genocidal nationalism’. This does not bode well for either the Indian state or the Indian society built on principles of plurality, peace and harmony and prosperity for all.
(The writer is Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies, JNU. Views are personal)