Within days of the Vigil Plainspeak on Sandeep Pandey’s Naxal connections, a friend from the US sent me this mail confirming my theory that Sandeep Pandey and his partners and supporters are desperately seeking to keep Pandey’s false beard from falling off. “They had a good thing going” as another one of Vigilonline’s readers wrote with amusement and the Vigil Plainspeak has only made these supporters of Sandeep’s false beards that much more nervous.
Significantly, response to the Vigil Plainspeak comes from two persons – one an office-bearer in ASHA and the other from the individual who created yet another profitable US based NGO and who is now afraid that some mud, in fact a lot of mud will stick to him because of his close association (?) partnership (?) with Sandeep Pandey.
Both responses are extremely interesting in that neither the ASHA office-bearer nor dear Raju Rajagopal have been able to deny dear Pandey’s Naxal connections which have been attested to by the CPI (ML) itself. ( http://www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_2003/january/feature.htm) Even dear Sandeep Pandey couldn’t deny his connections and so he too was pushed into lying to his supporters. (http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~sudhakar/asha/weblog/sandeep.txt) Now neither this office-bearer of ASHA Netika Raval nor the co-ordinator of Promise Of India, Raju Rajagopal can deny the truth of Sandeep’s connections to Naxal terrorists or their own guilt by association with dear Sandeep and so they resort to beating around the bush. Please read their response all of you and see them playing ring-a-ring-a-rosy with the truth. They don’t even make the attempt to touch the issue of Sandeep’s Naxal connections.
And because these two persons take us all to be idiots let me give you all another URL – this time a news report which testifies to the illustrious company that Sandeep Pandey keeps. http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/nov/15naxal.htm And dear Raju Rajagopal whose Promise Of India is supported and welcomed precisely by these same persons, now has to defend not only his association with dear Sandeep but also with these ‘internationally recognized and applauded’ eminent defenders of human rights and peace activists who assemble at the Seventh Congress of the CPI (ML) to ‘honour’ the memory of slain Maoist/Naxal terrorists because they think slain Maoist/Naxal terrorists are noble martyrs!
Towards the end of his weak response to the Vigil Plainspeak Raju Rajagopal confesses to his own preference for communist NGO activists but unconvincingly distances himself from Naxal terror. Now that is like saying he will work with Osama if he too wears the beard of an NGO activist; never mind the few thousands he kills routinely as afternoon pastime amusement.
Response to Vigil Plainspeak:
“Got this response to my earlier msg circulated below. Can someone with cool head and objective mind please clear up all this confusion about ASHA, AID, Sandeep Pandey, etc.?
Date: Sat, 15 Oct 2005 23:36:51 EDT
Subject: Re: [VRI] Vigil plainspeak on sandeep pandey
The email you forwarded me is a bunch of garbage. I would ordinarily not have replied to such garbage but since you sent it to me, here is a response from Netika Raval, President of Asha and Raju Rajagopal, coordinator for Promise of India sent to Naren Bakshi:
I appreciate your forwarding the email in an effort to understand the facts and I also appreciate all the points mentioned in Raju's response especially (a) that it's unfair for the authors of the slanderous email to use our exisiting transparent workings in a factually incorrect and out of context manner while hiding behind "anonymous" id's and (b) that it's a great time for the Indian diaspora to delve into the granular details in order to take a stand on any issue.
As was mentioned earlier, perhaps some people are not happy to see Asha mature as an organization, because we have witnessed such negative email campaigns only since 2002 when Sandeep was given the Magsaysay award. We had issued a press release then (http://www.ashanet.org/pandey/clarification.html) which is relevant today as well.
Asha for Education has been around since 1991 and will continue its work for the underprivileged communities. Majority of our support is through individuals who are returning donors to Asha because our core values resonate with them. Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator in the US, has listed Asha as the # 1 charity in their Top 10 Charities List - more at http://www.charitynavigator.org/.
I have been with Asha since my days at Stanford in 1994 and am the current President. I am happy to speak with you or others to share our core values - of zero overheads, volunteerism, transparency, secularism and focus on issues - that form the bedrock of our working principles. I have admired your involvement with FDRI/Prajanet - we actually had JP as our keynote speaker at the recent Asha Annual Conference. Perhaps, as individuals seriously involved in socio-economic change, we can consider a town hall meeting or open house if you see that as appropriate.
On 10/13/05, Raju Rajagopal <
October 13, 2005
Sorry for this longish response to your e-mail re: Sandeep, Asha and AID.
You're already familiar with Asha's grassroots work, which many of us in ICA have always supported. And you heard directly from Sandeep, who needs no defense from personal attacks such as the one you have forwarded. (Sandeep offered to dialogue with the person who was handing out similar flyers at the ICA dinner venue the other day, but, predictably, the young man had no use for such an offer, nor did he have the decency to reveal his name or affiliation.)
As you may not be as familiar with AID's work, let me offer my perspective on why it has also now become the target of campaigns by some of the same forces that have been relentlessly attacking Asha. This is a strictly personal view:
First of all, when it comes to development projects, AID has been supporting 75-100 projects every year in India, with a mostly-volunteer base; and its work is remarkably similar to that of ICA. Increasingly, ICA, Asha and AID seem to be supporting many common projects: e.g. Samrakshan in M.P. (livelihood restoration for Adivasis displaced from the Kuno sanctuary) and The Ant in Assam (livelihood options for unemployed youth who could become a menace to society).
