George Soros “worries us”, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said on Saturday, after describing the 92-year-old billionaire as “old, rich, opinionated and dangerous” and likening his comments on Indian democracy to the “regime change” narratives of the past.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Soros had said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have to answer questions in Parliament and from international investors on the Adani controversy and that this might open the door to a “democratic revival” in India.
Jaishankar was asked at the Raisina@Sydney dialogue on the comments about the “undermining of democracy in India, most recently in the context of the BBC”, and Soros’s remarks on the Adani controversy.
While the minister did not comment on the three-day tax searches at the broadcaster’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai, which came weeks after the Modi government invoked emergency powers to block a BBC documentary critical of Modi, he spoke at length on the Hungarian-born American, describing him as an “old, rich, opinionated and dangerous” person “sitting in New York who still thinks his views should determine how the entire world works”.
Jaishankar said Soros and others like him invested resources in shaping narratives. “The seamlessness of globalisation which creates all the opportunities also allows narratives to be shaped, money to come in, foundations to go about their agenda,” he said.
“In this particular case, it is very clear he has very strong political preferences. He actually thinks that it doesn’t matter that this is a country of 1.4 billion people whose voters decide how the country should run. I cite him as an extreme example. There are other manifestations like him in different countries where people like him think an election is good if the person we want to see wins. If the election throws up a different outcome, then we actually will say it’s a flawed democracy. And the beauty is all this is done under the pretence of advocacy of open society, transparency, etc,” the minister said.
“Our generation has grown up with concepts like regime change, which influence operations. You can call it what you will. To me, this really looks the same with the gloss of some kind of do-goodism on it.”
Jaishankar sought to impress upon the gathering the sheer numbers involved in India’s democracy. “We have a voter turnout which is unprecedented, electoral outcomes which are decisive, electoral processes which are not questioned,” he said.
“My sense of democracy is the voter is supposed to decide. It worries us because we are a country which went through colonialism. We know the dangers of what happens when there is outside influence — in whatever guise — in your politics.”
The minister claimed that India was not one of those countries where, after elections, somebody goes to arbitrate in court.
There have, however, been many instances of the losing candidate going to court against a poll verdict, the most famous case being of Samyukta Socialist Party candidate Raj Narain challenging the election of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from Rae Bareli in 1971. More recently, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee challenged the Nandigram Assembly election result of 2021. In the past few years, the BJP has been accused of toppling democratically elected governments in several states, including Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, using money and muscle power.
Jaishankar accused Soros of scare-mongering citing his claim in 2020 that the Modi government planned to deprive Indian Muslims of their citizenship. “If you do this kind of scare-mongering like millions of people will be deprived of their citizenship, it actually does real damage to our societal fabric because somebody out there believes it,” the minister said. Protests against the new citizenship regime had erupted across the country in 2019.