The central government’s decision to put the Ford Foundation on its watchlist is in tune with its policy of keeping some organisations under surveillance for their alleged role in harming India’s interests.
This is not a new approach. Back in the 1970s and the 1980s, there was the tendency to detect a ‘foreign hand’ and, by implication, foreign money in every opposition to the central government. When there were protests against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in 2011, the UPA regime too complained of funding for protesters from foreign agencies.
However, there is a difference this time around.
While the previous government was preoccupied with things such as power and mining, the present one has, in addition to these, a socio-cultural policy as well.
This duality comes out in stark relief when one looks at the treatment that two global organisations — Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation — have received.
When the Centre chokes funding for Greenpeace, it is largely on account of its environmental policy of opposing mines and power plants. In the case of the Ford Foundation, the Centre acted on the Gujarat government’s complaint that the organisation had been funding some individuals who had a dissenting view and course of action on the Gujarat riots of 2002.
This is unfair and in the process many organisations such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences will be affected.
It is the same socio-cultural policy that works when the government looks the other way in the case of religious organisations getting foreign money.
Some religious bodies are indeed doing charitable work but the same cannot be said about all of them. The Enforcement Directorate should have enough material on this to prove it.
Going ahead, will the government now act against other such bodies? It should realise that such acts have consequences and their effects are felt internationally as well as within the country. It was on a Supreme Court order that mining in Niyamgiri could not be done because the judges had ruled that the consent of the locals was required.
It is no one’s case that foreign or Indian NGOs which are harmful to India’s interests be allowed to continue. But in some cases, they supplement the efforts of the state whether in capacity building or institutional development. India today is far too powerful to be subverted by some amount of foreign funding.
Therefore, it should be far more discerning about which organisations it puts under the scanner and for what activity. This would ensure that it does not earn the reputation of selectively targeting any organisation.