Much like the Hindu supremacist Sangh Parivar, which frequently resorts to branding those raising concerns about civil liberties and rights as “anti-national”, the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) of the Indian government led by the Sangh-affiliated political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), last fortnight branded some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil rights’ groups as forums that endanger India’s economic and political security, for their role in organising resistance against corporate-led “development projects”.
The I.B. report, however, is selective in targeting NGOs: it picks out only a few anti-corporate groups as possibly endangering India’s security. In what some activists have described as a deliberate omission, the report has left out India’s biggest NGO, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), an organisation that has been accused by various independent fact-finding reports of accepting massive funds from foreign agencies in the name of social and cultural work but using these funds to propagate and finance hate crimes. The RSS has also been accused by various governments at the Centre and many political parties of being a threat to India’s multicultural identity.
The RSS has been accused of getting its funds primarily from the United States and the United Kingdom. An analysis of more than 150 documents by two independent civil society groups—Sabrang Communications and South Asia Citizens Web—in 2002 charted out how the RSS is being funded by various corporates in the U.S. through an organisation called India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF).
The documents examined were a mix of annual reports and tax documents filed by the IDRF with the Internal Revenue Service of the U.S., reports of the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh (HSS), an equivalent organisation of the RSS in the U.S. and the U.K., and reports from various Sangh Parivar mouthpieces. The report “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American funding of Hindutva” draws the conclusion that the IDRF, a supposedly independent body, has direct connection with the RSS, despite its claims to the contrary. Its official purpose is to raise money for organisations in India “assisting in rural development, tribal welfare, and urban poor”. The report states that it organises wide fund-raising programmes in the U.S. for “social work” in India but has channelled almost 83 per cent of its funds to groups associated with the RSS. A table of these organisations can be found in http://stopfundinghate.org/sacw/appendixh.html.
The IDRF operates in the U.S. as a charity and is governed under tax exemption rules. These rules prevent the organisation from participating in any political activity that may require transferring funds overseas to any violent sectarian group. However, the RSS is widely known to propagate anti-minority political sentiment.
In a period of seven years (1994-2000), the IDRF disbursed more than $5 million for development and relief work in India. While examining the tax returns of the IDRF, the analysts chose nine representative samples of organisations that were funded by the IDRF. They are Vikas Bharati (Bihar), Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society (Tamil Nadu), Sewa Bharati (Delhi), Jan Sewa Vidya Kendra (Karnataka), Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Madhya Pradesh), Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Gujarat), Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Nagar Haveli), Girivasi Vanvasi Sewa Prakalp (Uttar Pradesh), and G. Deshpande Vanvasi Vastigrah (Maharashtra). All these organisations are affiliated to the RSS and have found frequent mention in the Sangh Parivar’s literature.
Similarly, out of the 75 organisations the IDRF funds in India, 60 are clearly Sangh affiliates. Nearly 75 per cent of its funds go to organisations dealing with schools in Adivasi areas, shuddhi/reconversion programmes, or Hinduisation efforts. The only relief work it sponsored was during the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, an effort in which Muslims were widely reported to have been left out.
Despite such associations, IDRF founders have always claimed to be “independent”. A scrutiny of IDRF founders, however, does not support this claim. Some of its founder members are Bhisma Agnihotri, a well-known RSS ideologue and a member of the HSS; Jatinder Kumar, a member of Friends of India Society, the public relations wing of the HSS; and Ram Gehani, a member of Overseas Friends of the BJP. Most of the other founders also share a close relationship with the RSS.
In the U.S., the IDRF has been a vocal supporter of the U.S. government’s “war on terror” and under that pitch it has articulated its anti-Muslim positions about India. The report also says that most militant Hindu websites give links of the IDRF. Swami Aseemanand, the main accused in many bomb blasts, is a registered member of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Gujarat, an organisation funded by the IDRF.
The report states that organisations like the IDRF fall in the “seva vibhaag” (service wing) of the RSS. “The service wing of the Hindutva movement is the RSS’ most incoherent structure. However, in its very incoherence lies its ingenuity,” the report says. These organisations are spread across various parts of the world and are connected closely to one another. For instance, the report says that the IDRF has close connections with Sewa International, a similar organisation in the U.K.Sewa International
In 2004, a civil rights group, Awaaz—South Asia Watch Ltd, came out with a similar report about the financial transactions of Sewa International and the RSS’ funding. The report states that the RSS and its affiliates received millions of pounds raised from the British public by the fund-raising arm of the Leicester-based HSS, Sewa International (SI). While doing so, Sewa International, like the IDRF, did not reveal its deep connections with the militant Hindutva organisations in India and collected money from British citizens who donated in good faith.
