Indian spokesman points finger at US over anti-corruption protests

Congress party spokesman Rashid Alvi latched onto comments made last week by the US State Department.

Afp August 18, 2011

NEW DELHI: A spokesman for India's ruling party has suggested the United States might have a role in the wave of anti-corruption protests posing a growing challenge to the government.

Indian leaders have traditionally been suspicious that foreign interference may lie behind any opposition movement, although recent administrations have taken a more internationalist outlook and built strong ties with the US.

Congress party spokesman Rashid Alvi latched onto comments made last week by the US State Department in which Washington said it counted on India "to exercise appropriate democratic restraint" when handling protests.

"The US had never spoken about any movement in India. This is the first time that it did," Alvi was quoted as saying by the Times of India on Thursday.

"We show the path of democracy to others, what was the need for the US to say it? This has created suspicion."

Anna Hazare, a veteran anti-corruption campaigner, has become a figurehead of public discontent after inspiring huge protests against graft and bribery among officials.

"Anna is alone. He has no organisation. Then how did this movement start and grow?" Alvi said.

"Who are these people spreading the word on Internet and telephones?"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself hinted at outside interference during an address to parliament on Wednesday.

"We are now emerging as one of the important players on the world stage," he said.

"There are many forces that would not like to see India realise its true place in the comity of nations. We must not play into their hands."

Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister who suspended democratic rule in India amid political turmoil in the mid-1970s, routinely blamed a "foreign hand" for many of the country's problems and the phrase remains highly potent among politicians.

US State Department spokeswomen Victoria Nuland, who made the remarks that Alvi picked up on, moved to diffuse the row, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

"There was some extremely inaccurate reporting out of India... that the United States had issued some sort of strong statement, which we did not issue," she told reporters in Washington.