Monday, March 27th, 2023 23:24:42


By Lt Gen Abhay Krishna
Updated: March 15, 2023 12:24 pm

Recently, George Soros, a 92 years old Jewish Hungarian born, an American financier and a big business investor, while addressing Munich Security Conference, had made a castigating remark targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling for a democratic revival in India and hinting at the need for his ouster. This billionaire was immediately countered and exposed by a very strong response both from India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Hon’ble Minister Smriti Irani. However, notwithstanding the same, one question which comes up in mind is, that, what does this 92 years old billionaire gain by uttering such a thing at this stage of his life? Is he paranoid of Prime Minister Modi and was venting out some deep-seated grudge in his heart against him for some personal reasons or is he acting as a tool of some bigger game being played behind the scene?

George Soros is considered as an American financier and a big business investor who is known for projecting himself as a philanthropist promoting democracy, transparency and freedom of speech. He is the founder of the Open Society Foundation (OSF), an NGO which has been very active in India since a long time. He also has a very dubious record of alleged backing and funding regime changes besides triggering financial crises. In 2020, in not a distant past, George Soros, in one of his speeches had openly offered $1billion to effect regime change in Nations with rising nationalism such as India. Recently, he had also made it clear that the rise of India under Prime Minister Modi and guided by Hindutva troubles him.

We have to, therefore, look deeper to understand the prevailing realities. In the recent past, the Nation had witnessed a very evident involvement of the OSF in anti-CAA and anti-Farm Laws protests through massive funding. The Government of India (GoI), thereafter, put the OSF on the ‘prior permission’ list of incoming funds. Interestingly, Salil Shetty, the Vice President of OSF India was seen participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

A Historical Perspective

In the 1960s and 70s, India was seen totally aligned to Soviet Union. In that period, the CIA had started three media houses channelling funds through an NGO called Asia foundation to start a propaganda war against the Soviet Union. According to a 1985 CIA memo declassified in December 2011, in the 1960s and 70s, the CIA was desperate not to let the KGB have the run of play in India. Three publications namely Imprint, Encounter and Quest were started with funds from the CIA through the Asia Foundation. The objective was to counter the influence of numerous cheap and glossy Soviet magazines that were easily available in India. Post collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 and China too struggling with problems related to reforms around the same period, USA was, thus, emboldened by its unparalleled military power turning into the sole world power.

US then shifted its focus towards ensuring its energy security by gaining access to oil and gas riches of the Middle East in its quest for ensuring the continued dominance of the Petro-dollar. As a result, the world began to witness a shift of strategy by the US that began using overt military power rather than covert means for initiating regime changes favourable to its strategic interests.  The post-Soviet and pre-9/11 period saw a conflict on every continent of the Earth where the US had a role to play. Whether it was military intervention in Kuwait, NATO led operations in Kosovo, the invasion of Panama or airstrikes in Sudan, the US no longer feared backlash to initiating unilateral military conflicts world over to achieve its perceived national objectives.

After almost half a century of clear alignment with the Soviet Union, India somehow began to demonstrate a reorientation of her approach in the early 2000s. The former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the much awaited and discussed nuclear deal with the US in 2005. However, the major push to this reorientation actually began to manifest itself only when the NDA Government came to power in the year 2014.

Adopting Strategic Autonomy

When the Russian economy had nearly collapsed in 2014 and China, as a good friend, had stepped in a big way to bail out Russia, Iran too had refused to toe the US line. During this ongoing turmoil period, India somehow, successfully managed to maintain a strategic autonomy approach. Since the time Prime Minister Narender Modi took over the reins of India, a significant change came in our foreign policy posture whereby India chose to adopt an independent outlook and orientation in foreign affairs with respect to issues defining her core strategic interests and avoid binding alliances.

Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went ahead to craft a joint strategic vision with the US for both Indian Ocean and Indo Pacific Region essentially to upgrade and build maritime security dynamics in the backdrop of increasing Chinese Naval presence in the region and the growth of the so-called ‘string of pearls. India also went ahead and signed logistics agreements with the US (LEMOA), France and Japan as also Communication Agreement (COMCASA) with the US. India also joined as a member of Quad Exercise with Japan, Australia and the US.

