The Sardar Memorial Lecture delivered by National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval on October 25 sparked a vicious reaction among opposition parties in India who flayed the ‘bureaucrat for laying down public policy’ and perceived him as ‘batting for PM Modi’. A section of the media fiercely rebuked Doval for being ‘unelected official’ who ‘chose to lay down what kind of government the country should have.’
Ironically, the criticism came from section of the media which wasn’t ‘elected’ itself or concurrently ‘authorised to elaborate on an opinion’ by the same logic either. They were collectively focussed on Doval’s view that India needs a strong, stable and decisive government to take hard decisions in the next decade, something that weak coalitions would be unable to do.
Doval’s ultra-nationalist views that India should desist from being a soft power; that populism was bad and against larger national interest; that India’s private sector companies must promote India’s strategic interest and that the Rule of Law was important and the temptation to undermine it should be resisted were conveniently overlooked by an ‘Indian’ media.
Concurrently, on the same day, United Kingdom-based Human Rights ‘Watchdog’ Amnesty International was raided at its Bengaluru office by five officers of the Enforcement Directorate sparking outrage across the Civil Society and a section of the Indian media expressing ‘fears’ of the government using the foreign funding law as a tool to silence non-profit groups raising concerns about the social costs of India’s rapid economic development.
It may be noted that in 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs had put the New York-based Ford Foundation on a watch list and suspended environmental campaigner Greenpeace’s license under India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
And, in 2017, the government banned foreign funding for the Public Health Foundation of India, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saying it used foreign donations to ‘lobby’ for tobacco-control policy issues, ‘prohibited under FCRA’. In time, more than 19,000 NGOs were reportedly blocked from receiving funds from overseas for a string of violations.
On October 2, at least 18 international NGOs working in Pakistan were notified by the Pakistani Interior Ministry to wrap up their activities in the country within 60 days after their applications for registration under the rules regulating presence of foreign-funded aid groups were rejected. The move provoked the predictable ‘harsh backlash’ from NGOs.
Among the 18 told to shut shop were UK-based charities Plan International and International Alert. The British government described the evicted organisations as “important partners for the UK” which, on their part, denied wrongdoing and said their programmes carried out vital work that helped Pakistan’s government and people.
Pakistan’s intelligence maintains some of the NGOs were contributing to a “hybrid war” against Pakistan and “encouraging sectarianism, promoting a foreign agenda, supporting hostile spy agencies, collecting illegal data and operating without any legal backing.”
Incidentally, UK-based and US-funded ‘Save the Children’ was symbolic of the role played by NGOs in Pakistan. ‘Save the Children’ had played an unwitting role in the 2011 operation by US Navy Seals to raid Al Qaeda (terrorist organization banned in Russia) leader Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.
In China, on January 1, 2017, a foreign NGO management law, whose provisions impeded independent operations of registered NGOs, came into effect. Foreign NGOs that had not yet registered and continued to operate in China could face a freeze on bank accounts, sealing of venues, confiscation of assets, suspension of activities and detention of staff.
By June 2017, the National Intelligence Law was adopted and entered into force. While official figures of NGOs operating in China aren’t available, former vice foreign minister Fu Ying had revealed “there are more than 7,000 foreign NGOs operating in China.”
Concurrently, after six months since the NGO law came into force in China, only 350 foreign NGO offices were formally registered. Also, more than 637 temporary filings were made, a fraction of the total number of NGOs.
In Russia, since 2012, a law requires NGOs receiving funding from overseas have to register as ‘foreign agents’ as a protective measure against external influence over its internal affairs. In 2016, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that allows foreign organizations to be banned from operating in Russia on national security grounds. Staff working for NGOs deemed “undesirable” by local authorities could face fines or up to six years in prison.
Nearly 100 organisations were added to the ‘foreign agent’ list, forcing many to cease activities, and the number of NGOs in Russia has reportedly decreased by a third in just four years since the law came into effect in 2012.
Any civil entity truly concerned with society surely would not want to break the law of the land and avoid proper disclosure of the source of their funds and their intended use. And, for anyone doing so, the law will and should catch up.