George Soros: Why India’s Hindu nationalists are angry with the US billionaire

American billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros is facing a major government and media-led backlash in India over his comments about the allegations of fraud against India’s Adani Group conglomerate.

During the Munich Security Conference on 17 February, Mr Soros claimed the accusations by US short-seller Hindenburg Research against the conglomerate led by one of the world’s richest men – Gautam Adani – threatened to hurt investor confidence in India.

He added that “(prime minister Narendra) Modi and business tycoon Adani are close allies; their fate is intertwined. Adani Enterprises tried to raise funds in the stock market, but he failed. Adani is accused of stock manipulation and his stock collapsed like a house of cards”.

“Modi is silent on the subject, but he will have to answer questions from foreign investors and in parliament,” he said.

Mr Soros predicted that it would “significantly weaken Modi’s stranglehold on India’s federal government and open the door to push for much-needed institutional reforms. I may be naive, but I expect a democratic revival in India”.

Backlash from Hindu nationalists:

Following his comments, several senior government ministers and ruling party politicians hit back at Mr Soros, with foreign minister S Jaishankar accusing him of “scaremongering”.

When asked about the “undermining of democracy in India, most recently in the context of the BBC” and Mr Soros’s remarks on the Adani controversy, Mr Jaishankar said the billionaire investor “worries us”.

Mr Jaishankar said Mr Soros was a person “sitting in New York who still thinks his views should determine how the entire world works”.

He added: “The seamlessness of globalisation which creates all the opportunities also allows narratives to be shaped, money to come in, foundations to go about their agenda. In this particular case, it is very clear he has very strong political preferences. He actually thinks that it doesn’t matter that this is a country of 1.4 billion people whose voters decide how the country should run. I cite him as an extreme example.”

“Our generation has grown up with concepts like regime change, which influence operations. You can call it what you will. To me, this really looks the same with the gloss of some kind of do-goodism on it.”

Smriti Irani, another minister from the Modi government, said Mr Soros had “ill intention to intervene in the democratic process of India and wanted a government that is pliable to his need”.

She said Mr Soros’s remarks were a “declaration to destroy India’s democratic processes” and that “war is being mounted against India”.

“The man who broke a bank in England, an economic offender, has said that his desire is to break Indian democracy. His statements have made it clear that Soros wants to pick a government which is in his interest,” she told reporters.

Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, the maker of the controversial “Kashmir Files” movie that was called a piece of “vulgar propaganda” by a jury member at an international film festival, said he agreed with Mr Jaishankar and suggested “Hinduphobic” be added to the list of allegations against Mr Soros. It’s unclear which of Mr Soros’s comments he was basing this on.

It should be noted that the political backlash against Mr Soros was not only limited to the ruling party. Jairam Ramesh, a senior figure from the opposition Indian National Congress party, tweeted: “Whether the PM-linked Adani scam sparks a democratic revival in India depends entirely on the Congress, Opposition parties & our electoral process.”

He added that it has “nothing to do with George Soros. Our Nehruvian legacy ensures people like Soros cannot determine our electoral outcomes”.

How Indian media reacted to Soros’s remarks:

News channel Times Now quoted professor Salvatore Babones of the University of Sydney as saying that “let’s not put too much weight on what one outspoken billionaire has to say about Indian politics”.

Mr Babones, in the past, had said that “India’s intellectual class is anti-India” and that there was a section that is “anti-Modi and anti-BJP”. He has also argued that the international media is wrongly portraying India as a fascist state.

Several Indian TV channels and news outlets also attempted to highlight Mr Soros’s controversial past.

Journalist Palki Sharma tweeted: “He manipulated global markets and now wants to manipulate the global order by orchestrating regime changes.”

Digital outlet Firstpost published a piece titled: “Bogeyman of the Right: George Soros and his many controversies explained”. That appeared to be a phrase borrowed from a 2019 BBC profile of Mr Soros where he was described as a “bogeyman for the hard right”.

The Press Trust of India published a piece titled “George Soros: The man who broke UK’s central bank and criticised PM Narendra Modi”.

India Today published an op-ed titled “George Soros: Agent of chaos who funds regime changes?” It said that Mr Soros has “faced charges across the world for his alleged role in backing and funding regime changes”.

This is not the first time that Mr Soros made controversial remarks about Mr Modi. In January 2020, addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, the billionaire said: “The biggest and the most frightening setback occurred in India where a democratically elected Narendra Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state, imposing punitive measures on Kashmir, a semi-autonomous Muslim region, and threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship.”

The latest comments by Mr Soros come in the wake of the highly-controversial tax “surveys” by Indian tax authorities at the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai. The Indian authorities are probing the British broadcaster’s financial transactions in a move that was widely criticised as a crackdown on free speech.

The tax survey came just weeks after the BBC aired a documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots featuring a UK government assessment that PM Modi was “directly responsible” for the circumstances leading up to violence in which over 1,000 people – many of them Muslims – were killed.