‘The report is to discredit protests by people’

Print edition : July 11, 2014

Brinda Karat. Photo: C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THE selective targeting of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the leaked Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) report did not elicit too many responses from the political class for the simple reason that the report was initiated by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While opposing the use of foreign funding for political activities, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) believes that many of the NGOs mentioned in the report have been unfairly targeted. In an interview to Frontline, Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and former Rajya Sabha member, said such reports did more harm than good. Excerpts:

What are your reactions to the I.B.’s report that NGOs and their activities have led to a decline in economic growth and to the issues relating to foreign funding raised by it?

The main accusation of the I.B. report is that all foreign-funded NGOs are in the business of halting development and acting as instruments on behalf of foreign powers. This is a laughable premise but not for the fact that the I.B. is accusing NGOs of doing exactly what the government of India has been doing —acting at the behest of foreign governments whether it is in the matter of mining policy, nuclear energy or allowing foreign direct investment in every sector. Earlier, it was the UPA government and now it is the Narendra Modi government which is following policies that are in the interests of foreign powers. I challenge and oppose the very premise of the I.B. report. It is also significant that it was the Congress-led government that had initiated the report and the Modi government which is acting on it. They both have the same policy of bulldozing the interests of the people in the name of development, which serves the corporates, whether foreign or Indian.

The NGOs and individuals named in the report have stated that the issues of funding are baseless and that the real objective is to quell dissent.

If someone wants to play the role of advocacy, taking a position on various policy issues or criticising the government, whether funded or not, they have every right to do so. Whether it is Greenpeace opposing a project or any other organisation, they have a right to raise a public dialogue on policy matters, but in principle we are against the use of foreign funding for political mobilisations. The CPI(M) is totally against foreign funding for any type of activity, which by its nature can be termed political.

There is a feeling that the report has been selective about certain kinds of NGOs and certain kinds of issues.

There are NGOs in India that are not foreign funded and have every right to go in for political activity. Many of the organisations and individuals who have been named in the report, which was deliberately leaked to discredit individuals, have declared that they do not receive foreign funds, and some have even filed defamation cases. The government certainly owes them a public apology for making such false claims. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act [FCRA, 2010] has certain rules, which were adopted by Parliament, that apply to all organisations taking foreign funds. That should be implemented.

What is striking about the I.B. report is there is no mention of the huge funds coming to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] and its affiliates, which have been used for activities that have caused more damage to India and its interests than any of the so-called funded organisations that the government has targeted. There should also be a check and strict scrutiny of foreign funds that are coming in the name of religion, and which are being used for political activity, and this includes all organisations functioning in the name of all religions in India, whether Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. There are reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have received foreign funding, which is completely illegal, but that, of course, does not form part of any report.

While questions can be raised about the timing and the nature of the I.B. report, there is an increasing demand that there should be more transparency and accountability on the part of all NGOs, especially those that do advocacy campaigns and mobilise politically as well.

The I.B. report is to discredit people’s protests. At the same time, there should be some responsibility and accountability on the part of those NGOs that take foreign funding. The way the foreign funds are utilised has to be transparent. We have often seen in many areas where there are organised Left movements, they have been targeted by both religion-based organisations and NGOs. They play a role in de-politicisation. But using foreign funds for any political activity opens the floodgates for intervention, which will not be healthy for Indian democracy.

However, many of the NGOs named in the I.B. report are not doing that. But the government is not interested in that. Otherwise, it would have taken action against the RSS.