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Sunday 7 October 2012

‘Foreign’ Policy: Neelabh Mishra

 'Foreign' Policy: Neelabh Mishra

The hypocrisy from the head of a supposedly democratic government betrays
an intolerance for democratic dissent

 Neelabh Mishra


The prime minister has always been bullish about pumping foreign corporate
funds into nearly all sectors of the Indian economy. It is no small irony,
that he is the same man who is trying to stoke the xenophobic fears of the
middle class by questioning the foreign support—if any—for a popular
campaign born of people's concern about nuclear safety.

The nuclear plant in question, Koodankulam, has been built with foreign
(Russian) support. There is also that seminal nuclear deal with the hegemon
of our time, the US. Granted, the PM must welcome foreign support in
technology, in which India obviously lags behind developed nations. Where
he's remiss is in seeking it for sectors like defence—disregarding concerns
of national security—or retail, where genuine fears, compelling arguments
and evidence abound of possible impacts on Indian livelihoods.

But the rabbit hole goes deeper. The central and various state governments
have also been inviting foreign corporate bodies into vital areas of policy
formulation and implementation—be it the involvement of a foreign
consultancy group in drafting the 12th Five Year Plan or governance reform
in municipalities. Or locating the gaps in the Public Distribution System
(PDS) in states. Foreign corporations are even involved in the state-level
implementation of a grassroots programme like anganwadis. A foreign
bank-sponsored foundation is being permitted by a state to run its
Institute for Educational Research and Training.

Is it not hypocritical of a PM who invites and oversees foreign involvement
in such vital sectors to question foreign support for a popular
interrogation of government policy that's risen out of people's fear for
their lives? Isn't it like saying that foreign money—and other support—for
India's elite is necessary and welcome, but ordinary Indians questioning
how such foreign collaborations would affect their lives and livelihoods is

This hypocrisy from the head of a supposedly democratic government betrays
an intolerance for democratic dissent that challenges existing power
structures. It also smacks of an elitist mindset that seeks to protect and
perpetuate these power structures. The intensity of the government's
vindictiveness against certain ngos in the anti-Koodankulam nuclear plant
campaign is of the same ilk as that which was deployed, for all to see,
against the members of Anna Hazare's team who launched the Lokpal agitation.

Granted, ordinary citizens and members of the so-called civil society who
question the government on vital issues like corruption, environment,
nuclear plants or mega-dams may well have skeletons in their cupboards. But
before throwing the kitchen sink at them, the government must allay
people's fears with transparent facts regarding the projects and reasonable
arguments based on these facts. In Koodankulam, the government has chosen
vindictiveness instead of addressing concerns about the environmental
hazards of nuclear power, radioactive waste and the persistent fear of an
accident similar to the Fukushima disaster in Japan last March.

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