Despite living in India for 37 years and being a citizen of India since 2002, Jean Drèze had to write a letter in 2016 to clarify his citizenship position to those running a smear campaign against him. “According to the leaflet mentioned earlier, I am a “foreign agent” (videshi dalal). In fact, I am an Indian citizen and I have spent more time in India than many of those who were distributing this leaflet yesterday. I love this country, where I have friends from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In thirty-seven years of living in India, I have not faced hostility even once – until yesterday“, wrote Drèze in a letter to Catch News. One year later false information is still being shared about his nationality.
Jean Drèze is a Belgian-born Indian development economist and activist. His work includes areas of hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA. He was a former member of UPA’s National Advisory Council for two terms. But the reason he is a target of a recent organised campaign is because he is the husband of the activist Bela Bhatia. DM Awasthi, DG Naxal Ops Chattissgarh, told the press on May 18th that Podiyam Panda, who’s the former sarpanch of Chintagufa, had stated that Nandini Sundar and Bela Bhatia had met Naxal Commanders. It has been alleged that Panda was illegally detained by Chattissgarh police since May 3rd and that Panda’s statements are a forced confession. It is also being alleged that Panda is being targeted for his role in protecting human rights of the villages around Chintagufa.
In a post truth world, many struggle with the concept of “facts”. Additionally, with the wave of nationalism, some also struggle with the concept of citizenship. They routinely call Indian citizens as Pakistanis and find it difficult accept foreign born Indians as Indian nationals. Citizenship however is not something open to debate. It is not a topic where there can be a difference of opinion. The passport is a proof. Like it or not, Drèze’s Indian citizenship is a fact. And as Moynihan, a US senator famously said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts”
Drèze is an Indian national since 2002. When asked recently in an interview, how did it feel to give up his birth citizenship, Drèze had replied, “It was one of the happiest days of my life.” To the question, if India had offered dual citizenships, would his decision have been any different, he responded, “I don’t know. All I can say is that if the facility were offered to me today, I would decline. One citizenship seems enough.”
In the last few days, several tweets have made a false claim about Drèze’s nationality and alleged that a foreign national was a member of the National Advisory council under UPA. This tweet by Shefali Vaidya, a columnist at Swarajya was retweeted over 1200 times at the time of writing this article: “Jean Drèze, a Belgian national was a member of Sonia Gandhi’s NAC for two terms, while wife Bela Bhatia allegedly was communing w Maoists!”
A similar incorrect claim about Drèze’s nationality was also made by the film maker, Vivek Agnihotri, who called him a French national.
The factual error in Vaidya’s tweet was pointed out by Sadanand Dhume, who tweeted “I’m no fan of Drèze’s ideas, but as a factual matter he took Indian citizenship over a decade ago. In 2002 if I’m not mistaken.”
“It’s a factual matter. I’m presuming that @ShefVaidya made an innocent mistake, and am merely bringing it to her attention“, tried Dhume one more time with no result.
A few others also pointed out the misinformation being spread but to no avail. Twitter user, Paresh @hiparesh highlighted that a false statement gets 1000+ retweets while a statement correcting it gets only one. While Vaidya engaged with another user, @sandeeproy1 by asserting there are no rumours in her claim, she ignored repeated attempts by Dhume and others for a correction of the obvious factual inaccuracy in her tweet. She also threatened legal action against @sandeeproy1 for using the word “insinuation” in his tweet.
Finally Dhume expressed his disappointment with his tweet, “We all make mistakes. But telling that @ShefVaidya won’t correct the record even after I pointed out that Jean Drèze is an Indian national.”
Disagreement with Drèze and his worldview can surely be voiced without making fabricated claims about his nationality. An obvious lie has been widely shared even by those who know it is incorrect but don’t seem to have a problem with it. In a world of alternative facts, this is not even seen as unusual. But Alt News believes that falsehoods and fake news must be countered each and every time. One day it will make a difference.