Around the same time, keeping focussed at her core interests, India became a member of both BRICS and SCO as also unequivocally supported Russian intervention in Syria and Iran’s right for civil nuclear energy. While India successfully negotiated purchase of defence equipment from US and other European countries, India also went ahead with purchase of nuclear submarine and S-400 missiles from Russia despite opposition from the US. This undoubtedly, left a clear message that India was not prepared to ever dent the existing separate and long-standing strategic partnership with Russia. While the US is helping India to develop its military industrial complex through transfer of technology and has assured support in India’s bid to join the NSG, India on the other hand at the same time, upgraded relationship with Russia to ‘special privileged partnership’ and secured access to China’s market for Indian rice and sugar. India, thus, clearly, conveyed that she maintains sanctity of every relationship and does not weigh one against the other

This approach started to demonstrate India’s foreign policy approach whereby India started to be seen maintaining an independent outlook and orientation in foreign affairs with respect to the issues defining our core strategic interests and avoiding any binding alliance. We started to decide and choose our relationship with US, Russia, China, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Iran, the Middle East, South East Asian countries and many other European Nations on one-to-one issue-based criteria instead of getting aligned based on any power block. We reaffirmed our continued foreign policy approach in the ongoing Russia -Ukraine war by not only abstaining from voting at the United Nations Security Council but also continuing to purchase oil from Russia despite sanctions put by US. Recently, once again notwithstanding the pressure from US and European partners to reconsider its position on Russian-Ukraine conflict, India once again, for the sixth time, abstained from voting on a resolution for peace in UNGA that denounced Russia’s action and sought unconditional withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine.

Hegemony of the US is no longer accommodated by the middle powers. The unilateral aggressive military actions by NATO in Serbia or later in Libya, have really hurt the credibility and trust worthiness of NATO in the eyes of the Global South. This has been further reinforced by their intervention in Russia -Ukraine war where instead of working out a solution they look keener to supply weapons and equipment to ignite it further.

No sooner Russia-China-Iran relationship strengthened by 2016, a process of dumping the dollar and rush for purchase of gold began in an increasing effort to promote trade in Yuan and non-dollar denominated currencies. India too joined this process. India which had not increased its gold reserves in over 10 years, suddenly nearly doubled its reserve by late 2018.This opened the doors for devaluation of the dollar which no longer was the only choice of currency for international trade. The current Indian govt showing sharp powers of judgement, very astutely decided to sign currency swap agreements with countries like Japan and UAE among others adding up to over a $100 billion to reduce the dependency on the US dollar and give a push for the local currencies of the two nations. Noticing the inevitable change dawning, Saudi Arabia under MBS too went ahead and entered into several long-term trade-related agreements with both Russia and China in the year 2018.

Getting out of US dollar hegemony will reduce our dependence on US banking system. We have already seen how this prevailing system like SWIFT, VISA, Master card etc have been used to isolate and economically cripple Russian trade with rest of the world. Thus, our Rupay and UPI system will serve as a bulwark against such tactics of Western Powers.

While rapprochement between India and China on the boundary issue may still be a distant dream, but both countries have on multiple occasions, shown a willingness to work together at international forums to protect our common interests. We must not forget that India and China had jointly fought a case against the US and the EU at the WTO on the issue of agriculture subsidy and won, dealing an embarrassing economic loss to the Western powers. So, have we irked the West and thus, today, are we in the cross chair of a propaganda war?

Emerging Challenges for the Nation

We may recall what Mr Ajit Doval, NSA, had very clearly stated while addressing the passing out parade of the 73rd batch of IPS probationers at Sardar Vallabhai Patel National Police Academy at Hyderabad in Nov 21; Quote, “The new frontiers of war, what you call the 4th generation warfare is the civil society.  Wars have ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving political or military objectives. The civil societies can be subverted, suborned, divided and manipulated to hurt the interests of the Nation.” Unquote.

