Ford Foundation an entity outside law: Officials (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 6th Jun 2015
Why did Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allow the Ford Foundation entry into India in 1952 without the complete paperwork and permissions required in law for establishing itself in this country and conducting operations in sensitive sectors on a major scale? Senior officials claim that "Ford is in Indian law a ghost entity", in that it has on paper apparently "no existence in law in the country", adding that in its consistent refusal to officially legitimise its activities through securing written permissions, the foundation showed utter contempt for the laws and regulations of the newly independent country. Amazingly, until this year, no government agency, including the Reserve Bank of India or the police and regulatory agencies, seems to have so much as raised a verbal objection to such "obvious contempt for Indian law" on the part of the well-connected foundation, which is known to have privileged access to key sections of the US government, including its covert agencies. These officials claim that the perceived partiality towards the powerful US entity showed the respect with which Nehru in his heart regarded the US, despite his public denunciations of much of that country's policy. Despite Nehru's regard for the US, officials who have access to records denied to the public, adduce a novel reason why the first Prime Minister of India gave significantly more weight to the USSR's interests than to the US in both economic as well as foreign policy. They link this tilt to the "Bose factor".
Until Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi overcomes the obstacles to fulfilment of the BJP's pre-election promise of transparency in the records available with government, especially on matters dear to the public such as the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, corroboration through the publication of records of information conveyed by highly placed sources will not be forthcoming. These sources, who play a key role in the inner processes of governance, have detailed an account of the 1950s agony of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who according to them "was trapped between his desire to establish a friendly and equal relationship with the US" and — according to these sources — "subtle pressure by Stalin and his successors to follow a pro-USSR policy dressed up as non-alignment". They say that the thus far hidden record will show that several times, most poignantly during the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, when tanks and aircraft crushed the democratic movement in that country, "Nehru wanted to take a strong stance against the invasion of an independent country, but had to be restrained because of the Bose factor". According to these sources, Stalin and his successors were able to keep Nehru and later Indira Gandhi from adopting a line against Soviet interests, even during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, which the sensitive and urbane Indira Gandhi was privately appalled by. This was, it is claimed, "in the early 1950s because of the physical presence of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on Soviet soil" and later, towards the end of the decade, when the freedom fighter and patriot was reportedly placed in gulag conditions too appalling for his physical frame to bear, "out of apprehension that the Bose factor would surface through leaks from Moscow, thereby damaging the reputations in history of two of the most prominent freedom fighters". Unfortunately, as yet, successive governments in India have refused to share with the people of this country the available documentation on the subject of the final years of the life of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who would easily have eclipsed all other leaders in popularity, had he returned to India in 1945 rather than gone missing.
These sources claim that Prime Minister Nehru wanted to be genuinely non-aligned rather than adopt a pro-Soviet stance in foreign policy, but that the "Bose factor" kept both him as well as his numerous successors from such a path. "The Communist Party of the Soviet Union made it clear (to Nehru) that a security and defence relationship with the US was out of the question. In 1962, after the border conflict with China, Prime Minister Nehru had indicated the imperative of aligning more closely with Washington in order to get weapons on a scale which Moscow was till then reluctant to supply." However, "the Soviet leadership assured Nehru that there was no need for US weapons as the Soviet tap would flow freely from that time onwards". And so it did, to the anger of Beijing, who was unaware of the geopolitical game being played by the Soviets with the leadership in India who were in effect prevented by subtle blackmail from adopting the course favoured, of genuine non-alignment, which placed equal stress on both the US as well as the USSR in the field of defence and security. Soon after this Soviet assurance on weapons supply, given in the first half of 1963, Nehru reversed his earlier stance of asking the US to send weapons in exchange for closer defence ties. As much of such manoeuvring took place informally, officials say that the written records available as yet only to the top tier of government often "only hint at what took place rather than give such considerations in detail", but that their perusal would be sufficient to establish the truth of the contention that Nehru and his successors were forced to adopt a Soviet-centric line out of fear of possible revelations from Moscow about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
It needs to be added that clumsy and often retrogressive stances by Washington (encouraged by London, which has moved away at least partially from its favouritism towards Pakistan only during the current government) made it politically easy for Prime Ministers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to adopt a pro-Soviet line. Officials say that the "hidden pressure on his family from the USSR was among the reasons why Sanjay Gandhi had such a dislike of that country". Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash amidst murmurs that "the aileron (control) wires of his stunt aircraft had been filed to a point where a few sharp tugs at the controls resulted in their snapping", with the aircraft plummeting to the ground. Hardly any investigation took place into the 1980 crash, at least none made public.
