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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 20, May 9, 2015

NGOs and Agrarian Crises

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

It is unfortunate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is harassing and hounding the NGOs. Probably, the party’s leaders do not realise that many of its members were once themselves NGOs. When the Jana Sangh merged into the Janata Party after successfully resisting the authoritarian rule of Mrs Indira Gandhi, they were part of the struggle to uphold human rights, which the then ruling Congress Party had trampled upon mercilessly. How can those very people be anti-NGO now?

Accounts of voluntary organisations are audited and checked by the Finance Ministry on a regular basis. All foreign funds come through the government channels. There is little scope for any hanky-panky. The change of procedure is nothing but harassment. Prior government sanction means an endless waiting for the urgently needed funds in the field where the activists work.

I am surprised how the BJP has forgotten the probe against the Gandhi Peace Foundation was hauled over the coals after Mrs Gandhi came to power in 1980. The then Jana Sangh workers were chastised unnecessarily. The BJP is only a new avatar of the Jana Sangh, which took part in movements for the assertion of the individual’s right to liberty and free speech.

I know both Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. They enjoy an impeccable reputation for integrity. Their relentless fight against the communal forces is the bright chapter in the annals of secularism. That the BJP is tilting towards the Hindu ideology is unfortunate, to say the least. But that does not mean that those who are fighting against parochialism to underline the secular spirit of our Constitution should be getting the wrong end of the stick.

After winning freedom, the Constituent Assembly discussed many forms of governance. But what came to be supported by all sections of the society was a secular polity. To undo that would mean mocking at the sacrifices which millions of people made to establish a democratic, secular republic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was reportedly behind the Gujarat riots which killed thousands of Muslims, has himself realised the futility of dividing the society on religious basis. It is a healthy development that Modi himself now publicly says: sab ka sarkar, sab ka vikas (everybody’s government for everybody’s progress).

Unthinkingly some BJP members, who are under the influence of the RSS, are picking on members of the minority communities and going to the extent of vandalising the churches or indulging in conversions in the name of ghar wapsi. Modi should intervene at some stage to stop them from bringing a bad name to India which is admired for its spirit of tolerance and sense of accommodation.

I remember a Jews’ delegation calling on me when I was India’s High Commissioner at London. The delegates wanted to convey their gratefulness for the tolerance India had come to signify. They said that it was the only country in the world where the Jews had never faced any kind of discrimination. At that time New Delhi had not given recognition to Israel. Still they did not make any issue of it.

What is disconcerting is that secularism which should have deepened its roots by this time has failed to do so. India has developed economically as it should have in the last 68 years since independence. Maybe, rapid economic development is the answer. In this context, the backwardness of villages testifies our failure. Farmers are the backbone of India’s economy. But they are suffering the most. Their countrywide suicides indicate that the benefit of production has not reached them. Even basic amenity like clean drinking water is a mirage.

Another farmer has committed suicide in the well-off State of Maharashtra. He is the ninth since March. The news from other States is too distressing. He cannot afford the rising cost of production from the farm. After a farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide at a public meeting in New Delhi, India’s Capital, I thought that his death would touch the respondent chord and the nation would focus seriously its attention on how to improve the plight of the farmers. I must admit that I was wrong.

There was a furore in Parliament all right. Prime Minister Modi too expressed his grief. Yet, it was business as usual soon after. The farmer was forgotten. I have not been able to draw up a blueprint on how to improve the farmers’ lot. In fact, the introduction of the Land Acquisition Bill in Parliament showed that the corporate sector has had its way.

The concerns of the farmers, a pre-requisite, have been dropped. The matter has been pushed into the background. Even the Opposition’s march, led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, is an event of the distant past. I do not have to remind that some 67 per cent of the people in the country depend on the fields which are increasingly becoming killing fields.

Showing preference to the corporate sector, which no doubt provides jobs, will be against the ethos of the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi focused attention on the people in rural areas and moved from a bustling city to a small place, Wardha, which later became an important town in the country.

NGOs are carrying on the work of the Mahatma. The sanction to some 900 NGOs has been withdrawn because they have not kept the accounts properly. The purpose of auditing their income should be to see whether there is an overall pilferage of funds. Expecting them to maintain accounts is not wrong. But checking even the last paisa spent is asking for a little too much because these activists are engaged in day-to-day work at the grassroot level.

The task which Teesta and Anand have embarked upon may not be to the liking of the ruling party because ideologically the two are poles apart. One stands for a composite society while the other is engaged in a task which is divisive. Both cannot coexist. The freedom was won for a secular democratic society and the society should stay with that purpose.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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