There are just three kinds of patriots: I, ME, MYSELF!

That's what the prime minister wants us to believe

bvrao

BV Rao | April 10, 2012


Illustration: Ashish Asthana
Illustration: Ashish Asthana

In the 70s and 80s Indira Gandhi would trace the genesis of every domestic problem to the “foreign hand”. Nothing was the result of the doing or non-doing of the domestic “hand”. If the president of India sneezed, the US or Pakistan would be blamed for injecting allergens into the westerly winds.

In 1991 a certain Dr Manmohan Singh became India’s finance minister. He opened up India’s markets as wide as his budget deficit and became an instant darling of everybody. India’s economic policy started to look more and more like issue papers of the World Bank and IMF.

I say this not to stoke the two-decade old debate of whether this was a sellout to the west or to suggest that it was undesirable. I say this as a matter of fact to point out that this total shift from blaming the “foreign hand” for everything to seemingly sitting right in its palm brought our mad obsession with it to a belated but instant and natural death.

The US did not need to infect the westerlies anymore. Their blood was now running in our “reformed” system.

Middle India started to feel the bulge in its purse as a result of this decisive switch and rich India started fattening its offshore accounts. The “foreign hand” ceased to be the demon it was made out to be and went out of our political lexicon and national consciousness.

So it is not a small matter when the slayer of the “foreign hand” resurrects it after 20 years of dancing on its grave or shaking hands with it, whichever way you want to look at it. Frustrated with his failure to get his nuclear energy policy going, Manmohan Singh dismissed the protesters at Kudankulam as being motivated, misled and financed by the “foreign hand” (not his words). He said NGOs were being funded by US and Scandinavian groups to derail his nuclear programme because they did not want a strong India.

He said that these NGOs and the local people did not know what is good for the country, which is actually a very decent way of terming them anti-national. Or saying that only the government and the prime minister know what is good for the country and the rest of us should take him at his word because he is an honourable man, the only patriot in a land of good-for-nothings.

Within a week of that Manmohan interview to Science, the government came down like a tonne of bricks on NGOs. Three NGOs were banned and a score of others put on notice and the whole universe of NGOs suitably intimidated.

Left to this government it would wish away every institution. It has sought to undermine and belittle every constitutional agency in the last two years. The supreme court routinely oversteps its authority, the comptroller and auditor general is straying into policy areas, the election commission needs to be enfeebled by empowering it (!), and any movement against the elected class is dangerous for democracy.

Now it is the turn of NGOs, a critical pillar of our democracy and governance. Every problem, every protest, every demand for a right is first spotted and voiced by, and through, millions of small and big NGOs across the country. Admittedly, there will be many NGOs that will be deviant, delinquent and need to be proceeded against. Perhaps in Kudankulam there is merit to the government’s charge of the NGOs diverting foreign funds to keep the agitation alive.

But are foreign funds and foreign interests in India legitimate only when they are solicited by the government? Are all the MNCs that seek out India angels and is all the FDI and FII money good only because the government is inviting it? As a bunch of prominent citizens led by Justice VR Krishna Iyer pointed out, is the foreign hand visible only in Kudankulam and not in the PMO?

Our cover story (Governance Now, April 1-15 issue) explores these questions. What has gone wrong? Why has a government that started out as civil society’s darling turned against NGOs so suddenly? Why is the NGOs’ foreign hand so dangerous and the establishment’s foreign hand so benign and caring? And, of course, the final question: Why, in this vast country, should we believe the prime minister when he suggests that there is just one person who knows what is good for the country, just one person who knows what it’s future should be and just one person who is a patriot and that all of them reside in just one wise man: Dr Manmohan Singh?

Postscript: No sooner than this article was published, attempts were made to prove that even the army chief does not measure up to the government's standards on patriotism.

 

For the full story on how the government is coming down on NGOs, buy our eMagazine here

 

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