NGOs and the IB report: A drive to manufacture consent?

NGOs and the IB report: A drive to manufacture consent?

NGOs are no holy cows. There are many blacksheeps among the over 20 lakh NGOs operating in India.

Of the 43,527 NGOs that have the approval for accepting foreign donations, only 22,702 have submitted the mandatory accounts with the government.

It is also believed that many of them receive foreign aid illegally and the government fear is that the NGO sector is vulnerable to the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing.

Against this backdrop, there would be no argrment that their activities need to be scrutinised through legally available means and their activities debated.

Now, a 21-page ‘secret’ report – NGO Activism against Development Projects in India: A Review – prepared by Intelligence Bureau has stirred the hornet’s nest.

The report submitted to the Prime Minister's Office was alarmist and painted a scary picture. It said the ‘foreign funded’ NGOs were out to turn India’s development clock backwards through motivated protests.

It goes on to say that its activities resulted in a loss to the GDP to the tune of 2-3 per cent! The focus of the report was on ‘only those’ NGOs – from Greenpeace to INSAF – and activists – from Medha Patkar to Praful Bidwai and Vandana Shiva – “negatively impacting economic development.”

In a few hundred words, the IB paints all those who raise voice, whose voice are keenly heard, in black.

This is nothing new. Every government and its various arms speak such language.

Nobody likes a dissenter at home.

The previous Manmohan Singh government and the present Narendra Modi regime share its antipathy to NGOs.

They are same in thinking and attitude when it comes to those opposed to them. When it comes to NGOs, the UPA and the NDA regimes find the foreign hand theory very suitable.

It would not surprise many when it came to light that the IB shamelessly did a cut and paste job in its report by lifting paragraphs from a speech delivered by Modi, then a chief minister, in 2006.

They also had a shining example in former prime minister Indira Gandhi who used the ‘foreign hand’ theory whenever she was in trouble. Manmohan Singh found the foreign hand when the protest against Koodankulam nuclear plant gained momentum while Modi had a problem with NGOs since the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Motivated leak

The IB report surfaced in public domain – a motivated leak, claim the activists – at a time the government is planning to go ahead with several measures, which are opposed by a section.

There are talks about bringing reformist labour laws with the BJP-led Rajasthan government taking a lead, diluting a law ensuring tribal rights to speed up ‘development’ activities in naxal affected states and giving clearance for a defence radar station in the sensitive Andaman islands among other things.

The height of Narmada dam was raised as the report became public.

All these pro-reform measures are announced in less than a month of Modi’s government coming into power.

Those who are supposed to raise their voice had gone silent as they were busy defending themselves following the IB report leak. May be that was the intention of such a report!

Again the intention behind the IB report, commissioned during the UPA regime, become suspect because nobody took the leakage seriously.

The media in Delhi could never have accessed a secret report with such ease.

With Modi at helm, whose admirers say brooks no indiscipline, one would have expected tough talk.

However, no heads rolled and no questions asked.

How does this report easily get into public domain?

One could not be blamed if he believes that somebody wanted this report to be in public domain now.

The IB report comes out as an unapologetic brief on behalf of the industry where it says the corporates are right while those who point fingers at opponents have a motivated agenda.

It appears to be an attempt to nip in the bud any opposition to the decisions, which could not be implemented during UPA regime.

In such a scenario, organising construction workers, who are facing discrimination, or a campaign for safe disposal of e-waste become a crime in the eyes of the government.

It would be interesting to note that the IB finds fault with the NGOs in coal sector while keeping its eyes shut on companies.

Not long ago, some one should remind the IB, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) recorded that the exchequer lost around Rs 1.86 lakh crore in faulty coal bloc allocations due to corruption.

Linking anything to the growth story attracts attention and painting NGOs as something that is obstructing development is a strategy to counter them.

The IB report is also seen as an effort to coax 'aam aadmi' to support measures, which the government says is aimed at ensuring the advancement of the growth story.

NGOs vehemently oppose the IB report, saying having contrary view is not a crime.

No government likes dissent. Creating doubts about opposition – be it political parties, NGOs, intellectuals and activists – and ‘manufacturing consent’ does not augur well for a democratic society

The IB report is an attempt at manufacturing consent and curtail freedom of expression through invisible means.

That is why the fight against such moves becomes important.

With the NDA having a comfortable majority, a shrunk opposition space would mean that the government could bulldoze policies of its liking disregarding the consequences.

The battle has to be fought outside Parliament fiercely as the struggle inside the House may not be that severe with dwindled opposition numbers.

In this fight, NGOs have a bigger role to play but they need to improve their image and credibility. They should practice what they preach.

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