Today, it is very evident that anti-India prejudice is hardwired in the Western media. Somehow, once the current Government chose to adopt a path of following strategic autonomy and openly encouraging a multi-polar world, India has seen a sudden surge in propaganda since the year 2018. There is a sudden increase in Prime Minister Modi’s domestic critics unleashing their attack on him and his government through big fake news.  There are number of examples to quote where some NGOS, both foreign and domestic media houses and civil societies have used tragic incidents for unleashing their divisive tactics, demonised certain section of society, attempts to mislead perception through spreading lies, Urban Naxals, Award Wapsi, creating an image of religious intolerance, fake news on cow vigilantism and lynching, instigating and supporting protests against Govt’s initiatives related to  bringing in CAA, NRC, UCC, Farm Laws, dilution of Article 370 and removing special status of J&K etc. Suddenly, a large number of so-called liberal think tanks and experts on matters related to India, have emerged on the foreign soil, especially in Washington DC. Somehow, it seems that the major bold initiatives of Prime Minister Modi, both within the country as well as reaching out to the world to establish a one-to-one relationship, taking hard stand on economic issues and connecting with Indian diaspora has not gone down well with the Western Power.

Thus, a very dangerous narrative is rapidly setting in the country through a well-planned strategy with active involvement of certain foreign agencies with inimical forces within the country to push the Nation into turmoil and weaken this current Government which is appearing fairly strong to handle. The latest BBC documentary showing Prime Minister Modi in bad light is just one such example of this dangerous trend catching up. We all know how the fake news crisis intensified during the 2019 elections.

Propaganda war is a non-contact military means which involves a planned use of any form of communication designed to affect minds, emotions and actions of a given group for a specific purpose or organised persuasion by nonviolent means. Waging a non-contact war through propaganda is not a new phenomenon. Over a period of time, with rapid development in the domain of IT, AI, social media etc, the propaganda war leads to catastrophic results if it remains unaddressed. Iraq, Libya, Arab Spring and Syria are few shining examples.

Interestingly, Allen Weinstein, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) had explained to the Washington Post in 1991,” In Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa in the Middle East and in realty all over the world, the US set up these different mechanisms for penetrating civil societies in the political system of countries that are going to be intervened and to assure that the outcome is going to be pleasing to Washington’s foreign policy objectives.”

Interestingly, the investigations done into protests/campaigns launched against sedition laws, allegations levelled on Rafael deal, Bhima Koregaon violence by ‘Urban Naxals’, Shaheen Bag protests to Delhi riots, all have finally led to indicate some connection or the other with few NGOs active both within our country and abroad. The closure of the Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi in May 2018 through an engineered prolonged protest costed the Indian economy over Rs 14,000 crore. Had this plant come up, then India would have turned from an importer to a major Sterlite copper exporter.

In July 2021, the Pegasus scandal broke out, where Leftists, Islamists and many others who nurture and cherish the delusions of self-grandeur, claimed that they were being snooped at. Somehow, by July 2021, it became very evident that there was a regime change operation underway in India. While it became evident which all entities and individuals were active within the country, it also became clear that George Soros did have connect too. Now, George Soros coming out in the open on 17th Feb 23 asking Prime Minister Modi to answer questions on the Adani row, raked up by Left media, few political parties and assorted propagandists, it has once again confirmed his continued effort of targeting the current GoI.

We may recall that as the farmers’ protests grabbed international attention, a toolkit tweeted by 18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg stirred up another controversy. Disha Ravi who was later arrested by the Delhi police, had described the toolkit as an ‘action plan’ resulting in the farmer-police clashes on 26 Jan. Such toolkits aim at the non-violent and peaceful global mobilization of people over a local cause, primarily, human rights violation. They aid the people to fight a dual battle – digital and on-ground. In the past, such toolkits are known to have been made and circulated during many major protests across the world, like the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, the Hong Kong protests of 2019, anti-CAA protests in India and several climate protests.

