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Foreign tweets to foreign hands — India’s ‘FDI’ moment under Modi was a long time coming

Whatever Meena Harris, Rihanna or Greta Thunberg may say, they are not coming here to fight on behalf of a weak and supine opposition. Modi knows that.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “foreign hand” moment has been a long time coming, but it is finally here. From Modi laughing contemptuously at “professional protesters” (‘andolan jivis’) and warning about the perils of “FDI” or “foreign destructive ideology” to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh expanding its circle of intimacy with retired ambassadors and encouraging them to speak up, foreign policy is taking new and interesting turns these days.

First, the prime minister. Now Modi well knows that he and his government may be dragged through the mud for a few seconds of infamy abroad, whether it’s about the farmers’ protests this year or the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA a year ago — but he also knows, at the end of the day, the battle for India’s throne must be fought inside India.

That whatever Meena Harris, Rihanna or Greta Thunberg may say from the comforts of their homes abroad, they are not coming here to fight on behalf of a weak and supine opposition. (Indeed, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi seems to fly off to Milan each time a crisis is building at home.)

Also read: Modi gets top billing from Biden as they agree on ambitious agenda for India-US ties

A hard-Right foreign policy

Main dekh raha hoon, ek naya FDI maidan main aaya hai. Foreign Direct Investment chahiye…lekin is FDI se desh ko bachana haiForeign Destructive Ideology…,” Modi said Monday, as he replied to the debate on the farmers’ issue in the Rajya Sabha.

The Treasury benches tittered. Sitting in the middle rows, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar tilted his head and looked vindicated behind his mask. The Ministry of External Affairs had earlier said that the Republic Day violence on 26 January evoked “similar sentiments and reactions in India as did the Capitol Hill incident on January 6”.

So what is it about the “foreign hand”, a phrase once closely associated with former PM Indira Gandhi’s own insecurities, that so riles Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? In the bad old days, some of Indira Gandhi’s darkest memories were surely due to the US siding with Pakistan in the 1971 war, or before that with our dependence on PL-480 grain sent by the US to avert starvation in pre-Green Revolution India. For Modi, the censure is more recent—as recent as the visa ban imposed on him after the 2002 Gujarat riots in which over 1,000 people were killed.

Certainly, he avenged that censure after the US withdrew the ban when it was clear Modi was becoming prime minister in 2014. In the six years since, Modi has travelled the world with a vengeance, meeting nominated presidents, elected prime ministers, monarchs, sultans and leaders-for-life, applauded and cheered by audiences all over the globe. As the opposition became weaker with every passing year at home, Modi became larger than life abroad. Naturally, he revelled in the adulation.

Then Donald Trump, in whom the PM had invested quite a bit of energy (“Abki baar, Trump sarkar”) went and lost the US election. In Delhi, there has since been some nervousness about the new Joe Biden administration’s self-avowed democratic credentials — a nervousness accentuated by the fact that Meena Harris is Vice-President Kamala Harris’ beloved niece.

So when Modi tweeted close to midnight, on Monday, that he and Biden had spoken to each other about “shared priorities” and their “commitment to a rules-based international order”, it was clear that he wanted the US to move on from its implied criticism of the farmers’ protests.

Certainly, PM Modi’s early warning that he will not tolerate criticism of India is also embedded in the Right-wing politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had refused to entertain a European Union delegation that had wanted to submit a critical memorandum.

As prime minister, Modi gave foreign policy a fresh, hard-Right lease of life. The first pushback in the first term came against foreign NGOs like Ford Foundation and Greenpeace. The message was: comply, or shut shop and get out of India if you want to focus only on the bad news.

In his second term, rules for foreign funding have been considerably tightened; Jaishankar has refused to engage with US politicians who censured India on the revocation of Article 370; while foreign criticism of the CAA has been rejected as neither “accurate nor warranted.”

Also read: Rihanna’s tweet took TV news back to ’70s. No foreign criticism of India allowed

Foreign hands and foreign tweets

Significantly, though, tweets by Rihanna, Greta Thunberg, and Meena Harris on the farmers’ protests have elicited a variety of responses.

While the “toolkit” that Thunberg tweeted had all the telltale signs of an alleged ‘Canadian Khalistani’ link, intelligence sources told ThePrint that Rihanna had allegedly been paid $2.5 million for her pro-farmer tweet – although it’s hard to say how they know because Indian intelligence certainly has no access to Twitter servers, which presumably are in the US.

