Friday, May 08, 2015

Crackdown on Ford Foundation smacks of political vendetta: New York Times

By Our Representative
"The New York Times" (NYT), one America's most influential dailies, has come down heavily on the Government of India (GoI) clampdown on Ford Foundation, calling it "India’s chilling crackdown." Qualifying Ford Foundation as "among the world’s best-known charitable organizations, dispensing billions of dollars globally for projects aimed at reducing poverty, fighting injustice, improving education and advancing democracy", it said the GoI move is simply "alarming".
"It was alarming when India’s Ministry of Home Affairs last month placed the foundation, which has made $500 million in grants to organizations in India since 1952, on a national security watch list", the NYT (May 7) said in an editorial approved by its powerful editorial board, adding, "That means it cannot give money to Indian groups without permission from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government."
The editorial comes close on the heels of the US state department and US ambassador in India, Richard Verma expressing "serious concern" over the clampdown on Ford Foundation and Greenpeace India saying it did not portend good for India's democracy. 
And now, the German Ambassador to India Micheal Steiner added his voice to what the "Time" weekly called "the growing discontent over the Indian government's treatment of international NGOs", saying that "the South Asian nation needed to show more support to the groups."
"The move shook the donor community and triggered fears of a broader crackdown on civic activism — fears quickly realized when the government canceled the registration of nearly 9,000 foreign-funded civic and nongovernmental groups", said the NYT.
Pointing out that "the Ford case smacks of political payback", the NYT noted, "The listing stems from a complaint by the Gujarat State government about the Sabrang Trust, a private group that has received grants from Ford."
The daily recalled, "The trust, its founder, Teesta Setalvad, and her husband have worked on behalf of victims of sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was chief minister. They have also sought to bring charges against Modi for enabling the violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead."
Yet, the NYT said, "The state asked the ministry to investigate the trust for 'disturbing the communal harmony here and carrying out anti-national propaganda against India in foreign countries'."
The NYT further said, "The state had previously accused Setalvad and her husband of embezzling funds meant for a museum to honor the riot victims. Their advocates say they are victims of a political vendetta."
Particularly taking exception to the view taken by "an Indian official" who has described Ford and Greenpeace, which is now facing closure in India, as agents of Western strategic interests", the NYT said, "Although democratic India is a far cry from Russia, China and Egypt, similarly chilling talk was heard when authoritarian leaders in those countries moved to crush civic activism."
The daily warned, "Modi has an ambitious agenda to lift millions of people out of poverty and play a bigger role on the world stage." But "he almost certainly cannot attract the investment he needs while imposing a repressive social order and devaluing India’s greatest asset, a robust democracy."

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