Societies in moments of anxiety need a sense of order. They need to focus on an enemy outside or a scapegoat within. Such objects of hate make a society focused, give it a sense of solidarity. The danger begins when the object of fear is a more anomalous creature, a person who resists classification or violates categories.
The Polish emigre sociologist Zygmunt Bauman claimed that modernity always had problems with the stranger. The stranger is one who is here today and gone tomorrow. But what happens to strangers who are here today and stay tomorrow? The exile, the migrant and the refugee become problematic categories. They violate boundaries because they belong to both inside and outside. We treat them as foreigners, aliens haunting our everydayness. What makes such a relationship lethal and even genocidal is the nation-state.
India as a civilisation was naturally syncretic. It welcomed the outsider. Even the British coloniser was invited to become another caste and the English would have if the missionaries had not ruined the part. Even our national movement was hospitable, allowing the likes of A.O. Hume, Annie Besant, C.F. Andrews and Madeleine Slade to participate in it. Even Partition, which went on between 1947 and 1955, maintained a sense of openness, a condition which allowed Jinnah to think he could settle in Bombay. It is only when our imagination froze along the boundaries of the nation-state that the foreigner became an object of fear and suspicion.
Once a nation-state crystallises, suspicion becomes a ritual against those who are not citizens. They become threats to security, the visible hand that threatens the integrity of our boundaries. Foreigners are necessary; the nation-state could not exist without them. In a world of anxieties, they provide an object of hate, a trigger for solidarity. Where would the US be without the Communist or the Islamic terrorist? It is they who sustain the nation-state as phenomena.
Indians too are susceptible to the ‘foreigner as virus’ metaphor. Interestingly, our suspicions and our labelling of the outsider provide new cartographies of time and space. When the Gujarat riots took place, riot-torn areas in Gujarat were labelled India and Pakistan. Many a middle-class person was found claiming that the Mughals had at last been defeated. But the suspicion of the foreigner is not a communalist disease alone. Ideologies often survive on it. Where would India be without the ISI or CIA? The foreign hand seems to be even more powerful than the invisible hand. The invisible hand of the market is an abstraction, but the foreign hand needs to be labelled and allowed to become concrete as an object of violence. He is the necessary sacrifice nationalist suspicion demands.
The theory of the foreign hand has a nuanced amplitude. The nation-state believes that our local people can never reason for themselves. If they revolt as a social movement, it is because of the foreigner, an alien who arrives through an NGO. The fisherman of Koodankulam can fight for a decade but it is only some helpless foreigner who is seen as a driving force. In a global world, we seem to need the foreigner because without him our anxieties would be nameless. We carry out wars against McDonald’s, KFC because they emphasise our impotence. Their chicken seems more welcome than our local breed. We see Walmart and Rupert Murdoch as threats to our civilisation, our way of life.
Suddenly, nationalism is not about loving your neighbour as fellow citizen but of hating the foreigner as a continuous threat. The fact that the Indian diaspora is spread across the world is seen in a separate register. We want the world to be open to us but we in turn want to be selective about our openness to the world. As our anxieties increase, the foreigner as a category becomes a Linus blanket our sense of security needs and survives on.
The foreigner is not only the man from another country. He could be the man across the street, the Bodo in the next village, the merchant in the market, the domestic in search of a job. All it needs is the ritual of inside and outside. Classifications kill and the availability of the outside becomes a permanent invitation to violence and genocide. From Manmohan Singh to Indira Gandhi, from Modi to Advani, the foreigner is that indispensable piece of sociology that no leader can do without. No nation-state can survive without him. No security state can allow him to live harmlessly. He is the secret of the social contract that sustains order, the sacrifice that keeps the nation-state oiled. Without the CIA, Americans, German NGOs, French multinationals etc, India as a nation-state could not survive. The nation-state owes a toast to the foreigner.
(Shiv Visvanathan is professor at the Jindal School of Public Policy.)
Apropos Shiv Visvanathan’s column Our Linus Blanket, India has gone beyond the stage where it needs a malignant foreign hand to unify its people or give it a sense of completeness or identity. Even the effort to use it as a bogey can only yield diminishing returns. As for Padma Rao Sundarji’s piece (Walmart, Nein Danke), let Walmart’s success or failure be determined in the marketplace—as in Germany or South Korea—rather than by a doctrinaire refusal to give it a fair chance to prove its relevance and utility to Indian conditions. And The Thai Message? Question is, is the Thai housewife getting better value for her baht in terms of convenience, quality and choice? That’s how the debate should be structured, in India as well.
India has gone beyond the stage where it needs a malignant foreign hand to unify its people or to give it a sense of completeness or identity. Even the effort to use it as a bogey can only yield diminishing returns. If one adds remittances from Indians working abroad to the earnings from software / IT exports, which is another way of working abroad while staying at home, $ 100 billion comes in each year from Indians becoming global citizens. This is quite apart from Indians who have accepted foreign citizenship. Not an insular people.
This 'foreign hand' bug is also an insecurity syndrome. Reason " From Manmohan Singh to Indira Gandhi, from Modi to Advani, the foreigner is that indispensable piece of sociology that no leader can do without."
Very well said and written.
Foreign hand is a tool in the hands of politicians to rally masses and hide their corruption and incompetence.
We are painfully reminded yet again, that the Indian business is brought up on a diet of bribery, corruption, loot, illiteracy, and an inefficient judicial system.
They have no methods to fight genuine business competition - whether Chinese or US.
How will they make their 'profits', if Walmart for eg., sells the 54' LED TV for 54000 (US price), while today the local wallah makes 120000 selling the same TV?
That is why they are sh** scared. But why are nt they thinking of the aam aadmi who is supposed to finance their unethical profits?
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