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Mainstream, VOL L, No 22, May 19, 2012

Don’t Invoke the Bogey of Foreign Hand to Hide Bad Governance

Tuesday 22 May 2012, by Bharat Jhunjhunwala

About 23,000 people have decided to surrender their voter cards in protest against continuation of work on the Kudankulam nu-clear plant which is slated to be commissioned in mere 40 days or so. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had supported the cause of the protesters a few months ago but has backed out since then and is now supporting continuation of the plant. The Government of India is of the view that the protestors are being incited by foreign entities—NGOs as well as anti-nuclear governments, especially of the Scandinavian countries.

Foreign interests are clearly involved in the Kudankulam dispute. The reactors are being supplied by Russia. American companies see this project as one that will open door to the entry of their companies. Therefore, those who perceive the project as perpetration of injustice by foreign powers have a right to seek assistance of other foreign powers in opposing the project. In any event, much has become global in the last two decades. Capital, corporations, goods, technology, clothes, food and religion have all become global. Then why should the people’s protest be hemmed in by national borders?

The government has accused those opposing the Kudankulam project to be funded by foreign powers. No solid evidence for the same has been provided so far. However, such foreign assistance, if it was indeed pouring in, would be justified in view of the foreign hand in promoting the project.

In any event, some evidence of positive impact of such foreign funding is available. Jorge Balbis, a researcher from Uruguay, writes on the UNESCO website: “NGOs are now being called upon to play… a more global role in development matters. They may contribute to the democratisation process in their respective societies and create, maintain and expand the existing forms of democracy.” Amnesty International has been given the Nobel Peace Prize. Greenpeace is internationally recognised as leading the crusade to save our environment. Reportedly foreign-funded NGOs have had a positive role in the liberation of Poland in the eighties. On the other hand there is negative evidence as well. The Ford Foundation was shown the door by the Government of India in the sixties. Foreign-funded Palestinian NGOs were previously exposing the violations of human rights by Israel. Now, prompted to do so by their donors, they are busy exposing violations by their own government. The US Government is known to have a long tradition of supporting covert action against democratically elected governments in Latin America which are not favourable to it. The issue of foreign funding is, therefore, inextricably linked to the nature of domestic governance. Foreign funding has a positive role to play against domestic bad governance as in Poland; while it has a negative connotation when directed against domestic good governance as in Latin America.

WHO is to determine whether domestic governance is good or bad? Obviously a bad government will invariably claim that it is good. Therefore, this decision cannot be left to the government. The call on this has to be nece-ssarily taken by the affected people. They have to decide whether they will accept foreign fund-ing or not. The Kudankulam agitation appears to pass this test. It appears to have wholehearted support of the local people; which means that people perceive the government’s position on the project to be ‘bad governance’. Instead of raising the issue of foreign hand in the agitation, the government must ponder on the reasons that local people are supporting the agitation. The government does not seem to have answers to many questions posed by the people: Why has an Environment Impact Assessment of the project not been done? Why has Environmental Clearance not been taken under the Environment Protection Act? Why is India being turned into a laboratory for the trial of the untested Russian VVER 1000 reactors? Why has the Kudankulam project not been covered under the Nuclear Lia-bility Act? What is the guarantee that tsunami-prone Kudankulam will not be affected by a tsunami just as happened at Fukushima? Why is the welfare of the people and sovereignty of the country being put to risk for supplying electricity for the luxury of air-conditioned shopping malls and the like? Instead of controlling theft why is the focus mainly on increasing generation so that more electricity is available for theft? Why is the electricity that is generated mostly supplied to the rich residing in urban areas whereas the environmental costs are borne by the poor residing in rural areas? Why is the government not aggressively pushing renewable sources of energy like solar and wind and instead pushing nuclear and thermal which are not renewable? Failure of the government to convince the local people on these issues smacks of bad governance.

There is very little evidence, if there is any at all, that foreign funds are actually flowing into the anti-Kudankulam agitation. Inquiries from friends in the area indicate that large amounts of foreign funds flowed into the area between 2005 and 2008 in the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004. NGOs built, among others, infrastructure such as meeting- and wedding-halls with this money. This infrastructure is now being used to host anti-nuclear meetings. The Minister in the PMO, V. Narayanswamy, has stated only that people spearheading the anti-nuclear agitation have received foreign funding. Now this is fundamentally different from the anti-nuclear agitation receiving foreign funding. For example, I have received my education in the United States. Does that make me an agent of the CIA? Did Gandhi become a foreign agent because he practised in London? Or, say, an NGO was given a grant by the Government of India to undertake tree plantation. Does that mean that it should not oppose any policy of the government? The government has to show that the foreign funds have been received and used for the anti-nuclear agitation for the accusation to be credible. I have been consultant to many foreign donors who have funded various projects relating to rural development. I have found that these NGOs simply do not have credibility among the people. People know they are implementing schemes to earn their bread and they are rolling in money. Foreign-funded NGOs can rarely get people to come out on the streets without paying for it. The fact that people of the area are spontaneously supporting the agitation is sufficient proof that this is not a foreign fundled campaign. The fact is that the government has failed to take the people into confidence and there is resentment against the same. Raising the bogey of foreign funding does not help in this situation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should realise that many in the country see him as the epitome of a foreign hand working surreptitiously. It does not help if he raises the bogey of foreign hand.

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