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India: Fear of the "foreign hand"

Xenophobia re-emerges as a political football in the wake of Congress Party's moves on foreign investment.
India protest 2012 10 1Enlarge
Indian anti-nuclear activists bury themselves in sand as part of a protest, demanding that uranium fuel stop being loaded in the nuclear reactor of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) on the beach at Idinthakarai village in southern Tamil Nadu on September 26, 2012. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Virtually every political player in India is evoking the pre-liberalization bogey of the "foreign hand" to gain mileage in the wake of the Congress Party's moves to open the economy further to foreign investment.

And the government itself has even gotten into the game, blaming foreign-funded agitators for protests against a nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu, among other ills. So what gives?

"Some dub it as an old chestnut that is way past its use-by date, harking back to mysterious briefcases (like the one on this magazine’s cover) carried by safari suit-clad CIA men in Indira Gandhi’s regime—followed soon by the Soviets who were upset with Morarji Desai," writes India's Outlook Magazine.

"Later, just before India liberalised, Rajiv Gandhi used the bogey when [the] Bofors [defense corruption scandal] got too hot. Others insist that targeting the foreigner is a convenient distraction for a beleaguered government desperate to prolong its own use-by date. And yet others argue with increasing shrillness that the rapacious foreigner is to blame for everything, from illegally invading us to fuelling terror, taking away our jobs and creating doubts about India’s shining economic story."

The latest "foreign hand" comes in the form of the Penny Dreadful banker, downgrading India's credit rating to blackmail the government into opening the retail sector to foreign investment by companies like Walmart. But that's hardly the end of it.

Check out the link for a hilarious recap of the headlines over the past year or so, blaming the "foreign hand" for everything from Anna Hazare's anti-corruption protests to Rahul Gandhi's ill-considered activist-wallah beard.  But don't stress too much about another center of anti-Americanism or a new clash of civilizations.

“The fear of the foreigner is phoney,” Outlook quotes academic Jyotirmaya Sharma as saying, "It’s a bogey created to justify your capitulation to the outsider.” Politicians dole out xenophobia whenever it's convenient. But ordinary Indians aren't buying it, Sharma believes.

Now, Indians are more aware of the India's global opportunities -- considering that Indian companies have made some major foreign acquisitions of their own over the past five years. And with more access to opposing views and diverse sources of information, via the internet, it's harder than ever to peddle the same old soap.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-fear-the-foreign-hand

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