New Delhi | 21st Jun 2014
igh-profile foreign NGOs active during 2004-2014 in blocking development projects in India, have contacts with aides to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi; while some key foreign NGO functionaries have access to him on a scale denied even to Cabinet ministers during the ten years of the UPA government, say sources within the Congress party. They say that "Rahul Gandhi has a partiality towards global NGOs" and that he has "frequently intervened on their behalf". UPA ministers close to Rahul Gandhi, such as Kapil Sibal and Jairam Ramesh, were also seen as deferential towards selected NGOs that were targeting development projects across India. As details of Rahul Gandhi's visitors and travels remain secret and the man himself remains inaccessible, there has been no way of independently verifying such claims, which are denied by those close to the Congress vice-president.
Interestingly, although they have fought long and hard against both coal mining as well as power generation in India, NGOs such as Greenpeace are themselves reported by relevant authorities as being indirect recipients of funds from heavily polluting mining and industrial lobbies, albeit those active in developed countries. The MacKnight Corporation, which controls the mining conglomerate 3M, is held by the agencies to be a major indirect funder of Greenpeace through so-called philanthropic foundations such as the Packard Foundation. For its operations in India, Greenpeace is reported to have received Rs 1 crore from a US-based "Climate Works Foundation", which itself was the recipient of funding from institutions linked to commercial interests.
Interestingly, a large proportion of the funds received by such NGOs have been recorded as having been made by small donors, so that the identities of the donors get concealed. This opens the door for intelligence agencies to funnel cash to such NGOs through the guise of "small donors", a ruse equally favoured by politicians in India caught by Income-Tax authorities. Research done by the Intelligence Bureau and other agencies into the funding of NGOs active in stalling development projects across the country show that the ultimate source of much of the funds received by them come from commercial and other interests with a direct stake in particular outcomes in India, such as a slowing down of energy self-sufficiency.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has identified nine individuals in Greenpeace who have been visiting India several times each year throughout the period in office of the Manmohan Singh government. These individuals are all from advanced countries, and at least three of them were active in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011, and more recently, two were involved in the Maidan Square agitation in 2013, which resulted in a change of regime in Ukraine's Kiev. The functionaries of Greenpeace who are under investigation have met with a wide cross-section of political activists, including from major political parties, and have given several dozen activist leaders training in political protest and in ensuring control of the streets, so that the normal functioning of government gets choked. It is known that such external experts in agitation have also been active in Bangladesh, where there have been repeated periods in which normal life in Dhaka and in some other cities got disrupted by street protests. However, Greenpeace denies any claim of bias or hidden agenda and says that its sole motivation is to "protect the planet".
Their supporters point out that several of the activities of Greenpeace, such as its efforts at stopping illegal whaling, are laudable.
At least four of the nine foreign nationals active in Greenpeace operations in India, who have been identified by the IB as having been hyperactive in orchestrating protests against major projects in the country, "have close links to those in Rahul Gandhi's inner circle", according to a Congress functionary. The functionary claimed that "at least two of the nine are personally known to Rahul, who met them and others from such outfits when abroad". Those close to Rahul Gandhi deny this, saying that "the Congress vice-president is a patriot who would never do anything to hurt the interests of India".
Although the IB had built up a sizeable dossier on these foreign nationals over the past three years, and had warned of the disruptive nature of their activities as also their intimate contact with local activists and politicians, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and successive Home Ministers refused to take action against the NGOs.
Incidentally, several children of key officials and opinion leaders in India have been employed at generous salaries by some of these NGOs, while others have set up their own NGOs and received funding from foreign agencies and even governments, much of which gets spent on travel, office and salaries. Even in the case of the Koodankulam protests, which held up the commissioning of the nuclear power reactor there for nearly a year, it was only after The Sunday Guardian exposed the role of foreign-funded NGOs in the agitation that the UPA was forced into some action against them (Foreigners hold Indian nuclear power hostage, 6 November 2011).
Interestingly, a charity with close links to France (which is in competition with Russia over the supply of nuclear reactors to India) was among the major foreign funders of the 2009-2012 agitation against the Russian-built nuclear power plant at Koodankulam. It remains to be seen whether Home Minister Rajnath Singh will pluck up the courage to offend powerful lobbies in the US and the EU and take action against the nine foreign NGO specialists in agitation, one of whom (Benjamin Hargreaves) is reported to be "organising construction workers so that urban housing activities get affected", according to investigative agencies tracking his movements.
