India’s Hindu nationalist government has lashed out at billionaire George Soros for comments he made last week critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and embattled billionaire Gautam Adani.
Adani, whose companies have lost $135 billion in equity market value after allegations of stock manipulation by a short-seller last month, has been been a longtime ally of Modi, helping shape the radical strongman’s image as an economic reformer while profiting handsomely in the process.
At the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, Soros tied Modi and Adani together, stating they are “close allies” whose fates are “intertwined.” Soros predicted that the Adani Group’s troubles would diminish what he called “Modi’s stranglehold on India’s federal government” and trigger “much-needed institutional reforms.” The controversy, he said, would catalyze a “democratic revival in India.”
New Delhi Accuses Soros of Regime Change
Soros’s optimism about Indian democracy is misplaced. But his assessment of the Adani-Modi combine is correct. And he’s not the first to make such claims. Nonetheless, Indian officials quickly shot back at Soros, a longtime critic of Modi.
At a forum in Australia on Friday, S. Jaishankar, India’s top diplomat, described Soros as an “old, rich, opinionated, and dangerous person.” The aggressive language used by Jaishankar reflects his abandoning of the typically genteel language of diplomacy for the more pugnacious style of Hindu nationalism. And it borrows from the anti-Semitic memes of the global far-right.
Smriti Irani, a senior minister with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, said that Soros’s comments were not just “an attempt to hurt India’s image, [but] if you listen to him carefully, he talks of regime change.” Irani alleged that Modi was Soros’s “main target.” And she proclaimed that India “has always defeated foreign powers whenever it was challenged and will continue to defeat them in the future too.”
Government-aligned private media outlets in India have been even more caustic in their reactions. The Sunday Guardian Live described Soros as an “economist terrorist” spearheading “Operation Remove Modi.” Republic, a pro-Modi news channel best described as Fox News on steroids, asked whether Soros was “the dark hand behind attempts at anarchy” in India.
And on Saturday, members of the Hindu nationalist Vishal Bharat Sansthan set an effigy of Soros on fire.
BJP War Against Civil Society Reveals Contradictions of West’s Embrace of Modi
The visuals of Soros’s image in flames are jarring. But it’s not the 92-year-old Soros who’s in danger. The language used by Jaishankar and others can be seen as incitement against civil society groups in India funded by Soros’s Open Society Foundation.
India has long been prickly about foreign involvement in its domestic politics. Under the Modi government, India has targeted non-governmental organizations, especially those with international affiliations. In 2015, the Modi government put the Ford Foundation on a national security watchlist. It also raided the local office of Amnesty International and froze the bank accounts of Greenpeace India. New Delhi also denies visas to academics and journalists critical of the Modi government.
But what we are now seeing is an escalation in how New Delhi is responding to its critics abroad.
Last month, New Delhi swiftly banned a BBC documentary implicating Modi in the anti-Muslim pogroms. Then, last week, it raided the local office of the BBC. Astonishingly, the British government has been silent about the pressure against its own broadcaster.
Washington has also taken great care to avoid criticizing Modi publicly, embarrassing itself in the process. In a press conference last week, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said he wasn’t in a position to say whether India’s BBC raids were at odds with the Biden administration’s democracy policy. The answer, of course, is obvious.
The behavior of London and Washington amounts to an enabling of India’s Hindutva extremists. It allows them to have their cake and eat it too. India’s Hindu nationalist government is feted by the liberal democracies and is even treated as one even while it behaves like the far-right extremists Biden opposes at home and elsewhere in the world.
With its assertive actions and rhetoric, Modi’s India is telling the world that it will play by its own rules. It can do so because the West looks away from India’s human rights abuses due to its perceived importance as a counterweight to China. Sadly, the consequences will be borne by India’s minorities and neighbors.