Be Warned. Today Greenpeace, Tomorrow You
To his somewhat startled surprise, Modi has discovered that he can’t do in Delhi, as freely as he did in Gandhinagar, all he wants to do and get away with it. For the Constitution that Ambedkar gave us and the democracy that Nehru nurtured have taken such firm roots that Modi, unlike Hitler who overthrew a fragile 14-year old Constitution and the frail democratic Weimar Republic, is confronted in Delhi with the rule of law, a Parliament in which he lacks a majority in the Rajya Sabha, an alert media, and well-established institutions of governance, including, above all, the courts that cannot be trifled with.
Thwarted in his efforts to undermine the basic functioning of our democracy in the political and administrative sphere, Modi is now probing the Achilles heel of our democracy – the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have evolved under the umbrella of the Constitution’s Fundamental Rights but do not enjoy the protection of any direct reference to them in the Constitution. This is perhaps because, back in 1948-50, when the Constitution was being framed, there were few NGOs. At any rate, they did not loom large on the political horizon. In any case, the Constitution assumed, as it did with Panchayat Raj, that the need for local self-government and an active civil society were so obvious that any special provisions for them in the Constitution were unnecessary.
In regard to panchayats, the Constitutional lacuna was filled at Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative that led in 1992 to the passing of the two longest amendments to the Constitution (Parts IX and IXA relating respectively to ‘The Panchayats’ and ‘The Municipalities’). It now appears necessary to similarly safeguard, sanctify and sanction NGOs as Modi has begun his assault on unprotected NGOs, making an example, on the one hand, of Teesta Setalvad who bravely continues baiting him on the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, and, on the other, Greenpeace India that continues with the noble work it has been engaged in for a decade and a half. Teesta is entitled to a column – indeed, an encyclopaedia – on her own. I will here focus on the persecution to which Greenpeace India is being subjected.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) have charged Greenpeace India, and its affiliate, Greenpeace Environment Trust, with misusing foreign funds and foreigners for “anti-national” activities. MHA apparently regards testifying about India before a meeting abroad as “anti-national”. On the other hand, it seems MHA regard it as perfectly patriotic for the Prime Minister to go abroad and claim on foreign soil (once in the presence of a foreign PM) that all Indians were ashamed of being Indian until he, Modi, became PM!
So, in MHA’s twisted logic, it is patriotic to lie about India’s great past and denigrate everything India has achieved 15 August 1947-26 May 2014, in New York, Sydney, Toronto and Shanghai, but anti-national to explain why Greenpeace India is fighting for displaced tribals, forest dwellers’ rights and protection of the environment – all of which is written into the law of the land by the holiest shrine of democracy – our Parliament. Else why did they detain Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist, as she attempted to board a flight to London in January this year to address a meeting of those who seek to protect the global environment?
There would appear to be little difference between Rajnath Singh and Rowlatt of the Rowlatt Act, 1919. And, to protect our precious fundamental rights, we will have to fight Rajnath Singh and Modi quite as vigorously as we fought Rowlatt and Lord Reading to protect and promote our freedom and liberty.
Standing firmly behind the nation’s and the NGO cause are our courts. On 20 January 2015, the Delhi High Court delivered a stinging retort to MHA when it invalidated their order freezing Greenpeace India’s accounts in the wake of Pillai’s detention, the judge stating in court that MHA’s conduct was “arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional” (which would be a good way of describing the Rowlatt Act!). On 12 March 2015, Priya Pillai’s constitutional right to travel was decisively upheld by the same High Court, Justice Shakhder “rubbishing the reasons given by MHA” against her travel abroad.
Nevertheless, the persecution continues. At MHA’s instance, the Reserve Bank of India on 23 March 2015 blocked all transfer of funds from the renowned Greenpeace International to Greenpeace India. MHA then followed this up with an order to banks to deep-freeze Greenpeace India’s accounts with immediate effect. For the last three months, Greenpeace India have not had access to virtually any funds, domestic or foreign, with which to carry on their good and great work.
That is because Modi and Rajnath do not regard Greenpeace India’s work as good and great. They regard it as “anti-national” for an Indian NGO, which receives 70 per cent of its funding from Indian sources, to fight for Indian causes that have twice within the first quarter of this year been upheld by the courts as perfectly legitimate and kosher.
Thus, the right to freedom of thought, speech and action is being throttled – only because Greenpeace India’s conception of what is in the interest of the Indian people is not the same as that of our suit-boot sarkar. What, after all, is “anti-national” about demanding clean air and safe food, standing up for forest and community rights guaranteed under Indian law, and highlighting the dangers of climate change?
At the same time, the Modi-Rajnath duo is running a clandestine smear campaign against Greenpeace India. They thus seek to silence criticism and dissent – which are the blood stream of democracy, in India if not under the Gujarat of Narendra Modi. They claim to have conducted an “investigation” last year into Greenpeace India’s affairs, but even six months after the submission of that “intelligence” report – which seems prima facie to be wanting in that one quality – those arraigned are not being given access to the dossier on the specious ground that the report is “secret”. This is similar to the grounds on which the Prime Minister’s wife is being denied information that is hers of right under the Right to Information Act.
Some of Greenpeace India’s domestic accounts have been frozen although the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) has nothing to do with domestic donations. International experts who have visited Greenpeace India on valid visas are being defamed and prevented from again lending their valuable services. Bogus claims of Greenpeace India endangering India’s “economic security” are being bruited about. Blatant lies are being spread by and on behalf of the government regarding a foreign TV programme about a proposed British investment in a mine project in India. What if not a smear campaign is this by a jackbooted government? Be warned. First an NGO. Next – YOU!
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)