Greenpeace ugly, Ford tolerable, Gates good: How Modi govt is classifying NGOs

This is not to argue that an international NGO should blithely disregard a country’s regulations just because its stated mission is doing good. As Salman Khan has proved to us yesterday, Being a (good) Human does not put you above the law.

Sandip Roy May 07, 2015 18:50:24 IST
Greenpeace ugly, Ford tolerable, Gates good: How Modi govt is classifying NGOs

If you take the audio tour of the legendary prison on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island you can see the nondescript cell that housed one of its most famous inhabitants – the notorious gangster Al Capone. He left a trail of bodies behind him but what he finally went to jail for was tax evasion. Those books leave a paper trail that can trip you up even when bodies don’t.

NGOs in India will not like being compared to a gangster. But they too are learning the hard way that when a government does not like their mission and ideology, they can put the screws on them by going through their books.

This is not to argue that an international NGO should blithely disregard a country’s regulations just because its stated mission is doing good. As Salman Khan has proved to us yesterday, Being a (good) Human does not put you above the law.

Greenpeace ugly Ford tolerable Gates good How Modi govt is classifying NGOs

Representational image.

Of course every foundation should obey tax laws but chances are if we really set an accountant to work on the books of every NGO and corporation they will find they all live in glass houses and no one can afford to throw stones. And only the most willfully blind will pretend that this spurt of government muscle-flexing when it comes to NGOs is just about bookkeeping and has nothing to do with the ideology of those organizations.

Put simply, it’s clear that the message is there are NGOs the government likes, NGOs a government tolerates and NGOs it wants to get rid of. And if you are in the last group, you’d better make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

Greenpeace in that sense was an obvious target and an easy one. The government also know that it would face little international outrage if it got Greenpeace to shut shop. Greenpeace routinely gets under the skin of governments by building agitations and movements against development projects a government desperately wants. The French government famously blew up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Operation Satanique when it was on its way to protest a French nuclear test in Moruroa. That was a PR disaster for the French government which had initially denied any involvement but the Indian government will not face any such flak. Greenpeace calls it “strangulation by strength”. “We ask (Rajnath Singh) to confirm that he is trying to close Greenpeace India and suppress our voice,” says Greenpeace India’s executive director Samir Aich. Rajnath Singh will do no such thing because India has figured out it’s far more effective and far less messy to shut someone down by playing by the book instead of planting limpet mines.

Ford Foundation falls into the grey area of between tolerance and dislike. It’s famously left of centre and the government does not like some of those it has funded but its largesse has extended to all kinds of institutions the government holds dear – like IITs. More importantly, it has powerful friends in high places. Even as the Modi-Obama bromance went into gush overdrive on the Time Magazine power player list, US Ambassador Richard Verma is expressing “concern” about the “challenges faced by NGOs operating in India.” State department spokesperson Marie Harf was even more forthright when she said Washington was “concerned” that placing Ford Foundation on the watch-list will limit critical debate in Indian society.

And then comes rumours about the Gates Foundation, the same Gates Foundations whose Bill and Melinda Gates have been awarded Padma Shris. A Reuters report said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was being investigated for discrepancies in financial transactions with the Public Health Foundation of India. But then right on cue that story has been denied on all sides. Gates has said it had not been informed of any investigation. "Reports in a section of media about Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation coming under the scanner of Home Ministry is not based on facts. There is no such action," Home Ministry spokesperson KS Dhatwalia said.

Whether the rumours surfaced in the first place to prove that the government was being equitable and fair in scrutinizing all foundations or not, the alacrity with which they were denied is telling. Gates Foundation is large, influential and in some countries more important than the health ministries. “Depending on what side of the bed Gate gets out in the morning it can shift the terrain of global health,” Gregg Gonsalves, co-founder of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition tells the New Internationalist. But its greatest asset is it has managed to avoid labels of left or right and stuck doggedly to its vaccines and pharmaceutical solutions. And it has done it without too many moral blinkers. A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2007 found that it ironically invested in "companies that contribute to the human suffering in health, housing and social welfare that the foundation is trying to alleviate". Gates did not deny it but did not change its investment policy in response either.

Microsoft has also strongly lobbied for the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS agreement which would oblige member countries to defend patents for a minimum of 20 years after filing date. A country like India, with a huge amount of poor people, could benefit from loosening copyright laws that would allow more generic competition but those countries are so dependent on Gates money for public health projects they would be very foolhardy to want to butt heads with it. It’s a message lost on no one when essayist Andrew Lam notes that in Vietnam, more young people seem to idolize Bill Gates than they do Ho Chi Minh. When Gates visited young Vietnamese wearing “I {heart} Bill Gates” T-shirts lined the streets and cheered. "It's kind of [creating] a post-UN world," someone close to the Gates foundation tells The Guardian. "People have gotten interested in fast results."

Public health can raise many contentious moral ethical even ideological questions. But the Gates Foundation prefers to focus on technical solutions that escape ideological labeling rather than getting into ethical debates.

Democracy building can be messy and subjective because one person’s dissent is another person’s anti-national activity. But vaccines are amoral and the government likes its NGOs that way.

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Hafiz Saeed's 'ten-year jail sentence' is an eyewash; LeT chief remains emblem of Pakistani duplicity
World

Hafiz Saeed's 'ten-year jail sentence' is an eyewash; LeT chief remains emblem of Pakistani duplicity

Saeed has been in and out of house arrest since 2008, with the courts setting him free after the State seemed unable to frame charges

Indian cities may not be sprawling, but their density is a major concern especially in a pandemic
India

Indian cities may not be sprawling, but their density is a major concern especially in a pandemic

This pandemic sounds an alarm about the consequences of inefficient planning and management of cities and poses an opportunity to rethink and rebuild the areas that are most important to the country’s growth

Why are farmers protesting against laws which will supposedly 'help them'? And why is no one talking about the details of implementation?
India

Why are farmers protesting against laws which will supposedly 'help them'? And why is no one talking about the details of implementation?

The fear among farmers is that the next step in the agriculture reform process will be the doing away of government procurement process as well as the MSP