India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to have one thing in common: both have high regard for Modi.
Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat in 2006, had lashed out at the ‘wealthy’ and ‘influential’ class of NGOs that ‘hire PR firms to continually build their image’ with ‘money coming from abroad’. The Indian Express has reported that the IB report has not only echoed his sentiments but copied a few sections as well. Modi had said this at a book release of ‘NGOs, Activists & Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry’, which is a collection of articles on the so-called anti-Hindu agenda and corrupt practices of certain NGOs. The report has blatantly lifted a paragraph from the book: “Another conspiracy — a vicious cycle is set up. Funds are obtained from abroad; an NGO is set up; a few articles are commissioned; a PR firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media, an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance this image. Such a vicious cycle, a network of finance-activity-award is set up and, once they have secured an award, no one in Hindustan dares raise a finger, no matter how many the failings of the awardee.”
During the tempestuous election campaign, Modi had called the CBI ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’. What should be the IB called then, Mr Modi?
However, the larger issue here is the palpable attempt of the new government to alarm the NGOs, which can be an impediment to corporates. The report alleges that Greenpeace has mounted “massive efforts to take down India’s coal-fired power plants and coal mining activity”. The report also accuses that opposition to several development projects in the country by a significant number of NGOs can hamper the economic growth by 2-3%. In fact, Greenpeace has been opposing the project to ensure the preservation forests, which the corporates want to wipe out to access the coal beneath. As far as the economic growth is concerned, Abhishek Pratap, Greenpeace’s senior campaigner, told Hindustan Times, “In 2013-14, Greenpeace received Rs 20 crore. More than 60% of our funds came from Indian supporters. Foreign contribution constitutes 37% of our funds. You can do the math – that is approximately Rs 7 crore. If India’s growth can be impacted by that – it’s laughable considering the massive outlay of corporations and foreign lobbies.”
It was speculated that the lavish election campaign undertaken by the BJP and Modi was funded by corporates. Moreover, his proximity to certain bigwigs has been evident. And in this context, when those bigwigs make profits in share market after Modi’s victory, it ought to raise a few eyebrows. By trying to muzzle the NGOs, it seems like a plan to ensure that no ‘lucrative’ projects are stalled in the future because of protests from the social sector.
Modi had categorically mentioned that the new regime will be the one for the poor, but here the walk seems completely different from the talk. The aim of preservation of the environment, about which the corporate sector could not care less, is being mocked at. One can only hope that the Modi sarkar, in its pursuit of coaxing the corporates, does not cause destruction so grave that we end up looking at the disastrous UPA-II with fond nostalgia.
This is not to suggest that all NGOs are as clean as a whistle. There are a few with hidden agendas and vested interests, and those should be scrutinized and investigated. But who will investigate the integrity of the NGOs? Surely cannot be the IB after this ‘copy-paste’ job. And what are the criteria to determine if the NGOs are clean or not? Foreign funding? Does an NGO become corrupt if it receives money from abroad?
Even Baba Amte received donations from overseas. So does Prakash Amte and Abhay Bang. Does that make them corrupt? Would it be fair if merely the nationality of the donor, not the character, ended up digging the grave of the NGO? And would it be alright to receive funds from Indians involved in murky deals? If Modi has a problem with funds being imported from outside, perhaps it is time to remind him that Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel’s daughter runs a non-profit organisation registered in the US.
Therefore, citing foreign funds and economic growth is just a façade. The aim seems to shun NGOs which could go against Modi’s projects. He has done that in Gujarat with Teesta Setalvad and Medha Patkar. Teesta was enmeshed with false cases against her, and Patkar was attacked more than once during her Narmada Bachao Andolan. Both were made to feel like a cat in a bunch of hounds. Now the scale has been widened by implementing it across India.
On April 19, Aakar Patel had written that Modi’s critics should expect no mercy once he assumes power. “Like all tyrants, Modi has a fundamentally primitive view of criticism. Those who oppose him, write against what he says and does, are enemies and he must fix them before they harm him. They should watch out”, he had written.
It seems NGOs were on top of that list.
Parth MN works with the LA Times, and tweets at @parthpunter.