George Soros dubs rise of nationalism in India a ‘setback’

Soros also said he would commit $1 billion to start a global university to fight authoritarian governments and the climate crisis, calling them twin challenges that threaten the survival of civilisation.
Billionaire investor George Soros has said the “biggest and most frightening setback” to open societies comes from India(AFP)
Billionaire investor George Soros has said the “biggest and most frightening setback” to open societies comes from India(AFP)
Updated on Jan 25, 2020 05:46 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Davos | ByHT Correspondent and Agencies

Billionaire investor George Soros has said the “biggest and most frightening setback” to open societies comes from 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”.

Soros also said he would commit $1 billion to start a global university to fight authoritarian governments and the climate crisis, calling them twin challenges that threaten the survival of civilisation.

His comments came at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos and add to the growing chorus of criticism of India, especially over restrictions, including the blocking of internet access, in Kashmir, and a new citizenship law. The latest issue of The Economist magazine has a cover story titled “Intolerant India: How Modi is endangering the world’s biggest democracy”.

Both were criticised by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government. Vijay Chauthaiwale, in charge of the BJP’s foreign affairs department, tweeted: “We thought the Brits left in 1947! But the editors of The Economist are still living in the colonial era. They are furious when 600 million Indians do not follow their explicit instructions of not voting Modi.”

“Soros has announced a billion dollar fund to interfere in the politics of India, China, etc to ostensibly fight ‘authoritarian’ despots. This was exactly the language used by 19th century European thinkers to justify colonisation,” said Sanjeev Sanyal, the principal economic adviser in the Ministry of Finance.

Soros also expressed concern about an overheated US economy, the dominance of Facebook, and criticised China’s Xi Jinping, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, US President Donald Trump whom he termed a “con man and the ultimate narcissist”, and the Indian Prime Minister.

“There’s nothing to stop them,” he said about Facebook. “I think there is a kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook. Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will work to protect Facebook.”

He criticised the US and China, for being ruled by “would-be or actual dictators” and named India among the countries where nationalism is making further headway.

Stating that he had hoped that things will improve, including on international cooperation, Soros said that instead nationalism had made headway across the world.

The 89-year old, who has been a big donor for Democrats in the US, said the strongest powers -- the US, China and Russia -- have “remained in the hands of would-be or actual dictators and the ranks of authoritarian rulers continued to grow”.

In Latin America, a humanitarian catastrophe has continued to unfold, he said.

On the relationship between the United States and China, he said it has become incredibly complicated and difficult to understand.

He said the two presidents, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, face internal constraints and various enemies.

“Both try to extend the powers of their office to its limit and beyond. While they have found some mutually beneficial reasons to cooperate, their motivations are completely different.”

Soros said Trump is willing to sacrifice the national interests for his personal interests and he will do practically anything to win re-election.

By contrast, Xi is eager to exploit Trump’s weaknesses and use artificial intelligence to achieve total control over his people, he claimed.

Soros, however, said Xi’s success is far from assured. “One of China’s vulnerabilities is that it still depends on the United States to supply it with the microprocessors it needs to dominate the 5G market and to fully implement the social credit system that is a threat to open societies,” he said, questioning the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and saying the project required giving large loans, some of which will never be repaid. “China can ill-afford this because its budget deficit has increased and its trade surplus has diminished,” he added.

“Since Xi Jinping has centralised power in his hands, China’s economic policy has also lost its flexibility and inventiveness,” Soros said.

Still, he added, “taking into account the climate emergency and the worldwide unrest, it’s not an exaggeration to say that 2020 and the next few years will determine not only the fate of Xi and Trump, but also the fate of the world.”

Soros’s new university network, the Open Society University Network, will offer an international platform for teaching and research, the 89-year old said. “As a long-term strategy our best hope lies in access to quality education that reinforces the autonomy of the individual by cultivating critical thinking and emphasising academic freedom,” he said.

Soros has become a lightning rod for his political views and philanthropic efforts. He has also closed his hedge fund. His $25 billion Soros Fund Management now mostly manages money for the Open Society Foundations, a network of philanthropies.

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