One of the major donors to IREX is the ‘Open Society Foundation’, which was founded by controversial billionaire George Soros.
NEW DELHI: An initiative by the newly appointed American ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, to involve billionaire George Soros in one of the embassy’s programmes has come under severe criticism. Last week, Garcetti announced that the US embassy in India was launching “Learn to Discern Indian Academy”, an academic programme whose objective is to “improve the critical thinking skills of Indians in the age range of 18–25”. This came just days after Garcetti had presented his credentials to the President of India on 11 May.
This free programme, which, as per the statement, will “empower the youth leaders of tomorrow by building their resilience to manipulative information”, is being executed by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), a Washington-based international, non-profit organisation that specialises in global education and development. The body was found in 1968 by multiple organisations, including the Ford Foundation.
Its stated objectives, in more than 100 countries that it works in, are empowering youth, cultivating leaders, strengthening institutions, and extending access to quality education and information.
In 2022, IREX had an annual budget of $110 million and a global staff of nearly 650 people.
However, what has led to criticism of this move by Garcetti is the fact that one of the major donors to IREX is the “Open Society Foundation,” which was founded by billionaire George Soros.
Soros, who has been accused of trying to intervene in the internal affairs of countries across the world to effect a regime change, had in February launched a tirade against the Narendra Modi government while accusing the Indian government of not being “democratic” and an entity that was maintaining ties with both “open” and “closed” societies. Soros had stated that the Hindenburg report that wrote about alleged wrongdoings in an Indian conglomerate would lead to a “democratic revival” in India.
Soros, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, while referring to industrialist Gautam Adani and the selloff in stocks of Adani Group companies after the publication of the Hindenburg Research report, said that Prime Minister Modi was “no democrat” but the Adani “affair” could “open the door to a democratic revival” in India.
Soros, who spoke from a prepared text for more than 40 minutes, started speaking about India after a reference to open and closed societies in his speech.”India is an interesting case,” Soros said. “It’s a democracy, but its leader, Narendra Modi, is no democrat. Inciting violence against Muslims was an important factor in his meteoric rise. Modi maintains close relations with both open and closed societies. India is a member of the Quad, which includes Australia, the US, and Japan, but it buys a lot of Russian oil at a steep discount and makes a lot of money out of it,” he said.
“Modi and business tycoon Adani are close allies; their fates are intertwined; Adani is accused of stock manipulation; Modi is silent on the subject, but he will have to answer questions from foreign investors and in Parliament,” Soros had claimed.
Once this happens, he said, it “will significantly weaken Modi’s stranglehold on India’s federal government and open the door to pushing for much-needed institutional reforms. I may be naive, but I expect a democratic revival in India”.
In response, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar termed him as “old, rich, opinionated, and dangerous.” According to Jaishankar, people like Soros start questioning the democratic setup when the electoral outcomes are not to their liking. Jaishankar had termed Soros a dangerous man as he was investing resources in shaping narratives. “A few years ago, he actually accused us of planning to strip millions of Muslims of their citizenship, which of course didn’t happen. It was a ridiculous suggestion. But you have to understand what this actually means. I would take the view that Mr Soros is an old, rich, opinionated person sitting in New York who still thinks that his views should determine how the entire world works. Now if I could only stop at old, rich, and opinionated, I would put it away. But he is old, rich, opinionated, and dangerous—what happens is when such people actually invest resources in shaping narratives,” he said.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to IREX seeking response on the views on Soros, who is one of their major funders and how they plan to justify their engagement in India to one of their biggest donors. No response was received till the time the story went to press.