Intro: The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source. … A United States Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA (“Financing and Manufacturing “Dissent” in America: The Ford Foundation and the CIA”, by James Petras, Rebelión, Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), 18 September 2002, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/PET209A.html ).
The term ‘civil society’ originated in the Marxist discourse and gained currency only in the neo-capitalist era of globalisation. Mushrooming of supposed to be non-profit, non-political NGOs essentially was expected to articulate and represent non-government and non-market voices. Obviously, more than eight thousand NGOs facing legal action of revoking Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) licences for not producing three years returns and giants in NGO business like Ford Foundation and Greenpeace questioned for their funding has put the global police of Democracy, the US, in distress. Out of democratic concern, right from the State Department to the US Ambassador of India raised voices of concern about ‘regulatory steps’ focused on NGOs. The US government went ahead with seeking ‘clarification’ on the action. But while doing so the global promoters of democratic values should ponder on certain questions.
Firstly, it is agreed that some NGOs are performing important functions of articulating marginalised issues and voices. Some of them also do yeomen service to the society by reaching to the places where government machinery cannot. At the same time is it not true that they are only few? Most of the other NGOs exist on paper or just take donations without doing any service activities? Secondly, even if they do some good work, does that excuse them from following law of the land? The epitome of environmental cause, Greenpeace, has reportedly incurred an expenditure of Rs 25,000 in 2008-09 and Rs 55,000 in 2009-10 for securing bail bonds and payment of legal fee, apart from spending Rs 28.35 lakh in 2010-11 on financing and legal charges. This was a diversion of funds sought for environmental cause, without the consent of the donor as required by Section 8(1)(a) of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010. The other omnipresent NGO, Ford Foundation, is accused to have violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and directly interfered in “the internal affairs of the country and abetting communal disharmony in India”. This is not only against the law of the land but also against the stated objectives the organisation. According to a government report, not even two percent NGOs file their annual returns with the government. Will the US as global protector of democratic rights allow such legal violations to happen in it’s own land?
Thirdly, is it a coincidence that every developmental initiative taken by India is blocked by some or the other NGO lobby? Interestingly, in most of the cases they have connections with organisations propagating particular religion or undemocratic ideology. Why India should not see opposition to all kinds of self-sufficiency in power generation as threat to energy security? The functioning of these NGOs time and again raise doubts about their non-profit and non-political nature.
It is important to keep in mind that India is a vibrant democracy and is capable enough to nurture the legacy of non-state initiatives. This non-governmental space in managing collective affairs has been in India’s civilisational ethos and this will continue irrespective of any government. On the contrary, the US jumping the gun in defence of international NGOs and seeking ‘clarification’ from the biggest democracy ratifies the fears of them being the US agencies, as alleged by some of the research works in the US. If the US or for that matter any country wants to come clean on the issue of foreign funding for raising ‘rights based issues’,they have to respect the sovereignty and cultural ethos of the home country. Otherwise, NGOism will always be perceived as another un-civil instrument of foreign policy intervention in the name of civil society.