Among the world’s leading powers, the Indian State stands alone in having virtually abdicated its responsibility to provide basic economic necessities to hundreds of millions of its citizens. In this backdrop of callous neglect, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have attempted to occupy the space vacated by the State. In places where bureaucrats or politicians do not care to trudge, such organisations provide vital services such as schooling, sanitation and housing. And hope.
But NGOs also have their dark side. Some live off the fat of the land, as platforms for their founders to skim charity money. Others are more devious. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) — India’s premier internal security agency — has submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, identifying several foreign-funded NGOs that are “negatively impacting economic development”.
The 21-page IB report reveals that “a significant number of Indian NGOs, funded by some donors based in the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, are using people-centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects”.
The report adds: “Foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western government.”
If the IB’s contention that NGOs drag down economic growth by 2-3 percent is true, then the total national loss is as much as $60 billion annually — equal to France’s defence budget.
The problem with NGOs is that it’s hard to tell the good from the bad. Take the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the country’s largest and oldest human rights group. PUCL was mentored by none other than Rajindar Sachar, a retired high court judge, who shot to fame after he headed a committee that filed a report about the condition of Indian Muslims.
In 2010, a TEHELKA report (The Crimson Brief by Raman Kirpal, 22 May) quoted an IB communiqué that blew away the PUCL’s patina of philanthropy by calling it a “front organisation” of the outlawed Maoists. The communiqué stated: “It is after the front bodies have done the groundwork that the armed activity would start.”
An investigation by Open magazine (Foreign Funding of NGOs by Prashant Reddy, 2 March 2013) reveals the well-known Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), headed by Sunita Narain, has some pretty dodgy donors. Between 2006 and 2012, the Delhi-based organisation received over Rs 67.7 crore, mainly from Denmark-based Dan Church Aid and Germany-based Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst EV.
Vandana Shiva’s equally reputable Navdanya received 16.7 crore between 2006 and 2012 in foreign donations from mainly Christian churches and the European Union.
What are the chances that these organisations are likely to keep India’s interests above that of their church or European backers?
The biggest danger of foreign-funded NGOs is that they bring in foreign detritus — spies, evangelistic missionaries and agent provocateurs, who are creating numerous difficulties for India.
Among the outrageous instances of foreign meddling in India, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s high-octane crusade against Modi, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, stands out. Her use of Indian NGOs as fronts is a classic example of how the West is able to play the divide and rule game in India.
Madhav Nalapat, Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, quotes a US official in The Sunday Guardian: “Hillary Clinton likes to operate through NGOs, which are given funding through indirect channels, and which target individuals and countries seen as less than respectful to her views on foreign and domestic policy in the target countries.”
The official claimed that “rather than US NGOs, Clinton favoured operating through organisations based in the Netherlands, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway” as these were outside the radar of big power politics.
Like the CIA’s fake polio campaign in Pakistan — that successfully ferreted out Osama bin Laden — the Americans have launched similar campaigns in India as well. Current and retired American officials told Nalapat that “during the tenure in office of Secretary Clinton, several expert teams in the guise of NGOs were sent to Gujarat to try and find mass graves”. The purpose was to then take the matter to the Office of the UN Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva as an example of genocide.
Failing to discover any ‘mass graves’ in Gujarat, Clinton directed the search teams to Punjab. After the American F-16 and F-18 jet fighters were shot down in the Indian Air Force’s multi-billion dollar competition, “orders were given to activate the Khalistan file”.
The Americans were trying to put the heat on the Indian government by trying to unearth mass graves in Punjab. NGOs again provided vital logistics. According to American officials, “Key politicians in Punjab have assisted these search teams and on occasion even provided logistical facilities for them.”
Playing nuclear poker
NGOs were also active in the agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power station in electricity-starved Tamil Nadu, with funding coming from the West. In February 2012, at the height of the protests against the Russian-built plants, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh uncharacteristically railed against the protesters, saying India’s atomic energy programme had got into difficulties because of mostly US-based NGOs.
The day after Singh’s comment, his MoS in the PMO, V Narayanasamy, came to his defence, saying the contention was based on a Home Ministry probe. He said the protests against the Russian plant “are being funded by organisations from the US and Scandinavian countries”.
