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November 29, 1999

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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

Front Lines

The pinkos are out in full form... Two events have shaken them out of the melancholia induced by the electoral defeat of the Congress (Italian) and steered them screaming to the front pages: The sacking of Romila Thapar and Rajendra Yadav from the Prasar Bharati Board by Arun Jaitley. And, the home ministry's issuing notices to several NGOs to show cause as to why action shouldn't be taken against them for violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976, by engaging in political activity. Happy days are here again...

Simple things first: Last April, the BJP stated that it would not ratify the October 1997 ordinance which amended the Prasar Bharati Act. The lapse would automatically revive the original provisions of the Act, including the one for a 22-member Parliamentary panel to supervise the functioning of the Prasar Bharati board. Venkaiah Naidu said that board members had been appointed with a "political bias and may have to go." Whereupon, Rajendra Yadav accused Advaniji of wanting to "snatch Doordarshan as well as AIR from the hands of the ruling parties, especially the Congress." Meaning, the Congress had ascendance...

The PBA stipulates that one-third of its full-time members will retire every two years, but doesn't set guidelines on who will retire and the procedure thereof. Prasar Bharati was headed by an interim CEO and had five full-time board members, of which, the sacked ones have no specific media-related expertise. All members disregarded the custom of resigning despite two new governments being elected. All were appointed by former I&B minister S Jaipal Reddy.

Even so, the usual gang of pointy-headed intellectuals -- Irfan Habib, K N Panikkar, Ram Rahman, etc -- have condemned the removal of Thapar and Yadav as "arbitrary and unethical." And Reddy has charged the government with an "ideological witch-hunt" for retiring Their Eminences and indulging in "massive intellectual violence" by dubbing Thapar a Leftist. He claims that the retirement is "illegal" because no "objective criterion" such as drawing of lots was adopted. Furthermore, the government is charged with filling up the board with people from the media. Question: Who's better qualified to oversee DD and AIR than media-persons...?

I can't be bothered with what the pointy-headed ones think. Our Man in Delhi believes that drawing of lots is a case of "non-application of mind" and has appointed a review committee comprising three professionals -- Kiran Karnik, Shunu Sen and Narayana Murthy -- to restructure Prasar Bharati. The idea is to enable DD and AIR to compete with private channels -- and not have ideological bulldogs forming a politically-biased board. Thanks to Reddy, DD stayed crippled through two crucial years, letting satellite channels gnaw away at its audience.

But DD's well-being isn't the secularists' priority -- they're more concerned with Their Eminences being assessed as pinko... I wonder why. In February 1998, the Islamic Voice reported that "Intellectuals, journalists and advocates belonging to Leftist camp have formed a group named IRADA to mobilise support against a communal party in UP's 25 Lok Sabha constituencies." The group included Rajendra Yadav. In May, Ganashakti wrote that intellectuals and trade union activists organised a protest against "a violent mob of BJP goons." The meet was attended by Yadav. After his dismissal, Yadav declared: "No fascist government can tolerate independent institutions... They only like people who continuously sing praises of [Hindu] culture." Not pinko???

As for Romila Thapar, there can't be a sane soul who hasn't gauged her political bent. Her Eminence has written that the James Stuart Mills classification of a Hindu period, a Muslim period and a British period is incorrect since there was nothing like a Hindu period. Meaning, Hindus were just a motley crowd, with no civilisational, cultural or literary links and interaction. It's based on this theory that Stalinists dictate that India should be divided into 19 nations. Question: Does India need such pinko propagandists controlling its official media...?

Now for the professional pinkos: In September, a group of NGOs -- Ankur, NAWO, CORD, Awaaz-e-Niswan, FORWARD, Asmita, Kali for Women, Manushi, Nirantar, Shakti Salini, Akshara, FAOW, Sabarang -- released a series of huge ads in all major publications, accusing the BJP of being anti-minorities and anti-women. It was obvious that they were campaigning for the Congress. Problem is, some of these orgs are registered under the FCRA. Meaning, foreign funding was used to oppose a national party. Meaning, interference by foreign money power in the electoral process of this country...

FCRA prohibits political parties or their office bearers from accepting foreign contributions under Section 4(1); Section 5(1) bans all organisations of a political nature from accepting foreign contributions without the Centre's prior permission. Secondly, it's obligatory for the recipient of foreign funds to submit periodical and detailed reports to the home ministry, which works with intelligence agencies to suss out suspicious donors. By issuing political ads, the NGOs violated their charter which permits only activities furthering social, educational, cultural and economic causes.

When questioned by The Indian Express, Sabrang's Teesta Setalvad, editor of Communalism Combat, said that only Indian funds had been used to run the campaign and that no other NGO had paid anything: "All the expenses were borne by Communalism Combat using Indian funds which came from diverse political parties, individuals and even senior corporate executives." Who, exactly...? Co-editor Javed Anand retorted: "At this point, it is not necessary to go into the identity of the parties. Who is the BJP to ask such questions?"