But Rihanna has 100 million followers – so even the RSS sat up and noticed. Arun Anand, head of the RSS-affiliated think tank Vinmay Vichar Trust, who contributes to ThePrint, pointed out that Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics brand is under the scanner in India for supposedly “using mica from mines hiring child labour”.

Also read: The ‘foreign hand’ Nirmala Sitharaman should be wary of in Budget 2021

The ex-ambassadors speak

Meanwhile, other interesting things are happening on the foreign policy front. The RSS is believed to have been engaging with a group of retired ambassadors (and other retired professionals, for example, from the armed forces) for some months and encouraging them to speak up on a variety of initiatives that are largely supportive of the Modi government.

So far, three statements have been issued by the ‘Indian Ambassadors Group’ — support to France’s Emmanuel Macron on countering radical Islam, criticism of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on the farmers’ agitation, and an “open letter to the WTO,” which aims to reveal the hypocrisy of Western nations pushing India to get rid of farm subsidies and demonising Modi’s farm laws.

All par for the course, of course, especially since freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution. In fact, retired diplomats such as former foreign secretaries Shyam Saran, Shivshankar Menon and former ambassador Deb Mukharji are part of a cross-services group of retired bureaucrats called the Constitutional Conduct Group, which is often critical of the Modi government – including on the farm laws.

Inside and outside Parliament – that’s how the foreign policy circle is being squared these days.

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  1. It is not what Meena Harris, Rihanna or Greta Thunberg and of course the Mia ( wonder if she was missed by design) tweet , but when it seems likely that they were paid comments at least in some cases that is objectionable.
    If the farmers’ agitation has any other motive than the farmers interest, it needs to be looked into. It is perfectly ok if the political parties support the demands, they should do so openly, but the trouble is that the Agitators have no faith in the political parties so they want them kept out.
    Simple logic if the Indian political parties are out then who could be in, only people sitting outside India and that connection becomes obvious with the tweets of Meena Harris, Rihanna or Greta Thunberg and of course the Mia

  2. Indian liberals in collaboration with foreign liberals spread only negativity abroad, This is a shame as it always negative news baout India from the liberal network.

  3. Every time Modi screws up he blames it on foreigners. The truth is that Modi does not know how to run a country or an economy! Modi’s problems are of his own making!

  4. Random questions: I read all that the US has to say about the farm laws and there was no “implied criticism” there. Where did you see it dear author? Second, whether intelligence officials got whiff of money being paid to Rihanna could be …, doubted, let’s say, but do they have to hack Twitter servers in the US to find this information? You mean to say the payment was made through a Twitter account as if it was a bank account!?? Hahahaha… you probably also think that officials need to be physically present in the US to hack Twitter servers…. hahaha…. I know these are such random questions but I am curious about your answers.

  5. Modi’s political opposition is weak and supine as it doesn’t stand with the truth, it doesn’t live in reality and it doesn’t believe in people’s intelligence . Modi haters believe in manufacturing events and fabricating news. There is no way these crooks can defeat the person who stands with peoples interest and aspirations. Theprint may also face the same fate as that of Modi haters.

  6. I love the foreign hand. Especially when it is writing out checks to invest in our stock market, bringing a nice glow to the cheeks. Insular nations do not prosper, as Britain is just beginning to discover after leaving the EU. It now wishes to join the TPP. Even as we have stayed out of the RCEP. India turning its back on the world will not serve us well. 2. If someone paid Ms Rihanna $ 2.5 million for a six word tweet, he surely got value for money. Lit a fire, when it should simply have been ignored. Ms Meena Harris’ tweets will cause lasting harm. If retired Excellencies are in touch, they should surely be giving much better advice. As in any case those still in service should.

  7. I think if Modiji was President of America, he would have convinced everyone that the Black Lives Movement is being funded from outside of America.

    More importantly besides Modiji’s core base who believe in both truths and untruths, how many actually believe that the farmers movement is being managed either by the Congress or from outside of India.

    Looks like we as a nation are always under siege.

  8. Foreign Policy Circle?? LOL

    There is only one foreign policy – the PMS policy. All these retired and put to pasture homilies are not worth the paper they are written on.
    Rhianna or her baap dont matter in India, America progressives should learn the dangers of projecting their ideology beyond their borders in a world where they have few friends and is increasingly hostile.

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