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No Peace for Greenpeace, or Even the Mighty Ford Foundation.

India, May 4 -- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru loved people, and groups, who worked for their fellow man, or assisted him to develop the new India he envisioned after Independence. Gandhians, as they came to be called, were among the first of these groups carrying on pursuits and organisations that Mahatma Gandhi or his associates had started. Perhaps they did not think of themselves as NGOs, the famous acronym that still expands as Non-Governmental Organisations, and therefore does not include arms of the government which sometimes masquerade as voice of the people in international conferences, especially those relating to human rights, nuclear energy, and peace. They are better known as GONGOS, government-organised NGOs. Some of them spy on NGOs, others present the government's point of view, supplementing the official delegation, so to say.

Mr. Nehru's daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, did not dislike NGOs and had continued to patronise most of her father's favourites, including the Ford Foundation despite her distance from the United States in the run up to the 1971 crisis with Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. But by 1974, she was looking askance at the Gandhians, who she suspected were part of the conspiracy that was seeing mounting unrest against her government. When she lost the Allahabad High Court challenge by the maverick Raj Narain to her election, she imposed a State of Internal Emergency, which Mr. Siddharth Shankar Ray claimed was at his advice. While suspending most civil rights, she also imposed a new law, called the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to starve the Gandhi peace Foundation and other NGOs of funds, and thereby their ability to reach out to the people.

The ruler's paranoia against anyone remotely suspected of working against her, or him, had well and truly taken root in the Indian soil as perhaps in feudal times, or the height of the British Raj.

Mr. Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister, may ridicule the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, but like his Bharatiya Janata party predecessor in office, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is a secret admirer of some of them. Mr Vajpayee fancied himself a latter day avatara of Mr Nehru. Mr Modi thinks of himself as an iron fisted ruler like Mrs Gandhi who saw her as a one-man Cabinet, and a ruler who made neighbouring heads of government quake in their shoes. And perhaps he wants to borrow from Mr. Rajiv Gandhi the love for technology. But it is Mrs. Gandhi he borrows his vindictiveness, and a tendency never to forgive.

There would not seem to be very many other reasons to explain the overkill and single-minded pursuit of NGOs and activists he suspects to have been targeting him in Gujarat since 2002, and in New Delhi since he took over as Prime Minister in May 2014. He has not forgotten or forgiven that Teesta Setalvad and her NGOs put several of his party men, and at least one minister, in jail for the massacre of Muslims in the pogrom of 2002, and got his visa to the US withdrawn till he got a diplomatic immunity after assuming the prime minister's office. He has not forgiven others for persisting with follow ups of extrajudicial killings. Above all, he has not forgotten that Greenpeace has been fighting all his friends, from Vedanta and the Ambani brothers to Mr Adani, also of Gujarat, who want easy terms and fast track acquisition of land that sits over mineral deposits or is planned for future infrastructure but now is home and food-producer to Tribals and farmers.

He is now chasing them ruthlessly, using the Home ministry to stop their activists, such as Ms. Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, from going to international meetings, suspending or cancelling their FCRA permits, and in the case of activists, trying to scare or starve them into inaction, if not penury. And when possible, the Intelligence Bureau and the Police are pressed into service. Outside official circles, cadres of the Sangh Parivar use social media to threaten and coerce activists, and blacken the image of the NGOs. The Sangh funds are sourced in ways that have never been explained, or investigated by the government.

But it remains to be seen if the government has taken on too much in challenging Ford Foundation and Greenpeace, both highly respected in the west, with strong support on Capitol Hill in Washington and government houses in the capitals of western Europe.

It used to be said once that if you have heard of the United States, you have heard of the Ford Foundation, set up by the family that launched the automobile revolution which clogs Delhi's roads, and pollutes our air. But Ford is a favourite of India's movers and shakers, beginning from the great Jawaharlal Nehru. As many have pointed out, barring perhaps the communists, all too many think tanks, including the redoubtable Centre for Policy Research and the Centre for Study of developing Societies have benefitted from its generosity. Inevitably, it has had a tremendous impact on policy making, arguably for the good.

To use its own words from its official website, "The Ford Foundation supports visionary leaders and organisations on the front-lines of social change worldwide." Its goals for more than half a century have been "to strengthen democratic values, Reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement."

One does not recall it funding anything that went against the national and corporate interests of the US, but there still remains a large area, including human rights initiatives, where it lends a helping hand. Even by 2002 when it celebrated 50 years in India, the Foundation said that it had spent $500 million in the country. In the last five years, it distributed $50 million to groups in India. By now it has several projects in collaboration with state governments too. Even think tanks of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have had a project or two active with the foundation over the years.

But Mr. Modi, it seems, is willing to forget all that just to punish the Foundation for financing Teesta Setalvad's activities which he thinks are directed singularly against him. The Foundation is now on his watch list. An NGO cannot access Ford funds without seeking prior permission from the government, even if it has FCRA registration.