As part of the continued propaganda, in Dec 22, V-Dem, known to be funded both by the US Govt and George Soros had released a bizarre ranking, placing Pakistan and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan above India in Academic Freedom Index. V-Dem had also claimed a decline in India’s democracy. Obviously, such things suit agenda of many entities within our country who are actively working against the current Government. These entities who are from the same soil and roots, unfortunately, fail to fathom that what kind of huge long-term damage they are knowingly or unknowingly inflicting upon their own country by becoming slaves to these tools of propaganda war just to satisfy their own personal ego and self-goals. These entities are either too naïve or too self-centred to understand that tools like George Soros are not just for a regime change operation but rather this is an effort to alter the very foundation of Bharat.

China and Pakistan too have constantly indulged in a proxy war against India. They use their propaganda machinery against India to defame the Nation and incite violence. These two countries try to spread fake information through social media using fake accounts.

Need For a Strong action

The Government of India has initiated action against these inimical forces operating from within our country. Action has already been initiated against few very active foreign-funded NGOs, such as Green Peace, Cordaid, Amnesty and Action Aid besides three American grant-giving organisations which include Open Society foundation (OSF), World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  Fortunately, India has witnessed emergence of a very strong leadership in the recent years ensuring not only improved international standing, but also significant economic growth despite ongoing economic turmoil all over the world, especially during the last three years. However, an unfortunate part of us as Indians is, that, we have a number of political parties whose leaders, though aspire to become the Prime Minister, but unfortunately, for their existence and personal benefit they rely more on caste, community, religion and region basis politics, making India appear as politically unstable and a fractured society.

Social media is a tool that allows individuals to more easily use human networks. Propaganda works because of accessibility of social media with ease 24/7, existence of paid trollers and social media managers of political parties whose only aim is to win election. So, differences and fractures in multi-cultural and multi-religious society, it becomes easy to pitch one against the other. In India, there are over 3.3 million registered NGOs out of which quite a few have dubious agenda and source of funding. They act as a front for other activities and unfortunately action against them draws criticism of the Government

The Need to Shift Focus

Within democratic societies, divisions are growing as a result of the spread of opinion media following the “Fox News model” and the spread of disinformation circuits that are amplified by the way social media functions. Many first-time internet users lack media literacy on how to consume news and what to believe. Misinformation is thriving in regional languages away from the scrutiny of the English or Hindi main stream media. Main stream media has also fallen for misinformation on a number of occasions.

The current young generation of India has a very superficial and twisted knowledge of what and how the Nation’s centuries old historical path has unfolded over a period of time. They get influenced by the narratives set in through social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other major media platforms like BBC, New York times, Washington Post, Guardian etc. Moreover, they never care to check the authenticity of the source of information. Today, the irony is that ‘Woke” mind virus is sweeping through the college campuses in the country. Why no one talks about millions of Muslims having been killed over several decades through butchery of hegemonic powers? But, somehow, India only has to be always castigated and belittled through creating misleading narrative of prevailing religious intolerance.

Fighting fake news today is a big challenge. Fact checking, news literacy and transparency initiatives are badly needed to stem the tide of misinformation and low trust besides changing regulatory framework particularly for online content. The focus needs to be shifted more towards new users of rural and urban areas. Users of small towns are growing rapidly.

Though, Bollywood has always been marred with controversies, one must not ignore the fact that Bollywood is a tool of soft power representing a modern and fast developing India while retaining its glorious heritage and culture. Bollywood’s influence is no longer limited to neighbouring countries, but also has a global recognition and acceptance. Bollywood is, thus, a very handy tool if used in the right way.

Govt is fully aware of this dangerous sword hanging on the Nation but majority of our mass are ignorant.  There is, therefore the need for creating a dynamic organisational structure and formulating a comprehensive strategy involving all stakeholders with total involvement of Govt Agencies at the National level to fight this growing menace of Propaganda War- a non-contact military means affecting minds, thoughts, outlook, emotions of a given group for a specific purpose.

(The author, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC, (Retd) is Former Army Commander of South Western, Eastern and Central Army Commands, Indian Army. The views of the author are personal )

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