After Story in The Wire, Opposition Leaders Demand Probe Into India Foundation

An article in The Wire had pointed out the conflicts of interest involved in the think-tank run by NSA Ajit Doval’s son and BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav Varanasi.

Shaurya Doval. Credit: Twitter/Shaurya Doval

Shaurya Doval. Credit: Twitter/Shaurya Doval

New Delhi: Soon after a story in The Wire pointed out that four ministers in Narendra Modi’s cabinet and important BJP functionaries serve as directors of the India Foundation – an influential think-tank headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s son, Shaurya Doval – opposition parties took the opportunity to corner the Union government on the issue.

Saying that it was a clear case of conflict of interest, senior leader of the Congress party Kapil Sibal said that since the India Foundation has a Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) license, the four ministers who are on its board violate Section 3 of the FCRA Act, 2010.

Section 3 of the Act prohibits a political party, political leader, member of any legislature and journalists from accepting foreign funds. Apart from the four ministers – Nirmala Sitharaman, Suresh Prabhu, M J Akbar, and Jayant Sinha, BJP’s general secretary Ram Madhav and journalists Swapan Dasgupta, also a Rajya Sabha member, and A. Surya Prakash (head of national broadcaster Prasar Bharati) are also directors in the think-tank. Violation of the Act should lead to prosecution and punishment, as is mentioned in the Act,” Sibal told the media in a press conference.

Terming India Foundation’s role as a “cocktail of business and politics”, he said the presence of senior ministers and BJP leaders in the think-tank is a typical example of crony capitalistic practices, something that Modi has always been critical of.

He demanded that the prime minister should immediately suspend the ministers and initiate a probe on the issue. “One may remember that the BJP had a raised a hue and cry over Sonia Gandhi’s presence in the National Advisory Council, which was government-funded. She was an MP, yet she resigned. Now can the investigating agencies like CBI be asked to investigate what dealings went on in India Foundation while top ministers were steering its boat? Will the PM, who barely takes any time to use the CBI to investigate opposition leaders, conduct such a probe?” Sibal asked.

“Had one of our ministers been in the board of NGOs run by, say, Teesta Setalvad or Indira Jaising (their FCRA licenses were scrapped by the Modi government recently), imagine the kind of noise the BJP would have made. Now that we know that India Foundation managed flow of funds between the OECD and developing countries like India, the fact that such senior ministers are directors in the trust compromises the independence of union government,” he added.

Senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Jha too came down heavily on the government.

“The published story about the India Foundation and the huge potential of conflict of interest is alarming because we all know the kind of influence this all-powerful ‘think-tank’ has on the government. Junior Doval is the son of NSA, Mr. Ajit Doval who is perceived to the eyes and ears of Mr Prime Minister. We have also seen that on several crucial occasions including diplomatic ones, his opinions are preferred over the ministers in the cabinet. Under these circumstances, we expect the prime minister to ask these four ministers to leave and order a time-bound probe in the dealings of the foundation so that people don’t quote Shakespeare that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’,” he told The Wire, hinting at the BJP’s so-called double-speak on corruption.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Md Salim went a step ahead and said the presence of senior ministers in the India Foundation, which is being funded by international defence companies, compromises India’s security.

“It is an open and shut case of conflict of interest. After Jay Amit Shah, another son of a prominent office bearer has benefitted from the government. Besides corruption, I am also concerned about the nation’s security. The India Foundation is working not only as a think-tank, but also as a cover for corporates to liaison with the government. The involvement of ministers provides immunity to the organisation against legal scrutiny. India Foundation is a clear cover for the corrupt nexus of corporates and political administration under Modi’s regime.”

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  • There are lessons to learn here for the governing party if only they are willing to listen and not delude themselves with the hubris of power. All such shenanigans of nepotism and cronyism shall soon tumble out of the closet and spread like wildfire. If the government still has any illusions that they will be able to manipulate the media and silence them through offers and intimidation, I’m afraid they are sadly living in a fool’s paradise. The mainstream media may be bought over rather easily, backed as they are by business houses, and with their focus to cross-benefit from manipulated news favouring the government in power, and with their editorial staff only too happy to crawl when asked to bend in the famous words of Mr. L.K. Advani (now a margdarshak though and consigned to the dung-heap of the party – hence best forgotten!), but in today’s world the IT has bestowed ordinary citizens with extraordinary power to access news of the non-manipulated and non-shambolic kind. The burgeoning news portals and social media have become of greater relevance to citizens and their credibility is far higher than mainstream newspapers. It is time the government realizes and internalizes this reality.