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Opinion | Not Ordinary Hypocrisy: How to Recognise Anti-India Lobbying

By: Abhishek Banerjee

Last Updated: March 23, 2022, 19:04 IST

In contrast to India, Canada was able to crack down on an unpopular protest and disband it in less than a week, writes Abhishek Banerjee. Photo for representation: Reuters

In contrast to India, Canada was able to crack down on an unpopular protest and disband it in less than a week, writes Abhishek Banerjee. Photo for representation: Reuters

This lobbying makes it harder for India to get its way on all international forums, from diplomacy to arms control to foreign trade and even domestic policy

Let me start by asking you a question. Do you believe that India is a threat to world peace? In other words, do you believe that the Indian military goes around the world starting wars, occupying countries, carrying out purges and imposing puppet governments? I do not know which party you support, but I am sure you think the answer is no.

But, have you noticed that a section of global elites, with many Indians among them, is pretending to believe otherwise? I am talking about the recent incident where an unarmed BrahMos missile was released by accident during routine inspection at a military facility in Haryana. The missile crashed just across the border, inside Pakistan. Thankfully, there was no damage to life or property, and the Indian government expressed regret.

The matter should have ended there, but it did not. There was a flurry of articles and opinion pieces on multiple forums, written by experts, asking if India is a responsible military power. And a responsible nuclear power. Seriously? Every military makes mistakes. At least the “experts” who wrote those opinion pieces would know this. Only last year, a US drone strike in Afghanistan killed 10 innocent civilians, with seven children among them, by mistake. Our missile was unarmed, and nobody got hurt. Could people in good conscience, especially those who are experts in diplomatic and military affairs, be truly outraged by this?

Obviously not. Because this is not outrage. This is lobbying. They are using this incident to influence world opinion against India.

Who is behind this? We do not know. It could be any of our hostile neighbours. But there are other possibilities. Remember that the missile in question was a BrahMos missile, which India is now exporting to the Philippines. Other international orders may soon follow. In recent years, India’s defence exports have grown exponentially. So there could be someone who just wants prospective clients to believe that the BrahMos system is unreliable and dangerous.

It could also be someone who just wants to make it harder for India to purchase sophisticated military technology from say Israel, the United States or France. If you tell the world that India is not a responsible military power, maybe you can demand a higher price. Or you could ask for concessions from India in matters such as foreign trade. It does not matter whether the diplomats or the defence contractors believe any of the charges against India. For them, there is no moral divide between “right” and “wrong.” All these lobbies are fully open to collaborating with all other lobbies wherever there are common interests.

Lobbying has always been post-truth. We in India need to accept that it exists. And we have to learn how to recognise it when it happens.

These examples of lobbying are all around us. But I chose to begin with this particular example because I know it unites all Indians. Oftentimes, our personal politics gets in the way of recognising the class of lobbyists for who they are. These days, anybody who speaks against the government claims to occupy the moral high ground of “dissent”. Not surprising, because that is how lobbying is supposed to work. It is supposed to be disguised as genuine public opinion.

But we know that our military is not a threat to world peace. This is not an issue where we have a BJP vs Congress divide. That should give us clarity. So let us make a note of the intellectuals who are trying to use this incident to argue that India is not a responsible military power. Go to the social media timelines of the usual suspects, read their op-eds and remember all this for the next time when they voice their so-called opinions. These are not honest citizens expressing a view. These are lobbyists.

The Ukraine Example

Now that we agree on these lobbyists, we can find several other examples. Look at how they are trying to drag India into a distant war in Ukraine. Even before the war officially began, there were op-ed pieces in top global newspapers arguing that India had a lot of moral high ground to lose in Ukraine unless it sided with the West. After India decided to abstain from the UN resolution condemning Russian military action in Ukraine, the elites have planted their talking points everywhere.

For sure, not all of it is lobbying. For example, there was at least one elected MP who said that India is set to become part of the “Axis of Evil”. That was not lobbying, but stupidity, ignorance and unwillingness to learn. But you cannot say the same about experts who clearly know better. One such expert recently argued on a liberal portal run by an American citizen that our foreign policy must be based on moral values. These moral values always happen to coincide with Western interests, of course. Further, they asked that India should give up its “whataboutery”. In other words, do not ask what the West can do for you. Ask what you can do for the West. Yeah, that’s lobbying.

Does abstaining from a vote at the UN mean that we are taking the side of the bad guys? How about the UN resolution in December 2021 condemning Nazism, neo-Nazism and other forms of racism? India voted in favour of that resolution. There were 49 abstentions, almost all of which were from countries of Europe, including France, Spain, the United Kingdom and even Germany and Italy! Guess which were the only two countries that actually voted against this resolution? The United States and Ukraine. The countries of the West would not even condemn Nazism because they saw the resolution as a Russian pressure tactic. And now their lobbyists, masquerading as thinkers and intellectuals, say that history will not be kind to us. Actually, that last part is probably true. Because the same thinkers and intellectuals probably also intend to write that history.

Then, there is the question of buying Russian oil. Are Indians willing to pay the “moral price” of cheap Russian oil, one of these liberal portals asked the other day. Okay, then how do you explain the fact that America’s allies in Europe are all helping themselves to Russian oil even as they give moral lectures to India? Their answer is startlingly creative, something that could only have come from a lobbyist. Europe, they say, is too dependent on Russian oil to give it up overnight. India on the other hand, is increasing its imports of Russian oil, thus “profiteering” from the war. So the rich countries “depend” on their luxuries. Now that there is a war and the price of oil has gone up, a poorer country looking for a bargain is “profiteering”. This is how liberalism works today.

