Sunday, December 16, 2012


Sonia must explain foreign NGO links

By Sandhya Jain on December 15, 2012

Amidst an Assembly election fraught with national implications, the Congress announced that in the next general elections it would be led by a quartet comprising party president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi and Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Hot on the heels of this announcement, Narendra Modi responded with an unambiguous signal that New Delhi was his next target by writing to the Prime Minister not to ‘hand over’ Sir Creek to Pakistan.

Caught unawares, the Prime Minister’s Office angrily denied any such plans and questioned the timing of the missive – the day before the first phase of polling (Sir Creek lies in the Rann of Kutch) on December 14. Since this was a ‘personal’ letter and not a poll sop, it didn’t violate the Model Code of Conduct. But it paid back Congress for announcing the Direct Cash Transfer scheme for some Gujarat districts in the midst of campaigning (which the Election Commission censured mildly) and increasing the cap on subsidised cylinders from six to nine (which EC again had to put on hold).

The motive could be mischievous. But for a nation concerned with the secret diplomacy called Track II, where Sir Creek is reputedly gift-wrapped and Siachen Glacier stands endangered, the release of the letter before the arrival of Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik is timely. In his reply, the Prime Minister chastised the Gujarat Chief Minister for not making efforts to ascertain facts from the Government of India before shooting off his missive.

Narendra Modi should seize the invitation underlying this reprimand and ask Dr Manmohan Singh if it is appropriate that the Prime Minister, Finance Minister (former Home Minister), and two Lok Sabha MPs (including the UPA chairperson) should preside over a foundation that solicits and receives funds from foreign agencies?

Modi should specifically ask why the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has accepted and perhaps still accepts funds from Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, which funds the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia-Pacific that supports the secession of Kashmir. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is a co-president of this body, along with former Philippines President Corazon Aquino; South Korea leader Kim Dae-Jung; and former Costa Rica president Oscar Arias Sanchez. Others associated with FDL-AP include Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi; South Africa Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev; and former German President Richard von Weizsaecker.

It is disgraceful that the Indian Prime Minister is member of a trust funded by such dubious sources. Since Sonia Gandhi has not quit the FDL-AP even after her association came to light some weeks ago, Narendra Modi could ask the Prime Minister about the genesis and growth of Track II diplomacy. In November 1996, the FDL-AP hosted an international seminar in Manila, Philippines, on Burma; the eminences from India were M Rasgotra, vice chair, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and George Fernandes, MP. It is safe to say that the RGF is committed to ‘promoting democracy’ in Asia, which in the context of democratic India means allowing J&K to go its own way. As a Member of the Lok Sabha who once bid to be Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi must explain her personal stand and that of the foundation she chairs on the issue of India’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In a section, Independent Jammu & Kashmir: Justifications & Advantages, FDL-AP asserts, “The best and most logical solution of the Kashmir issue is to re-unite Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Jammu Kashmir State (the valley of Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan) and make it a fully independent country having friendly relations with both India and Pakistan.” Readers will appreciate that this is precisely the formula mooted by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at Agra, and subsequently by the phalanx of track 2 specialists. FDL-AP even claims that on August 9, 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru and on January 15, 1948, Indian representative Gopalaswami Ayengar at the UN Security Council, had declared that India fully recognised Kashmiris’ right to complete independence.

Manmohan Singh must explain the incongruity of a sitting PM and his Finance Minister joining an NGO and soliciting funds from their own Government and other sources to do social welfare! This simply means the Government he presides over is not doing its job of serving the people. If that is the case, he must choose between running the Government or running an NGO; he cannot be establishment and anti-establishment at the same time! This applies to the Finance Minister and UPA chairperson as well.

There is need to scrutinise the functioning of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, especially its foreign donors and partners, and their political objectives; charity is a good cover for interacting with political leaders and penetrating Indian society for ulterior ends, such as religious conversions.

We need explicit laws to ensure that Ministers, MPs, or Government servants are not associated with bodies that solicit funds from Government, corporate, and especially foreign sources. This undermines their dignity and autonomy and surely does not happen in any other major world capital.

The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is too opaque. Established on June 21, 1991 to commemorate the former Prime Minister’s vision for India, its website does not even mention the law it is registered under; a protracted battle to bring it under purview of the Right to Information Act, by advocate Shanmuga Patro, made the Foundation admit it is a trust under the Indian Trusts Act 1882.

Two months later, in August 1991, RGF registered with the Home Ministry under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 1996, to enable it to receive foreign contributions. This is a privilege, as rules stipulate an NGO must function for at least three years on its own resources before it can apply for foreign contributions.

The RGF Board of Trustees comprises Sonia Gandhi (chairperson), Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, P Chidambaram, YK Alagh, Suman Dubey, Rahul Gandhi, RP Goenka, V Krishnamurthy, Sekhar Raha, Sir Shridath Ramphal, MS Swaminathan, Ashok Ganguly (members), and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (executive trustee).

FCRA rules specify the category of persons who cannot accept foreign contributions under Section 3(1) of FCRA, 2010, and include a candidate for election; correspondent, columnist, cartoonist, editor, owner, printer or publisher of a registered newspaper; judge, Government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body controlled or owned by the Government; member of any legislature; political party or office bearer thereof.

While the dignitaries listed above are not receiving funds in their personal capacity, it is unseemly and undignified that persons holding such high office should accept foreign funds for an organisation whose functioning is opaque.

In fact, the Foundation should declare the foreign contributions it has received since its inception and their utilisation, as balance sheets uploaded on the website do not reveal such information. Under the rules, foreign funds cannot be deposited or utilised from the bank account used for domestic funds; banks have to certify that an account is exclusive for funds under FCRA. Also, the organisation accepting foreign contributions must maintain records of receipt and purpose-wise utilisation, and submit an annual return, duly certified by a Chartered Accountant. A NIL return is mandatory if no foreign contributions are received in a particular year (Form FC-6), duly accompanied with the balance sheet certified by a Chartered Accountant.

FCRA lists 109 agencies of the United Nations, World Bank and other International agencies / multilateral organisations which are exempt from the definition of ‘foreign source’. Many have obscure names and objectives, and call for greater transparency. At a time when the nation is concerned about the subversive uses of foreign monies, all bodies receiving foreign funds should list foreign donors clearly in their balance sheets.

For instance, the Consolidated Balance Sheet as at March 31, 2009, as per RGF website, does not specify any foreign funding. Yet the Annual Report for 2008-09, at page 50 and 51 (accessed on December 12, 2012), carries a list of Partner Organisations and Donors (clubbed together). Most are Central Ministries and other government departments and bodies, private corporates, NGOs, and private trusts.

But the listed donors also include The Good Gifts, UK; German Technical Corporation (GTZ), a German federally-owned enterprise; World Memorial Fund for Disaster Management; Agrisud International, France; Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, Cambridge, UK; Rajiv Gandhi (UK) Foundation, UK; European Commission; Government of Ireland; Government of the People’s Republic of China; United Nations Development Programme; World Health Organisation; and above all, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (which supports secession of Kashmir).

If Manmohan Singh wants the nation to believe he is not involved in compromising national sovereignty, he should begin by resigning from the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and withdraw his cabinet colleagues as well. Nor should serving bureaucrats be allowed on deputation to a Foundation funded by dubious foreign sources. These issues need to be addressed on an urgent basis.

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