Greenpeace does not have the clout of the US foundation, but can be quite an irritant for governments and corporations, howsoever mighty they may be. Greenpeace, as we know, was born about the time Indira Gandhi was liberating Bangladesh in 1971. In faraway, cold, Canada, dreaming a green and peaceful world, a small team of activists set sail from Vancouver, in an old fishing boat. As Greenpeace historians describe its birth, "These activists, the founders of Greenpeace, believed a few individuals could make a difference. Their mission was to "bear witness" to US underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, which is one of the world's most earthquake-prone regions. Amchitka was the last refuge for 3000 endangered sea otters, and home to bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other wildlife.

"Even though their old boat, the Phyllis Cormack, was intercepted before it got to Amchitka, the journey sparked a flurry of public interest. The US still detonated the bomb, but the voice of reason had been heard. Nuclear testing on Amchitka ended that same year, and the island was later declared a bird sanctuary."

Greenpeace is now an international organisation, headquartered in Amsterdam, and with a vibrant branch in India which began in 2001, and in 41 other countries. From its offices in Bangalore and New Delhi, it coordinates work on four broad campaigns - stopping climate change, encouraging sustainable agriculture, preserving the oceans and preventing another nuclear catastrophe. Over the years Greenpeace India has built a strong base of supporters spread across the country and says two-thirds of its funding is generated within India. Greenpeace received foreign funding averaging Rs. 7.5 crore annually between 2009 and 2012.

Greenpeace India Executive Director, Mr. Samit Aich, says Delhi High Court in January this year had ordered that the NGO be allowed to access funds sent by its international office. The judge had also observed in court that the Home ministry's action to stop funds access to funds from Greenpeace International was 'arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional'. The court said the government did not present any evidence against Greenpeace International to substantiate why it has put them on a prior approval list. Aich feels the government wanted to prevent Greenpeace India from accessing funds from them in a timely and predictable manner. "This is having a real impact on the scale of our campaigns for clean air, standing forests, safe food and cheaper, cleaner electricity." [See Indian Currents interview with Mr. Samit Aich, the Executive director of Greenpeace India.]

Some 45,000 organisations are registered with the Ministry of Home Affair's FCRA division. The ministry has in media leaks said these NGOs are classified into three broad categories. The current focus is on those suspected of activities prejudicial to national interest and security. The other two groups are those suspected of violating registration norms, and those possibly laundering money.

Anti-national activities have not been defined by the ministry, but can range from organising tribals and fishermen to supporting movements that target the corporate sector. The government says NGOs, particularly those involved in protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu, received foreign funds. It also alleges NGOs use FCRA channels to launder funds, but despite probing about 20 of them, it has not been able to make any convictions.

Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Kiren Rijiju in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha to Mrs. Wansuk Syiem said adverse reports were received from intelligence agencies against NGOs such as Tuticorin Diocesan Association, Tuticorin, East Coast Research and Development Trust, Thoothukudi, Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns, Madurai and Greenpeace India Society, Chennai. Based on inspections/ investigations, the FCRA registration of Tuticorin Diocesan Association and Centre for Promotion and Social Concerns were suspended and their bank accounts frozen. FCRA registration of East Coast Research and Development Trust was cancelled.

According to published data, in 2011-12, notices were sent to 21,493 associations who were found to have not submitted annual return for the years 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. In October last year, 10,343 were given a month's notice to give their annual returns. The government says the addresses of 8,975 were wrong and another 632 did not respond. All lost their registration.

Donors are difficult to classify so easily, but various governments have consistently targeted many large charity groups, including Cordaid, the Catholic agency. The Modi government has expanded the list. Ministry records show in 2011-12, NGOs had received Rs. 11,546 crore from abroad. Of these, 20,297 grants were below Rs. 1 crore and 148 above Rs. 10 crore. The highest amount came from the US as usual. Small funds came from Rwanda, Latvia, Angola, Tonga, Malawi and Suriname.

"Of about 3,000 foreign donors, action has been taken against only 16 [by putting them on the Home Ministry's pre-approval list] for funding campaigns prejudicial to national security," the official said.

Ironically a few friends of Mr. Modi have also been targeted, including the NGOs of Ms. Madhu Kishwar, who was a strong defender of the then Gujarat chief minister. Ms. Kishwar, and several RSS acolytes which have targeted church connected NGOs, have been demanding a total ban on all foreign assistance to the voluntary sector. They say the government should set up a central fund to finance the activities of the voluntary sector. This, critics fear, will make the NGOs totally subservient to the government and political dispensation in power, and will make the voluntary sector just an arm of the ruling party.

In 2016, the registration of some 16,000 NGOs will be checked and there is apprehension that the Home Ministry will use this process to try to target organisations which have embarrassed the prime minister, or challenged his development programmes, including the land acquisition bill, as anti-people laws that are designed to help the national and international corporate sector.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 4, 2015
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