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Modi "acted" like Russian, Turkish illiberal strongmen: Foreign fund ban on Lawyers' Collective, Navsarjan Trust

Vladimir Putin with Modi
By Our Representative
“The New York Times” (NYT) has compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions of seeking to ban  foreign funding of several civil society organizations with actions of world’s two “illiberal strongmen” – Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose governments “regularly use imprisonment, threats and nationalist language to repress NGOs.”
Blaming Modi for “going after” NGO “money”, NYT’s commentary by Rohini Mohan, takes strong exception to withdrawing Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) license of Lawyers’ Collective, an advocacy group in New Delhi run by the prominent lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, and Gujarat’s Navsarjan Trust, which “played a leading role in the protests” against the flogging of four Dalits in Una July last year (click HERE).
Providing details, NYT says, the Lawyers’ Collective has for “three decades provided legal assistance to women, nonunion workers, activists and other marginalized groups, often without charge”, adding, its FCRA was cancelled for in December for “political reasons” –it had “represented critics of Modi’s sectarian record and environmental vision.”
Pointing out that FCRA prohibits the use of overseas funds for “activities detrimental to the national interest”, NYT insists, “Although accountability in the nongovernmental sector is necessary to control malpractice, the foreign funding law is better known as a tool of political retribution than transparent auditing.”
“The funding law is rooted in Cold War fears about foreign interference in domestic politics”, NYT says, recalling how in 1975, “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi raised the spectre of foreign hand, suspended civil liberties, arrested political opponents, and censored the press for an almost two-year dictatorial stretch known as the Emergency.”
Suggesting that at the root of the crackdown on civil society is the Congress-led government making FCRA “more stringent” in 2010, requiring the license to be renewed every five years, and allowing the state to suspend permits and freeze groups’ accounts for 180 days during any investigation”, NYT says, “The Congress government used the law to pressure civil society groups protesting corruption and a nuclear power plant.”
Criticizing the Modi government for doing it “even more openly”, NYT says, “It repeatedly denounces human rights and environmental activism as anti-national – a phrase that carries connotations of treason.”
The Lawyers’ Collective, NYT says, fought the case of Greenpeace’s Priya Pillai, who was traveling to London “to testify in the British Parliament about coal mining in central Indian forests by Essar Energy, a corporation registered in Britain”, adding, “Federal officers pulled Pillai off her flight, arguing that her deposition would have hurt India’s national interest.”
Similarly, it represented Teesta Setalvad, “campaigning for justice for the victims of sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the chief minister of the state. “Setalvad has sought to put Modi and other Hindu nationalist politicians on trial for allegedly overseeing or participating in the violence”, NYT adds.
As for the cancellation of FCRA of Navsarjan Trust, NYT says, “Indian newspapers quoted unnamed officials claiming that intelligence agencies have described seven civil society groups, including the Trust, as ‘working against public interest’ and painting the Modi government as anti-Dalit abroad.”
Yet, NYT underlines, “neither Modi’s BJP nor the Congress Party has had any qualms about accepting campaign funding from foreign businesses. In May 2014, a New Delhi court held both the BJP and the Congress Party guilty of receiving donations from a London-listed company in violation of the foreign funding law.”
In fact, says NYT, Modi’s government “found a way of legally transforming its donors from foreign companies to Indian ones. It amended the law to change the definition of a foreign business, retroactively making a wider range of companies permissible campaign donors. While the civil society groups working with the poorest Indians are being choked, India’s political parties found many more avenues to receive more money.”Yet, NYT underlines, “neither Modi’s BJP nor the Congress Party has had any qualms about accepting campaign funding from foreign businesses. In May 2014, a New Delhi court held both the BJP and the Congress Party guilty of receiving donations from a London-listed company in violation of the foreign funding law.”
In fact, says NYT, Modi’s government “found a way of legally transforming its donors from foreign companies to Indian ones. It amended the law to change the definition of a foreign business, retroactively making a wider range of companies permissible campaign donors. While the civil society groups working with the poorest Indians are being choked, India’s political parties found many more avenues to receive more money.”

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