On April 23, 2015, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government took an unprecedented step by putting the Ford Foundation under the watch list of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). On April 15, the Gujarat government wrote to the MHA that financial records of activist Teesta Setalvad show that the Ford Foundation had been “sponsoring anti-national activities and should be scrutinised”. In 2006, the foundation approved a grant of $200,000 to Setalvad’s Sabrang Communications to “address communalism and caste-based discrimination in India through active research, web-based information dissemination, development of civil society network and media strategies”.
At that time, the US visa ban on Modi was still in effect. The Sunday Standard investigation into the foundations’ activities in India that goes back to the 1950s throw up some startling facts.
■ The Ford and Rockefeller foundations had penetrated the Indian establishment without any government oversight.
■ It gave junkets and scholarships to senior government officials in the Nehru administration without clearance from the Indian government.
■ These officials were directly selected by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations without the knowledge of the government.
■ B K Nehru, Indira Gandhi’s cousin and the Commissioner General for Economic Affairs of Indian Embassy in Washington, advised against insistence on clearance of the funds by the Rockefeller Foundation to government employees after a meeting with its President Dean Rusk.
■ Rusk told the government that only consultations (and not approval) with the Department of Economic Affairs would be necessary before it funded bureaucrats and others.
■ Appalled at the storm brewing in his government against the foundations’ blatant efforts to woo government officials, Nehru denied he had given the necessarily approval. However, he had to backtrack after a note was shown to him, which made it obvious that the opposite was true.
As expected, the Modi government’s move against the Ford Foundation to bring its donations under the RBI’s and the MHA’s domain created ripples in the US establishment with the Obama administration seeking a clarification on the government’s decision to keep a hawk’s eye on all the bodies and activities funded by the Ford Foundation. Alarmed at its activities to influence government policy and public opinion, all its activities were put under watch. Hectic negotiations are on between the Ford Foundation and the government, as the former believes that its absolute free run in promoting the US agenda and policy in the Indian establishment through grants to think-tanks, NGOs and junkets to various seminars to the US for the last 63 years may soon be over. How could the foundation operate so freely despite allegations of its CIA links? The Sunday Standard investigation which covers the period from 1952 to 2014 on foreign donors—especially the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation—raises serious questions over the Jawaharlal Nehru government’s decision to let foreign agencies establish deep roots in the country without government oversight and legislation.