Those Challenging India's Resolve to Crack Down on Foreign NGOs Can Do So At Their Own Peril
Diplomacy is defence by design and offence through opprobrium. Envoys are expected to defend their countries even at the cost of giving offence by distorting facts and disseminating fiction. But it is undiplomatic to threaten their host country or embarrass a friendly nation. But the US ambassador to India, Richard R Verma, ignored the basic principles of civilised protocol. Last week, when the NDA government acted to ensure accountability in India’s money-minting NGO sector, Verma leapt to their aid and exculpation. Instead of using diplomatic channels to convey his government’s concerns to the home ministry, Verma chose a public platform to put the Indian government on the mat. Upset with its action against Greenpeace and Ford Foundation, Verma reflected a rare anger against Indian establishment. Speaking on the Indo-US relations, he warned, “I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India... Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs.” He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by the temperature metaphor, but it is evident that the US is wary of the home ministry’s order on severe scrutiny of the functioning of a large number of foreign-funded charitable organisations. It isn’t for the first time that the government decided to investigate the real motives behind the mushrooming of NGOs in India. Ever since the BJP government took over in May 2014, it has served notice on over 9,000 NGOs which failed to comply with Indian laws. Verma didn’t object then, because none of them were funded by American corporate entities or charities. His indignation surfaced only when the US outfits came under scrutiny. Last week, the government decided to probe the bank accounts of the Gates Foundation over discrepancies between the money received and spent. The foundation has refuted the allegations. Verma should have kept in mind that the scrutiny by Indian agencies is far more lenient than that of American agencies on their own charity organisations. Some of their 15-point charter of guidelines are:
• Charities should maintain and make publicly available a current list of their five highest paid or most influential employees (the key employees) and the salaries and direct or indirect benefits they receive.
• Charities are independent entities and are not part of the US government. Like all US persons, charitable organisations must comply with the laws of the US, which include, but are not limited to, all OFAC-administered sanctions programs.
• Charitable organisations are encouraged to adopt practices in addition to those required by law that provide additional assurances that all assets are used exclusively for charitable or other legitimate purposes.
• Charitable organisations should operate in accordance with governing instruments, e.g., charter, articles of incorporation, bylaws, etc. The governing instruments should: a) delineate the charity’s basic goal(s) and purpose(s); b) define the structure of the charity, including the composition of its governing body, how such body is selected and replaced, and the authority and responsibilities of the body; c) set forth requirements concerning financial reporting, accountability, and practices for solicitation and distribution of funds; d) state that the charity shall comply with all applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations.
• Charities should maintain and make publicly available a current list of members of the governing board, their salaries and affiliation with any subsidiary or affiliate of the charitable organisation.
• While fully respecting individual privacy rights, charities should maintain records of additional identifying information about the members of the governing board, such as available home, email and URL addresses, social security number, citizenship, etc.
• Charities should produce requested records maintained in accordance with these guidelines to the appropriate regulatory/supervisory and law enforcement authorities in a timely fashion.
• The charity should clearly state its goals for and purposes of soliciting funds so that anyone examining the charity’s disbursement of funds can determine whether the charity is adhering to those goals.
Verma probably feels he has legitimate justifications and fears on the intention of the probe. But India couldn’t just stand by when most NGOs were using foreign money for political activities and diverting funds to finance agitations against a number of infrastructure projects. A few years ago, a US foundation used an Indian NGO to test a vaccine on young girls in the name of child care. The government noticed the toxic fallout and banned the experiment. The increasing inflow of greenbacks from America to elitist Indian NGOs has raised suspicion among Indian agencies. Domestic NGOs received about Rs 3,800 crore during 2012-13 from the US as against around Rs 3,000 crore during 2009-10.
The Modi government has genuine reasons to suspect that many NGOs are being used to infiltrate the Indian establishment through universities, youth bodies and NGOs working in the environment field and foreign relations. Since a large number of these bodies are controlled by highly connected civil servants, corporate houses and politicians, foreign-funded organisations have also been dictating their agenda before releasing the funds. Even the choice of office-bearers and speakers at seminars, coffee table dialogues and protests organised by them are decided by foreign agencies. In the past three decades, the NGO industry has grown faster than many developing economies. India has one NGO per 400 people, and their total budget exceeds that of a big state like UP.
What has irked the Indian leadership are the sermons delivered by various foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama. Indian intelligence agencies have enough evidence to substantiate the charge that many NGOs are behind fomenting communal tensions in India. Yet Obama made uncharitable remarks about the recent attacks on churches and other places of worship. Understandably, the Obama confraternity gets its feedback from the NGOs financed by the America’s rich. Verma’s indignation was also influenced by the views of the company he keeps in India. Since he represents the world’s most powerful democracy, he ignored the reality that India is the globe’s largest democracy. The lure of dollars may mould the minds of few greedy individuals looking for foreign jaunts and jobs, but it can’t shake the faith and commitment of the nation-shapers who matter. India is fighting to earn its legitimate supremacy in a world that is rapidly changing geopolitically, is resource-driven and terror-infested. Anyone who challenges its resolve will do so at his or her own peril.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla