Foreign hand, then and now

M. Somashekhar | Updated on November 14, 2017


The ‘foreign hand' bogey has once again reared its head. It was during the last few years of Mrs Indira Gandhi's Prime Ministership in the 1980s that one heard of the foreign hand. In several public speeches and political meetings, the powerful first lady raised the spectre of the dark foreign forces trying to destabilise the country. Rajiv Gandhi, who rode the sympathy wave generated by the assassination of his mother and Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, with a huge majority in 1984, also frequently talked of the ‘invisible' foreign hand, trying to impede the development of India. It appeared and sounded more of a political strategy by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv to stem internal criticism from opposition for the slow rate of growth or deflect attention from problems. In the absence of private TV channels, the messages carried by the print media and the state-run Doordarshan and radio on these dark and invisible forces were quite powerful.


In the present round of the foreign hand theory, the origin is, in a way, from the country's strategic sector — first nuclear and then space. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has given the credibility or the impetus required for it to gather momentum, when he said some foreign NGOs, especially from the US, were behind the agitation that was derailing the Kudankulam nuclear power plant being set up by the Russians.

And who do you think latched on to this foreign forces bogey? Not just the nuclear establishment, for whom some support from the top was much needed, but also the embattled space scientist Dr Madhavan Nair, who told the media that some forces which aren't happy with India's big strides in space technology were out to weaken it. It all started with the Kudankulam nuclear power project, where the Russians are helping India build two, 1000 Mw reactors, which they claim are the safest in the market, as of now. But post-Fukushima accident, the local community in Tamil Nadu, the displaced people with the support of environmental groups and NGOs, have upped the ante against the project going critical or operational.


While the groups have raised the fear pitch of the locals high, the intervention of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms J. Jayalalithaa into the matter gave more support. The project, which was close to becoming functional after 6-7 years, has now clearly got delayed by a year. In the meantime, efforts by former President, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, top nuclear experts like M. R. Srinivasan, Dr R. Chidambaram, Dr Anil Kakodkar etc., along with the entire nuclear establishment, haven't made much headway.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India limited (NPCIL), which runs India's nuclear power programme, made allegations that some foreign NGOs were supporting the locals in creating hurdles to the progress of the project. The PM went on to say that foreign NGO's were also opposing genetically modified foods and the use of biotechnology in the food sector.

While the opposition to nuclear power plants, and genetically modified foods is quite old now, the role of foreign funds and NGOs' direct involvement comes out as a big issue. The local NGO leaders near Kudankulam, as well as political parties, have called for identification and curtailment of these forces. It needs to be seen if the issue is being used more as a political weapon, given the current socio-economic and political realities that aren't in the least conducive to the ruling dispensation, or if indeed foreign forces are out to impede our growth as an economic superpower in this region.

That energy is the most critical fuel to drive India's emergence as an economic power is undisputed, as are the strides in space and nuclear realms to become a global superpower. Therefore, foreign intervention is the least one would want, especially, when there are enough development vs. environment issues to be sorted out within the country.

Published on March 09, 2012

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