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But this gets even more interesting when you ask yourself what they actually hope to get from India. Do these people believe that India could make Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine? Of course, not. They just want to show India as a force for evil on the world stage. Tomorrow, if there is conflict between China and India, the West would like an excuse for not taking the side of democracy. They had been throwing this talking point at our faces long before the war in Ukraine began. Do not count on us if you have problems with China tomorrow, they said.

But we already had problems with China, remember? A day after the Galwan clash, The New York Times carried a report which suggested that India had provoked China by abrogating Article 370, and the Chinese were simply responding. This insight came from experts who were not named in the article. Why would the global elite cynically take the side of China in June 2020? Because of India’s stance over Ukraine two years later?

If you think about it, this appears to be the whole point of the campaign over the last two years to vilify India in the global media. They need to destroy our democratic image to the point where they can say they do not need to choose between China and India. For this, they have an entire army of civil society workers who will generate hyperbole around anything that happens in India. Delhi riots? Genocide. Farmer protests? Genocide. There was even an opinion piece in a major Indian newspaper the other day which said that Hindutva supporters have a natural sympathy for Putin’s expansionism. You see, Putin might have quoted the Bible to justify his actions in the Ukraine, but the real blame always goes to Hindutva!

Burning Pyres, Protesting Farmers

This is lobbying. And we have not even talked about the pandemic yet. Who can forget the morbid obsession of Western newspapers with funeral pyres in India? And the civil society in India that fed them such images? Yes, the Governor of New York might have hidden thousands of deaths in nursing homes, but The New York Times made sure that every image of COVID misery in India made it to their front page. And who can forget the pressure they put on India to buy foreign vaccines, the doubts planted about Indian-made vaccines and more? Last year, there was even an article in one influential outlet that accused the Indian government of hiding data about virus mutations, leading to the wave of Delta variant across the world. Oh, so this entire pandemic is India’s fault now? Among the lobbyists who wrote that article, I counted at least one Indian name. Their parents must be so proud.

Who cares, you might ask. Who cares if some slippery lobbyist writes an article in a foreign newspaper attacking us? Are we so weak? It matters because civil society groups, both in India and abroad, essentially work like sleeper cells. They silently accumulate power that may one day prove to be useful. That is why they generate all these democracy rankings, freedom rankings and such. Tomorrow, if the West wants to push India over some issue, they can cite all this “independent” research accumulated over decades as an excuse. It doesn’t even matter if they actually put sanctions on us some day. What matters is that they could do it if they really wanted to. It is something they can hold over our heads. Why else would anyone support a think tank anyway? And what exactly is a think tank?

And as long as they have something to hold over our heads, they can influence our decision-making in India. With no outside support, could a small group of farmers have managed to force a rollback of the three agricultural reform laws which we now know were overwhelmingly popular? Possibly, but the adverse global attention certainly made their job a lot easier. In contrast, Canada was able to crack down on an unpopular protest and disband it in less than a week. They declared a national emergency, seized bank accounts, pets and even threatened to take away children from the protesters. Canada was able to do this because the same lobbies that defame India have been paid for decades to create an image of Canada as a heaven for civil liberties. This means that the vast majority of Canadians who were against the truckers’ protest got their way. The vast majority of Indians, including the vast majority of Indian farmers, did not. In this way, the lobbyists have managed to undermine the sovereignty of the Indian state.

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For comic relief, let me also mention here one frustrated lobbyist who bashed up India in a newspaper column the other day, accusing us of having too big an ego compared to our real economic or military might. They began by arguing that India staying out of the war is a sign of weakness. Then they presented facts and figures to prove just how weak we are. And finally, they accused the government of not knowing about all these weaknesses. Wait, but didn’t the government keep India out of the war already? Then what are you so angry about? Is it because the relentless lobbying by you and your ilk did not pay off in the short run?

Again, you might ask who cares. We know that the Western media and intellectual elite are hypocrites anyway. So where is the need to put a spotlight on their lobbying? For one, this lobbying makes it harder for India to get its way on all international forums, from diplomacy to arms control to foreign trade and even domestic policy. Also, as long as we use words like ‘hypocrisy,’ we see it as the result of somebody’s ignorance or their moral failings. It makes us live in false hope. If only we could give this or that data point, or jump through this or that hoop, perhaps they would finally change their minds about us.

But when you call them lobbyists, you internalise the fact that they are professionals who are doing their job. Their job is not to keep an open mind. They are not here to change their minds. Their job is to argue forcefully for a certain point of view, like a lawyer in a court. Imagine going to court believing that you might be able to win the heart of the lawyer on the other side. That is terribly naive, and the lawyer on the other side will just take advantage of you.

Unfortunately, the only answer to a lawyer is another lawyer. The answer to one lobby is another lobby. You have to observe the other side closely, understand their strengths and weaknesses. You have to copy their most effective methods, and come up with new ones of your own.

And above all, do not confuse the opposing lawyer with the judge. People are the judge, not the lobbyists themselves. Do not waste time arguing with them. We have to find ways to access the minds of people not just in India, but around the world. This is very difficult, and it will take a long time. But we cannot lose hope. The current hegemony was not built in a day. It will take more than a day to dismantle it completely. On the good side, nothing lasts forever.

Abhishek Banerjee is an author and columnist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:March 23, 2022, 18:53 IST
last updated:March 23, 2022, 19:04 IST