Interesting. The small-time rag runs only on subscriptions, claims 2,500 subscribers, and appealed to its readers: "Sabrang Communications is in a serious financial jam... We have no choice but to suspend publication for a few months unless our readers who think what we are doing fulfills a collective need, join us in raising a corpus so that we don't have to permanently agonise where the money is going to come to pay for the next month's bills." How could it afford the expenses of the ad blitz...?

It goes on: "Sabrang Communications and the Commission on Secular Action of INSAF -- a forum of over a hundred NGOs in the country -- have arrived at an agreement whereby the actual work of documentation will continue to be handled by Sabrang, while the finances needed for the purpose will be made available by INSAF... INSAF will not only meet the current costs of documentation, but will put in an extra Rs 10,000 pm to: 1. pay for a full-time data entry operator to enable us to store information electronically so that the same can be easily transmitted nationally or even globally -- votaries of Hindutva as you know are already on Internet in a big way..."

Of course, they're worried sick by cyber-fundies, but here's the more interesting part: "While we are hopeful of raising two-thirds of the corpus amount from well-wishers within India, we are appealing to secular groups of NRIs abroad to help us raise the remaining one-third -- that is, Rs 633,000, or $ 20,000. While $ 20,000 does seem like a huge sum of money, we feel it may not be all that difficult if the groups -- who have helped us with subscriptions in the last two years and to whom we are addressing this SOS -- could raise $ 2,000 each... the New York-based 'Singh Foundation' is registered as a charity under US law and donations to it are entitled to tax benefits... Consider the option of multiplying your contribution to us... by directing your subscriptions to us through 'Singh Foundation' or some other such trust." Question: Who are these foreign subscribers...? What are these trusts...?

In September, India Today wrote: "According to media planners, the ad campaign should have cost some Rs 75 lakh," money Teesta claims to have raised 'from a wide spectrum of well-wishers including corporates, trade unions, women's groups and NGOs'." Really? But didn't you inform the Express that no other NGO contributed...? Can we see documentation to prove that Sabrang didn't use foreign funds? That it is not a front for foreign powers working against the "Hindu nationalist fundamentalist party"? After all, entities like the Vatican, the ISI, American evangelists, Arab countries, etc, have plenty of moolah to disperse.

This NGO business is very tricky, indeed. In January 1997, Seema Mustafa wrote, "The points in the [Kashmir] strategy developed by the US planners is sinister for three basic reasons. One, it wants to generate Congressional support that will reduce the international support for the elections in Kashmir... Two, its focus on NGOs coming out of the realisation that these can testify before the Congress, furnish latest information about the situation in Kashmir, generate pressure on the Indian government from within (again the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy is one such obvious outfit set up for 'people to people' contact) and act as catalysts, when required, for political dialogue between the concerned parties." Teesta Setalvad is a core group member of the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy.

In August, 40 NGOs issued a "People's Agenda" for the elections; signatories included Christian, Dalit, and foreign orgs like Greenpeace. Their purpose was to attack MNCs, business houses and rich farmers, and to propagate that the public sector and farmers' co-operatives are the solution to all problems. Not pinko??? Since these NGOs are often foreign-funded, we know whose interests are actually being served: An economically weak India is the goal of every other country.

Since I know zero economics, let me turn you over to Bharat Jhunjhunwala: "There are two types of global NGOs today. Some are supported by the World Bank and governments of industrial countries. Their agenda is to create a positive public image for their country to distract the attention from the extraction of profits by their exporters and MNCs. The second type are those that oppose the growing global clout of MNCs. They want sustainable extraction of profits from the developing countries. The People's Agenda has been framed by latter NGOs... The real agenda of these NGOs is to put a full stop to the private sector-based development process and put into place a public sector-cum-NGO model...

"The present Agenda is yet more dangerous. It negates the principle that Indian politics should be indulged in by Indian money. This principle led to restriction on entry of foreign media and to receipt of foreign funds by political parties. This same principle has led to the stipulation in the FCRA that foreign-funded NGOs will not engage in publishing magazines, etc... These foreign-funded NGOs have argued that India should not make nuclear weapons but develop friendly relations with China... If we consider these NGOs as agents of their donors, then the People's Agenda becomes yet more subversive. It asks that the Indian Government should open up its working to the scrutiny of the people, that is, the foreign-funded NGOs... They are in effect pleading that the working of Indian Government be opened to foreign donors' scrutiny."

Till March 1998, 18,489 orgs were registered under the FCRA. Foreign contributions in 1997-1998 amounted to Rs 2,864.51 crore. The four biggest contributors were the US (Rs 731.07 crore), Germany, UK and Italy (Rs 198.47 crore).

Anil Singh, executive secretary of VANI, an advocacy group of 250 NGOs, says: "One of the demands of our transparency campaign is the scrapping of the FCRA... This act is unconstitutional, violates human rights, is anti-democratic and a threat to national security." Setalvad declares, "These are the BJP's tactics of browbeating the organisations which have dared to question it." Thing is, the right to ask questions and to change laws does not rest with those who may be fronts for foreignpowers. Why are the NGOs shying to declare their sources...? Transparency should begin at home...

Varsha Bhosle

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