By Dr Jay Dubashi
Until recently, I used to think that NGO was the name of a sports car made in Japan or Korea for use on Indian roads. It never struck me NGO could be some kind of a racket to make money without actually doing anything worthwhile, the sort of thing some of us are very good at, particularly those with contacts with foreign agencies, who are suckers for this kind of thing.
I am not surprised that most of the people in Delhi without regular employment – and there are many of them in the capital – do very well out of NGOs. Apparently, all you need is a computer, a Xerox machine, and good relations with foreign agencies like Ford Foundation, a friendly tie-up with travel agencies and five-star hotels, where you entertain or are entertained by foreign Embassies, most of whom are loaded and eager to give you cash. A dollar goes a long way in India than it does elsewhere, and they are apparently going abegging with agencies like Ford Foundation and Oxfam, provided you have the right connections and, of course, the gift of the gab.
One member of the Anna Hazare team is said to have travelled 40 times abroad last year – something you and I do in 40 years – and collected Rs 40 lakh in travel expenses, and God knows how many thousand dollars more as other expenses. He or she travelled cattle class – the class you and I travel in – and that too at a substantial discount, and coolly credited the surplus to his/her account. The person concerned must have made quite a packet, most of which went into his/her pocket, taxfree. And what did the person do in return? Possibly deliver the same spiel he/she does on such occasions, run down India, which goes down well with foreign audiences, purchased some perfumes and wollens, and returned home with other invitations. As I said, it is easy money.
Another member of the same team is said to have collected around Rs two crore from Ford Foundation – an amount you and I do not make in a lifetime – which must have had very good reasons to part with such a large amount to a person most of us have not even heard of. What exactly did he do to earn this bonanza? Did he write a best-seller or did he work in a laboratory for his Nobel Prize? He/she did nothing of the kind. He simply pocketed the cash and returned home to fight against corruption!
I am raising all these questions, because I am not really sure what these NGOs do for a living. They must be doing something, otherwise they would not collect such fat amounts from an organisation like Ford Foundation. It all they do is to collect information, it must be classified information, the kind foreign agencies usually cannot lay their hands on. Delhi is full of so-called “research” and “policy” institutes sponsored mainly by foreign agencies, whose main job is to collect information from ministries, dress it up and pass it on as research to them, for fat amounts. NGOs possibly do the same thing and charge the moon for it.
There are a number of foreign agencies operating in India, and, many, of course, outside India, but we have no idea what they do and how they operate. They have grand offices right in the heart of the city and employ people with close links to high-level bureaucrats and, of course, politicians. They have strong links with security agencies, for no foreign agency, or, for that matter, no foreign individual, including journalists, can operate in India, without being cleared by that country’s security agency. All foreign correspondents and also, all foreign agencies, including agencies like Ford Foundation have to be cleared by their security agencies, which means they have a link with them. This is true also of Indian foreign Correspondents as well as Indian agencies operating outside India.
About thirty or forty years ago, there used to be an organisation called Congress for Cultural Freedom, with activities spread all over the world. It had very prestigious sponsors, including men like Bertrand Russell, before he turned anti-American. The Congress even had an office in Delhi’Hailey Road, near Sapru House, which styled itself as Asian headquaters of the Congress, headed by a journalist from Bombay.
The Hailey Road office used to hold meetings attended by MPs and others, along with the usual hangers-on in Delhi who will go anywhere for a free drink. The Congress, which was obviously an anti-Communist body, also published an excellent monthly called Encounter at a price of just one rupee. It was edited by a man called Stephen Spender, who, incidentally, was the man who had introduced me to George Orwell in London.
The Congress also held seminars in Europe and elsewhere to which Indian writers and “intellectuals” were invited. Nothing wrong in that, except that the Congress turned out to be a CIA outfit, financed totally by the CIA at the height of the so-called Cold War. This came as a shock to many of us but most people in Delhi suspected some such thing. Within weeks of the report, the Delhi office was closed down, the man in charge kicked out, and the activities of the Congress came to a dead stop. Bertrand Russell and others resigned, and kicked up a big row, but it doesn’t seem to have affected either the CIA or the Cold War, though many of us looked very stupid.
The point I am trying to make is that you just don’t know who is pulling the strings behind the curtain. The men and women running the NGOs financed by some foreign agencies are probably working for some foreign power, even some terrorist agency, though it may appear all very proper on the surface. And the NGOs, who fiddle their accounts, may also be tempted to fiddle their loyalties for the sake of a few thousand dollars. I had no idea that the Ford Foundation gifts away as much as Rs two crore to a single NGO on some bogus project. They are free to accept the money, but I would have no respect for them, unless I know what exactly they do. What does a person who attends as many as 40 seminars abroad actually do for his or her living? And should we believe such a person when he or she holds forth on this or that issue?
Are we sure that some of these people have no foreign security links, that they are not working for some agency we know nothing about? This worries me more than their fiddling with accounts through some crooked travel agency. Does the government know who they are working for? And, if the government doesn’t know – and I am sure it doesn’t – it is high time it did, before things get out of hand.