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 not?
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.
Neelabh Mishra is editor, Outlook Hindi
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