The report titled “In Bad Faith: British Charity and Hindu Extremism” says that an overwhelming majority of these funds were collected for relief work in cyclone-affected Odisha (1999) and earthquake-torn Gujarat (2001). All two million pounds raised for Gujarat was diverted to Sewa Bharati, an RSS affiliate. In the U.K., Sewa International claimed, the report says, that it funded the reconstruction and rehabilitations of 10 to 25 villages in Gujarat. Out of these, it claimed that the reconstruction of 10 villages was fully sponsored by Sewa International. However, only six villages were found where Sewa International funds were partially used.
Similarly, the report says that a large proportion of the £260,000 collected for cyclone relief in Odisha went to RSS affiliates and a significant amount went for the reconstruction of schools run by the RSS.
The report also says that a significant amount of the funds went towards strengthening the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an institution that has been accused of inciting communal violence against Christians in various parts of India.
Both the reports hinted at the fact that the IDRF and Sewa International systematically target many companies for fund-raising and since these companies want a foothold in the Indian market, they contribute generously.
In the name of service
Biju Mathew, one of the contributors in the IDRF report and an activist based in the U.S., said in an interview: “We showed how, from the late 1980s, the RSS had expanded its so-called ‘seva’ or service wing, heavily dependent on funds from America and Europe, to spread its network in India. Much of this money was being channelled through the IDRF in America and Sewa International in Britain.” He added: “Following our report, some big American companies, like Cisco (the world’s largest telecom hardware manufacturer), Intel and Hewlett Packard, as well as some U.S.-based NRIs, stopped funding the IDRF. I think one of the only American companies that continues to have the IDRF on their list of development organisations receiving funds is Microsoft, although I am not sure if they are still funding it.”
More recently, multinational companies funded the BJP’s electoral campaign. Conspicuous among these was Omidyar Network, run by the e-commerce giant eBay’s owner Pierre Omidyar. As soon as Narendra Modi came to power, he announced his intention to open up the e-commerce market in India. Omidyar Network is known for funding protest groups in various countries and working closely with U.S. foreign policy programmes which deal with “reinstating democracy” in underdeveloped nations.
A report published in www.pando.com says: “In Ukraine, Omidyar Network co-funded with USAID a network of NGOs and campaigns through Center UA, led by a former Orange Revolution leader and government minister in charge of NATO integration, Oleh Rybachuk, and his former press spokesperson, Svitlana Zalishchuk. Despite proclaiming lofty goals about good governance, anti-corruption, and transparency, Omidyar Network’s man in Ukraine announced as far back as 2012 his intention of organising another Orange Revolution. Last year, the Financial Times reported that Rybachuk’s Omidyar-funded outfit New Citizen ‘played a big role’ in organising the Maidan revolution protests that led to the government’s overthrow this February.”
The Delhi High Court, in a recent judgment found both the Congress and the BJP guilty of violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2011, by accepting funds from subsidiaries of the U.K.-based company Vedanta, which has been investing in India heavily, and often by violating innumerable regulations.
Clearly, the I.B. and the National Democratic Alliance government do not seem to have too many problems with such foreign funding. They have even fewer problems with militant organisations like the RSS threatening India’s multicultural legacy than with those organisations leading mass movements against corporate plunder.
“Tragically, we now have a report from the Intelligence Bureau that promotes the very foreign interests that are threatening our seed and food sovereignty, the livelihood of our farmers and the health of our citizens. The I.B., like the foreign interests seemingly influencing its analysis, clearly holds the institutions created by the Constitution of India—the government, Parliament, the courts—in contempt of foreign commercial interests,” said Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist who is named in the I.B. report as one of the individuals stalling “development projects”.
One of the greatest virtues of the idea of the post-colonial state of India is its economic and political independence. In the last two decades, this virtue has been severely compromised because of the introduction of economic reforms. It is common knowledge that multinational companies have shown imperialistic tendencies. Yet, successive governments have unabashedly shunned their political responsibilities in favour of the corporates, leading to wide protests across the country. The I.B. report is perhaps the last warning from the government to toe its line or be on its hit list.