The de facto immunity given to the Ford Foundation from the purview of Indian law was, according to the high officials spoken to, "compensation in a way for the pro-Soviet economic and foreign policies which Nehru took", officials claim, "for reasons that were not shared with Washington". In 1952 because of the indulgence towards it of Prime Minister Nehru, the Ford Foundation established an office and began operations in India through three agreements with the Ministry of Agriculture and in 1953 and 1954 with the Ministry of Finance, which to date is a fervent backer of the Foundation, as is the present leadership of the Reserve Bank of India. Incidentally, the RBI is following an agenda of imposing a hyper-high interest rate regimen combined with monetary tightening, which together are having the predictable effect of choking manufacturing and other job-creating activities such as infrastructure investment in the economy. These anti-growth inflation-ineffective RBI measures are being taken for reasons which are opaque except to Raghuram Rajan and his influential backers within the UPA and the NDA, who are on the same page in the matter of admiring an individual who is choking growth in the economy without in any way mitigating inflation.
Initially, the Ford Foundation promised to fund mutually agreed "rural education and other projects", but this was to be done through the relevant ministries and with their concurrence. However, from the start, the Foundation disregarded this stipulation and acted on its own, without being questioned by the Central government of the day until Narendra Modi got sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 May 2014.
Despite the fact that no papers appear to have been submitted to the government to ensure that it was an entity functioning as per the domestic laws in India, the Ford Foundation opened a bank account in India, at first with CitiBank and subsequently with American Express, before moving back to Citi 15 years ago. As Know Your Customer (KYC) forms were not filled in, some officials claim that these bank accounts are legally untenable, and that to date, documentation needed as per law to open a bank account in India has not been furnished by the Foundation to any authority. Interestingly, Raghuram Rajan, who as RBI Governor has placed curbs after curbs on the smooth operation in financial matters of Indian entities, does not seem to have reacted or even noticed such apparent disregard of Indian laws by the Foundation, which has, according to high officials, set up its Delhi office on land taken at a token cost from the government, again on the basis of records which seem non-existent.
When Home Minister Rajnath Singh asked the MHA to raise such matters with the Foundation, the reply came not from itself, but from a US Department of State spokesperson, as well as US envoy to India, Richard Verma, both of whom strongly condemned Government of India for its effrontery in seeking to enforce the provisions of law on an entity which acts as though it is an independent entity subject to its own laws, rather than an institution needing to respect local laws and regulations. Albeit those which no government except the present has enforced, from 1952, the year in which "Chacha" Nehru acted as a benevolent uncle by, in practice, waiving any need for the Ford Foundation to follow Indian law. The US State Department also protested in very minatory terms about the MHA's recent cancellation of the FCRA licences of 9,000 NGOs, who have not filed returns for five consecutive years or more, raising doubts as to its real intentions in the context of developments in Eastern Europe, North Africa and West Asia, all locations where NGOs backed by Washington have been active in replacing the ballot with the street as the appropriate forum for regime change. In each such intervention, chaos has resulted.
In particular, US Secretary of State John Kerry has been insistent in demanding extra-legal rights for NGOs operating in India such as Greenpeace and of course the Ford Foundation. Clearly, the only law the US State Department considers to be worth enforcing is its own, as (the absence of) records show that the Ford Foundation has been operating in India without any visible basis in law for decades. As per its own records made available to authorities, the Ford Foundation in India is neither a Trust nor a Society, nor is it a For Profit or a Nonprofit company, nor is it a partnership or sole proprietorship registered under local law. Nor has it bothered with the trifle of registering under FCRA with the Home Ministry, since this was made mandatory in 1976 and again in 2010, nor does it seem to have registered for an office in India under FERA in 1973 or FEMA in 1999 with the RBI, unless the same has been done in secret. Why RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan seems unbothered by such peccadilloes in the matter of individuals connected with the Foundation must be coincidental and not because he knows many Ford-connected individuals well, and in whose company he spends big chunks of time in both the US as well as India.
Interestingly, over the decades, Ford has switched from funding service providers (and in this, much good work was done, notably in agriculture and education) to advocacy groups active in painting a picture of India as a semi-fascist state. Among the subjects that have been looked at for funding in recent years are matters described in somewhat imprecise terms as "transparent, effective and accountable governance", "expanding community rights over natural resources", "economic fairness", "freedom of expression" (except perhaps for any comments against itself), "media rights", "gender justice" and "reproductive justice", whatever these terms mean. Interestingly, several of those to whom grants have been made available are related or otherwise linked to high officials past and present and other local influentials, although it would be unfair to accuse the Foundation of making such linkages a consideration in its disbursement of funds.
Among those certified by Ford Foundation grants as being practitioners of "transparent, effective and accountable governance" is Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Why have successive governments in India followed Prime Minister Nehru's Nelson's eye to the fact that the Ford Foundation in effect is a "ghost entity" (in the words of a senior official), which has not provided any documentation sanctioning the bulk of its operations?
Uncle Sam is clearly not amused that the Modi government does not appear to be following "Chacha" Nehru's line on the Foundation and is questioning its apparent disregard for Indian law. The Barack Obama administration should make it explicit across the world that in its view, the only laws which need to be followed by US entities are those enforced within the US, and not those of countries such as India, where local laws appear to have been ignored with an insouciant impunity by the Ford Foundation, which has altered its preferences from promoting a Green Revolution (i.e. raising food output) to pushing for a Colour Revolution (i.e. changing a regime through street protests).