Incidentally, such activism by foreign nationals is a breach of both the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (which bans the funnelling of foreign money in domestic protests) as well as the Indian Penal Code, but has thus far been allowed to continue unchecked because of fear of offending the powerful states using NGOs to carry out their agenda in India.
Apart from nuclear power plants, foreign NGOs have trained their sights on coal-based power plants as well. They have been opposing the addition of the critically needed 100,000 MW of additional power, half of this in Arunachal Pradesh, by seeking to incentivise locals to fight against the setting up of power plants, building on their success in Orissa, where (with help from Rahul Gandhi) they blocked a major metals plant (Vedanta), which would have provided a total of 145,000 extra jobs and thereby transformed the presently very poor region.
Even the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) appears to be carrying out activities different from its stated mission. "The only prison under-trials the ICRC in India has shown any interest in are those jailed in Kashmir, and that too only those who are militants," said a senior official from the state, adding that "some very rich Gulf states whose nationals are giving money to groups spreading militancy in the Valley are major funders of the ICRC".
Interestingly, even Amnesty International showed little hesitation in accepting a huge donation of $130,000 from a trust which was founded by an NRI who was recently levied a $300 million fine by US authorities for financial misdemeanours, and who has escaped from the US to Gibraltar, according to a senior official. The individual could not be reached for comments
Other fields in which foreign NGOs have been active is in influencing officials working toward the framing of educational and agricultural policies. "Telephone records show that foreign NGO workers gained easy access to top officials in key ministries during the UPA period, and have in some cases become intimate friends with them," according to a senior official tracking such linkages.
NGOs have become an important tool of coercive diplomacy on the part of the US and some of its partners, and have been extensively deployed in both the so-called "Arab Spring" as well as in the "Colour Revolutions" in East Europe, including the recent forcible changeover of government from a Russia-friendly to a Russia-phobic head of state in Ukraine. While some, such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the World Movement for Democracy are openly funded by the US State Department, others operate under the cover of private corporations eager to gain goodwill among government agencies by doing their bidding in funding NGOs tied to secretive official agendas. Another tier of financial support is provided by so-called "philanthropic" foundations, each of which has a clear agenda. Numerous US and EU-based "conflict resolution" agencies that are active in India have for years adopted a Pakistan-friendly line on Kashmir and have been nudging policymakers in Delhi towards aligning policies in a manner which would fully meet the interests of key NATO member-states.
Apart from Greenpeace, another foreign NGO that has come to the attention of the IB is Cordaid, which is funded by the Dutch government, and has been active in seeking to block uranium mining in Meghalaya as well as oil exploration in Manipur. Had uranium been mined in an adequate way in Meghalaya, there would have not been the excuse (of lack of uranium) given by Manmohan Singh in order to constrain Indian capabilities through the 2005-08 nuclear deal, while Manipur is known to have vast reserves of oil and gas. Were these to be exploited, the interests of oil majors based within the NATO bloc would get affected. "Were the government to allocate (the Manipur oil and gas fields) to US or European oil companies, we can be sure that Cordaid would stop trying to create obstacles to such prospecting," a senior official claimed, adding that "although the purported reason for Cordaid activities in the Northeast is crimes against women, in fact they are focusing on preventing the extraction of minerals that would make the region rich".
Interestingly, although their access to the media has ensured largely positive coverage of their activities in India, thereby ensuring a slew of reports attacking the IB for its investigation of NGOs, the fact is that during the three years that such bodies have been intensively monitored by that agency, only about 1% of the NGOs that have applied for FCRA clearance have had their requests rejected, while less than 3% of the NGOs active in India have been red-flagged for activities which are deemed prejudicial to domestic laws as well as the public interest. Also, while the IB has been using FCRA records to track the activities and sources of funding for several NGOs, the fact is that several times the NGOs surveyed by the IB get funded through hawala channels. Thus far, authorities in India have shown little appetite to crack down on such operators. The hawala trade, as also the booming narcotics business, is controlled from across the border, by elements working in close coordination with the ISI.
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