June 05, 2016

India: Targeting NGOs to stamp out dissent (Editorial, The Tribune)

The Tribune, Jun 4, 2016, 1:04 AM (IST)

A sign of intolerance
Targeting NGOs to stamp out dissent

Whether the Lawyers’ Collective led by Indira Jaising and Anand Grover has violated the foreign funding regulations will be decided by courts, the action against it is in keeping with Prime Minister Modi's known antipathy towards non-government organisations (NGOs) getting funds from abroad and engaging in “anti-government” activities in the name of fighting for the rights of tribal people and protesting humans rights violations. At a farmers’ rally in Odisha in February this year he voiced his dislike. NGOs, he said, were “robbing and destroying” the nation and “morning and evening conspiring to figure out how to finish Modi, how to remove Modi's government, how to dishonour Modi”. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the government has suspended Greenpeace India’s licence and put the US-based Ford Foundation on a security watch list. More drastic action, however, was reserved for domestic NGOs, barring those associated with the RSS. It cancelled the registration of nearly 13,470 charities for failing to declare foreign donations.

The Prime Minister's intolerance is more pronounced towards those taking up the cases of the 2002 Gujarat riot victims. Indira Jaising pleads guilty on this count. She has not only helped riot victims but also accused the Modi government of conspiring against Teesta Setalvad to deter her from pursuing the cases of riot victims. More daringly, she has objected to the CBI's failure to appeal against the discharge of Amit Shah in three murder cases. Modi and Amit Shah are not known to take such affronts lightly. To their annoyance, the Lawyers’ Collective was also “provocatively” involved in the cases of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, terrorist Yakub Memon and Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai.

The Modi regime may defend its anti-NGO actions on the pretext of making foreign cash flows transparent. In that case it needs to focus more on money laundering and dollars coming into real estate and stock markets through opaque, legal and illegal channels. NGO protests are legitimate in a liberal democracy. The crackdown, it seems, is meant to tell the civil society activists not to engage in any activities Modi and Shah do not approve of. This is intolerance, pure and simple.