Running a Country NGO-style
While some NGOs are run by sincere individuals interested not in personal but in social gains, many of the organisations active in India act as milch cows for those controlling them. For example, a top journalist formed an NGO headed by his son, and then used his contacts in foreign embassies to ensure a huge flow of grants to the organisation, enough to ensure that Junior could leave India and live in Europe.
Several senior officials set up NGOs and “Think-tanks”, after retirement, which are creative only in the ways in which they collect funds. Many times, the so-called “independent” NGO acts as a mouthpiece for foreign donors, expressing their point of view as “Indian opinion”, an example being a well-funded NGO run by a former naval officer, who joins many others in faithfully parroting any line that is fed to him by US or EU agencies during the many occasions when he gets invited there to nod approvingly at the grotesque policy prescriptions that they adopt for India. Across the world, the debris of states that have failed because of following such advice is ubiquitous, yet because of the fact that the only way to get funding and fellowships from the US or the EU is to toe their general line, the big cities are filled with “analysts” and “experts” who fill newspaper columns and television space retailing what their benefactors in Washington, Paris and London (the three “saviours of the Libyan people”) want them to say.
The first priority in India—and other countries in the vicinity—is to take care of family and friends. An example is the so-called National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Members of this august body come at least once a month to the national capital, where they are put up in 5-star hotels in exchange for giving their views on subjects as diverse as Fiji and Moratuwa. Not that any of these opinions are taken seriously, much less gets integrated into policy. The purpose of the NSAB is to accommodate old friends in a comfortable sinecure and make them understand how much they are appreciated. Most of the distinguished members are regular guests of the nominating authority.
During his time as National Security Advisor (1998-2004), Brajesh Mishra ensured almost every individual who treated him to lunch or dinner at the India International Centre (otherwise known as Jurassic Park) not because of the advanced age of most members, but for the fact that most remain firm admirers of the Nehru era, and are therefore clearly delighted at the dawn of Nehru Era II in 2004 under the charming leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the present head of the family. One of his successors, the brilliant, acerbic MK Narayanan (who ensured that the Intelligence Bureau was given a much greater priority in the security system than agencies such as RAW) followed Mishra in filling the NSAB with his buddies, a practice that gained him immense popularity in the small circle of retired admirals, generals and officials, who collectively form the Brains Trust for the conference circuit.
The Patron Saint of the NGO community is Sonia Gandhi, who has sought to make an NGO headed by her—the National Advisory Council—a super-government, able to inflict its views on a government where prominent ministers such as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram are openly subservient to her dictates.
In departments across the system, including in the crucial field of education, the influence of the NGOs (many of whom get foreign funding and have foreign staff) is all-pervasive, which is why so many ministers come up with ideas that are designed to wreck what little excellence remains within the system. One of the ministers close to Sonia Gandhi is Education Minister Kapil Sibal, ordinarily a first-class intellect. However, recently he has been coming up with policy prescriptions clearly cooked in some NGO pot in London or in Luxembourg that would have the effect of destroying quality school education in the country. India would then join the many other poor countries, where the only way to get a halfway useful education would be to go abroad. The NGO-inspired suggestions of the minister in the field of education have horrified parents across the country and unified them against his government, but in the Congress Party, there is only one vote that counts, and that is Sonia Gandhi’s, so Sibal is safe.
More so, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has entrusted the preparation of a road map, for educating a country where more than 40 per cent of the population is under 40, to a close friend, the 79-year old Professor Yash Pal. One of the benefits of being in government is the easy way in which friends and relatives can be obliged, some with deals, others through sinecures, and Manmohan Singh is no different from other politicians who look only within the circle of their friends to fill jobs that require real skills and commitment.
Hypocrisy is not second nature to politicians in India, it is the first. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has a constituency known for drug and people smuggling, but interestingly, several of the worthies active in these key national tasks are now busy seeking to elect his son as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Central Board of Direct Taxes (under an officer close to a lady in the Finance Ministry, who seems to have powers equal to the minister himself, for some unexplained reason) seems unaware of the financial standing of Mukherjee Junior, although now that he is in politics, such facts will begin to seep out, as they are in the case of other high-profile siblings such as the son of Home Minister Chidambaram (and his friend Sanjeev Hooda) or the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi herself, who has built a fortune in a relatively short timespan purely—one would assume—owing to his genius and insight and not because ministers ranging from the Home Minister to the Chief Ministers of Delhi and Haryana dance attendance on Robert Vadra, whose activities have become so blatant that even the tame Indian media (which usually looks the other way at VVIP peccadillos) has begun to murmur. Clearly, Robert Vadra or Karthik Chidambaram are young men in a hurry to join the same pantheon inhabitated by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, an understandable objective for two such capable youngsters.
Because of the fear of getting harassed by the Intelligence Bureau (which has reverted it the Nehru era days by becoming a house agency for the Ruling Family) or the income-tax authorities, media houses do not examine the activities of VVIPs, the way it happens in civilised countries such as the UK or the US. Indeed, the Supreme Court of India has just decreed that the religion followed by Sonia Gandhi is not a matter that the public should be aware of. Hopefully, the judges who gave this order will enlighten an eager citizenry about just what facets of a public figure are suitable for the public to know. This columnist believes that the public are entitled to every scrap of information about those in whose hands the running of the country vests, but this is clearly not the view of the Supreme Court of India.
Given such a mindset, it is hardly surprising that so little is known about the personal and financial details of VVIPs. Indeed, the Election Commission of India (EC) actually censures those who make “personal attacks” (such as pointing to examples of corruption) against other candidates. If the officials (and the EC in democratic India is filled only with unelected officials, who have never stood for election even in the college union) running the EC have their way, any attempt at giving negative information about a candidate would be outlawed, the way exit polls have been. Of course, political VVIPs in India are delighted. They can safely go about enriching themselves and selling the country short; aware that the EC will go to bat for them should there be threat of exposure during a campaign. Sadly for those pinning their faith in this noble institution, the Supreme Court has now decreed that the public do not have the right to know the same facts about their rulers as voters in the US or the EU do. Hopefully, the judges will reconsider.
The Nehru era has been marked by tight control over citizens, depriving them of autonomy and forcing them to get government approval for any action. Now three admirers of the Nehru family have demanded that India should go the way of Pakistan, and impose a One Dish rule in weddings and feasts. If Rajiv Shukla (who leaped from journalism to cricket with considerable finesse 20 years ago, and from there to cricketing administration) and his two fellow-members of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council have their way, there would be policemen at each wedding to ensure that not more than one dish is being served. Shukla is likely to next suggest that permits be mandatory before any wedding feast can be organised, and indeed before the bride and groom disappear on their honeymoon. After she took over power in 2004 (not in law but in fact), Sonia Gandhi has made India an unpleasant place for people to visit, getting imposed such absurd rules as refusing to allow a person to come back to the country within six months of leaving it, or demanding permission from the Home Ministry (which takes 25 years to process a request during the period when it functions at high speed) before holding an international conference. Slowly, the country is getting strangled by a web of regulations that are each designed to squeeze bribes out of the very people who are today at the cusp of going into the streets to protest a system that makes them suffer so that a few can enrich themselves.
By M D Nalapat