By Mayank Chhaya-
Hungarian American billionaire investor George Soros may bolster the electoral prospects of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
By wading into India’s choppy political waters and saying that Modi’s “stranglehold” on the country’s government could be weakening in the wake of the devastating allegations of a variety of fraudulent corporate practices by the embattled business tycoon Gautam Adani’s empire, Soros may cause precisely the opposite effect to what he had intended.
In a speech ahead of the Munich Security Conference the 92-year-old Soros said, “Modi is silent on the subject, but he will have to answer questions from foreign investors and in parliament. This will significantly weaken Modi’s stranglehold on India’s federal government and open the door to push for much-needed institutional reforms. I may be naïve, but I expect a democratic revival in India.”
The term democratic revival is fraught with profound offence for both Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the opposition, dominated by the 137-year-old Indian National Congress Party, leaders of both having bristled at Soros from their respective partisan standpoints.
“It is ironical that those who practice politics through boardrooms and by manipulating the public are sermonizing about those who regularly seek and receive the mandate of the people,” Arindam Bagchi, spokesman for India’s Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying in a statement. “India’s democracy does not need certificates from outside.”
Soros’s comments are a serious distraction from the core questions raised by the damning report by the New York short-seller Hindenburg Research against the Adani Group, accusing it of accounting fraud and stock manipulation that has subsequently wiped off $120 billion of its market value. They also serve the unintentional purpose reinforcing the claims by the BJP and its vocal supporters of a global conspiracy against India because of its economic rise and diplomatic independence.
Comments by Minister of Minority Affairs Smriti Irani against Soros are emblematic of the kind of pushback his characterizations about Modi and India’s democracy are expected to receive. She described his comments as an “attack on India that would not be tolerated”. She also appealed to Indians to unitedly respond to “foreign powers who try to intervene in India’s democratic processes”. By calling Soros a “designated economic war criminal” she added a hyperbolic touch that plays well politically.
From the Congress side, its high-profile general secretary Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “Whether the ‘PM-linked Adani scam’ sparks a democratic revival in India depends entirely on the Congress, Opposition parties and our electoral process. It has nothing to do with George Soros. Our Nehruvian legacy ensures people like Soros cannot determine our electoral outcomes.”
In a sense, Soros’s wholly unsolicited observations about India’s democracy have inevitably triggered a backlash across party lines because they have the appearance of predatory billionaire patronizing the world’s largest democracy which has steadfastly practiced democratic and constitutional democracy since its independence in 1947 when Soros was 17.
Estimated to be worth $8.5 billion, Soros runs the Open Society Foundations, which gives grants to activist groups and individuals promoting democracy, transparency and freedom of speech. Many on India’s political right view the foundation as a platform to upend indigenous political systems that do not conform with his worldview.
As expected, Modi supporters exploded at his comments now comfortable in their certitude that both the Adani allegations as well as the broadcast of the controversial BBC documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’, which directly blamed him for the 2002 Gujarat massacre, are part of a larger conspiracy to discredit the country’s leadership because if its independence over issues such as the Russian war against Ukraine.
In his speech, Soros also said this, “India is an interesting case. It’s a democracy, but its leader, Narendra Modi, is no democrat. Inciting violence against Muslims was an important factor in his meteoric rise. Modi maintains close relations with both open and closed societies. India is meant a member of the Quad, which also includes Australia, the US and Japan, but it buys a lot of Russian oil at a steep discount and makes a lot of money out of it.”
Everything in those comments constitutes flaming provocation for Modi’s supporters. For Modi’s opponents, who seem to have become much more vociferous if not actually increased in numbers, much of what Soros has said may be music to their ears. However, in this instance, it is not the tune that may be important but who is playing it could be politically counterproductive because it strengthens the case of global interference in India’s democracy being made by Modi’s supporters. That explains why political voices such as Congress Party’s Jairam have chosen to firmly separate them from Soros’s characterization about India’s democracy.
[Photo courtesy: www.georgesoros.com]