A history lesson for India

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party supporters protesting against FDI in New Delhi last week. The opposition to FDI seems like an effort to reverse the trend of Indian history, where prosperity was based on openness. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AS THE Parliament's winter session arrives, the air in New Delhi is again thick with protest slogans. First- time visitors to India may be forgiven for thinking that they have walked onto the set of a movie about colonialism, featuring brave natives standing up against imperialist invaders.

Indian opposition parties are agitating against what the rest of the world does not have enough of: foreign direct investment (FDI). Welcome to the alternative universe of Indian opposition politics. Whether out of conviction or political expediency, the opposition parties' demands for withdrawing FDI do more than just fly in the face of the worldwide trend. It seems like an effort to reverse the trend of Indian history, in which prosperity was always based on openness.

The opposition parties' protest against FDI in retail, banking, aviation and insurance does not mean they are xenophobic, or that they are hostile to all foreign investment. Nor is it accurate to suggest that FDI in retail is some sort of a panacea, or that it comes without its problems. But the message that the opposition is sending to the world amounts to raising a red flag on the beach: "Danger - enter the water at your peril."

As the competition for capital in the post-financial-crisis world heats up, the impact of such an unwelcoming signal to investors is not hard to imagine. Already a year of massive corruption scandals and policy paralysis in New Delhi has taken its toll on foreign investors' enthusiasm for India.