|Our sainted NGOs?|
Author: Tavleen Singh
The column I wrote last week attracted more mail than almost anything else I have written of late. It was mostly hate mail and since I do not believe in ramming my views down anyone's throat I consider it my duty to pursue the subject further.
For those who did not read last week's column, here is a gist. I opposed Anna Hazare's fast on the grounds that he was inflicting a despotic Lokpal and a draconian law upon our poor unfortunate country. And, I opposed the idea that NGOs, in the guise of 'civil society', should have a role in making laws until they had the courage to stand for election and find a seat in the highest law making body in the country: the Lok Sabha. Anna answered that one already. He said he did not stand for elections because the average Indian voter voted only for those who came bearing gifts and promises.
It is not a good enough argument. It is exactly this attitude that has resulted in the Lok Sabha becoming a private club in which only those with genealogical (or friendly) connections to powerful political families manage to find entry. It disgusts me that more than 30 per cent of our younger MPs fall in the 'Hereditary Member of Parliament' (HMP) category. Some of these HMPs are educated and intelligent but most are not. They are shoved into the Lok Sabha not to serve the people of India but to look after their family business. It is a disgrace to Indian democracy that this should happen but it will continue to happen until better people fight their way into the Lok Sabha, by proving to voters that their credentials are superior to those of the HMPs. No matter how bad our MPs, are, they are accountable to the people every five years and this is more than can be said for the NGOs who have rallied around Anna Hazare.
Not only did they share his platform but they used the good offices of our 24-hour news channels to project themselves as the true representatives of 'civil society'. The interesting thing about most NGOs in India is that they are not accountable to anyone. Believe me when I tell you that all you need to do is declare yourself an NGO and you can become very rich very quickly because of the amount of money that suddenly becomes available to you. You never need to explain where this comes from or on what you spend it. So a lot of very corrupt people have made lucrative careers out of becoming NGOs.
The more fashionable the cause you pick, the more funds you are likely to attract. Currently, if you pick saving the environment or saving the poor as your cause, you will attract the assiduous attentions of many rich foreign financiers who will pour millions of dollars into your cause. As someone who has observed NGO activities for a while now, may I add here that nearly all the NGOs who set out to save India's environment are frauds with almost no understanding of what the real issues are. As for those who set out to save the poor, they are usually dedicated povertarians who would be devastated and jobless if the poor were truly saved. There are some NGOs I have come across who in the name of 'the people' spend their entire time flying around the world on an endless circuit of international conferences.
So rewarding is the NGO industry that senior police officers and bureaucrats often become NGOs as soon as they leave government service. And, senior political leaders nearly always have an NGO in the family because it is such a good place to hide inexplicable cash and properties. This is not to say that there are no good NGOs in India doing good things only that they are few and far between.
If NGOs want to deepen their role in civil society and represent it more truly, then along with a Lokpal law, let us put in place a law that makes it compulsory for NGOs to account for their funds. Just as private companies are obliged to render accounts every year, it should be obligatory for NGOs to publicly do the same. When this happens, they will have more right to make the sort of sanctimonious, holier-than-thou speeches that we heard from Jantar Mantar. Until then, can we please admit that when it comes to corruption, our NGOs are pretty much in the same boat as politicians and high officials.
Incidentally, the greatest patron of NGOs is Sonia Gandhi. She has exalted them to a role in government through her National Advisory Council (NAC). So does the NAC represent civil society or political power? And, can its NGOs account for their funds? Too many questio
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