After the PM’s accusation, the Home Ministry didn’t waste any time in freezing the accounts of four NGOs, including an Indian Christian group, Tuticorin Diocese Association.
The latest IB report says a Dutch NGO is targeting oil drilling in the Northeast. It also warns that in 2014 foreign-funded NGOs plan to hit the strategic Delhi- Mumbai Industrial Corridor. If you look at the targets, they are all major infrastructure projects vital for India’s self-sufficiency.
The spy game
NGOs have often been linked with the world’s second oldest profession. In 2012, President Vladimir Putin booted out the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), accusing it of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. Earlier, in 2007, Moscow had ordered the British Council to ship out. Are the Russians being paranoid? You be the judge.
In 2010, the Associated Press published an explosive report detailing how USAID — which was ostensibly established to channel humanitarian aid — created a fake Twitter account to undermine the Cuban government. According to the news service, the US planned to use the platform to spread political content that might trigger a Cuban Spring and bring out “street mobs”. In essence, the American plan was to destabilise the country with the highest health standards in the western hemisphere and perhaps turn it into a present-day Iraq or Libya.
According to The Washington Post, “In South Vietnam, USAID provided cover for CIA operatives so widely that the two became almost synonymous.”
Author Frances Stonor Saunders has done an excellent expose of how the CIA has roped in NGOs not only as fronts but as willing participants in the spy game. In her book Who Paid the Piper? CIA and the Cultural Cold War, she writes that the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation were “conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence”.
Saunders adds: “At times it seemed as if the Ford Foundation was simply an extension of government in the area of international cultural propaganda. The foundation had a record of close involvement in covert actions in Europe, working closely with Marshall Plan and CIA officials on specific projects.”
In this backdrop, expelled AAP leader and former national council member Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay’s allegation that his party — or its leadership — has connections with the CIA needs to be looked into.
They need your country
There is a small but vocal lobby in India that wants closer ties with the West, especially the US. They point out various benefits that would accrue from hitching India’s wagon to the American engine, such as high technology, security umbrella and democracy.
But the problem with American influence peddlers is they represent rabidly right-wing groups that don’t want US sway over India limited to trade and diplomacy. “In addition, there must be infiltration of every sector of influence in a society, from religious groups to government departments to local charities to private business,” British-born Malaysia-based academic Iain Buchanan said in an interview to DNA.
Indeed, NGOs are becoming the apologists of NGO-colonialism.
Why target India?
As western power declines and the stock of China, Russia and India rises, the US-led bloc is desperate to extend its 300-year-old domination of the planet. With Moscow and Beijing being alert to their shenanigans, the West is able to do precious little in those countries. India, on the other hand, with its chaotic and ‘open-source’ democracy, can be easily influenced. Sceptical? Go back to the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
The BRICS, posing a major challenge to the West, is currently an economic grouping. If it morphs into a political alliance, then all bets are off the West. The US would do anything to stop India throwing its lot with Russia and China.
The West also looks at India through Judeo-Christian glasses. Western elites may be atheistic or agnostic but their worldview is coloured by their past. Virtually all western countries are united in their angst at the rise of the non-western world.
China is already set to become the world’s preeminent power and in tandem with Russia, another civilisational rival, sits at the global high table. Seeing a former colony, India, which the West has collectively mocked for two centuries, at the head of the table would probably leave them apoplectic. Plus, if India remains semi-industrialised as it is now, it is a vast market for western consumer goods and armaments.
Regulating NGO Raj
Faced with swarms of American-funded NGOs promoting ‘democracy’ and ‘free’ markets in Russia, Moscow has introduced a law that requires foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activity to be labelled “foreign agents”.
Such a law might appear harsh to Indians, but aren’t NGOs acting in the interests of a foreign State foreign agents? In the US, such NGOs have to file a report of their activities every six months, produce copies of all their contracts and even verbal agreements with the outfits they work for.
But does India need NGOs at all? Think about it: NGOs have been working for over a hundred years yet have barely made a dent in poverty in Africa. On the other hand, hard work, private enterprise and investment in roads and industry have transformed the economies of once poor countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. This gentrification is happening in India — albeit at a slower pace — and only needs good governance for the process to hasten.
Besides, development must not happen at the expense of national security. For a country that has suffered its fair share of invasions — with active help from traitors — that should be a guiding principle.