However, when it comes to advocacy campaigns, AID has really pushed the envelope in speaking up for the interests of marginalized people: e.g. supporting NBA and speaking up for displaced people; pushing for justice for the victims of the gas leak in Bhopal, years after most of us had forgotten about it; supporting Indo-Pak peace efforts long before it became fashionable to do so; actively opposing communalism, etc. AID's work has received several recognitions as a top-ranked charity, including congressional mention for peace and humanitarian work and awards from Indo-American organizations. AID's partner individuals and organizations have received national and international recognitions, Aruna Roy and Sandeep Pandey being prime examples.
Like ICA and Asha do, projects supported by AID are publicly displayed on its various websites and funding requests are openly debated at its chapter meetings. It's therefore preposterous, to say the least, to claim that AID is funneling funds to extremist organizations! (You can speak to Aniruddha Vaidya if you have any other questions regarding AID's work.)
One of the senior AID leaders in India, who has been the target of recent attacks, is Balaji Sampath from Chennai. Geetha and I have come to know him and his wife Kalpana quite well over the years. (Besides her grassroots work among women, Kalpana is doing research on the history and track record of SHGs.) Bhoomika Trust coordinated with AID volunteers quite closely during the recent Tsunami, as we did with Asha and many other NGOs and corporate houses. In fact, Balaji and I were the first NGO reps to meet with the highest officials in the TN government within days of the Tsunami; and it was his first hand account from the South and his photographs of the devastation that brought home to officials the enormity of the tragedy--Balaji had taken a day's break from clearing bodies in the south to join me. AID and TNSF work closely with local governments in their developmental work, while at the same time they do not shy away from challenging the authorities when necessary--as is the hall-mark of most grassroots workers in India, many of whom we have honored in the Bay Area: e.g. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Ravi Chopra, Sandeep Pandey, Sushma Iyengar, Mihir Shah, JP, etc.
We know of Balaji as a man of passion and single-minded dedication to his work--right from his student days at IIT-M, his classmates tell us, which he joined as a top-ranker in JEE. Once he completed his Ph.D. at Univ of Maryland, he went straight back to Chennai and has devoted his life to the poor. What always strikes me are the long hours he puts in...but still never misses his coaching class for aspiring students preparing for the IIT JEE! (If you GOOGLE "Balaji Sampath," you can even see some of his early introspections as he was deciding to plunge full time into social work.)
Anyway, who are these guys trying to "tar and feather" people like Balaji and Sandeep?
Naren, the stuff they write is so scurrilous that at one level it seems silly to dignify them with a response. (One of them even went to the extent of turning around Gandhiji's cartoon by 90 degrees--an AID logo--to make the point that it looks like hammer and sickle!) But then, when such allegations seem to raise doubts even in reasonable people's minds, perhaps the time has come to take these guys on and legally challenge their libels?
What are their motivations? I can only hazard a guess, based on the pattern of attacks that I personally witnessed during the Tsunami, when three very interesting things happened:
For the first time following a major disaster in India, a large diversity of people and organizationsâ€"villagers, neighbors, Communists, Islamists, church leaders, NGO workers like AID/TNSF, fisherfolk, and even corporate employees--were in the field handling bodies and debris! This seems to have clearly irked certain organizations who have often used natural disasters as a way to periodically cleanse their controversial and violent image: "We're the only ones who do such dirty work that even Dalits refuse to do..." etc.
Based partly on Bhoomika's journals on the good work by AID and others in the field--which was regularly published in the U.S .â€"Sulekha raised over $500,000 in matching donations for AID. This seems to have irked them even further, perhaps alarming them that AID may not be an organization that can be ignored anymore, but one capable someday of challenging them seriously on the ground. (AID's strong communal harmony bent is well known--and is much more focused than that of Asha or ICA.)
My own reading in the field was that attempts by certain organizations to inject a communal virus into the relief work in Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari failed miserably, and got no traction whatsoever. (For example, Bhoomika received several secretive calls from a well-known communal organization, ostensibly to advise us against certain organizations with which we were partnering, but making all kind of reckless allegations against them.)
Such events during the Tsunami may have well led to the decision on the part of some people--who were smelling success in their sustained campaigns against Asha and Sandeep Pandey--to now mount a similar campaign against AID. The result? A crude McCarthyite-like attempt to divert our minds from the real work AID is doing on the ground, but to instead ride on the anti-leftist mood among many NRIs as a vehicle for the attack. (Balaji's journals during the Tsunami, wherein he mentions AID/TNSF's collaboration with communist youth volunteers (DYFI) in clearing bodiesâ€"along with many other NGOs and corporates, I might addâ€"seems to have come as the perfect "calling card" for those who were getting ready to go after AID.)
There is only one problem with this strategy: India is not US. Whether we like it or not, communist organizations are an active part of India's electoral politics; they run two states; and they are part of the ruling coalition today. No person or NGO doing any decent work on the ground can possibly insulate himself or herself from collaborating with committed leftist activists, who are also working for the poor. Unfortunately, certain extremist communists like the Naxalites also believe in and indulge in despicable violence and terrorism in the name of the same poor. So, if one is not familiar with the distinctions among various leftist organizations--I'm certainly no expert on this--it would be quite easy to confuse an uninformed donor by linking terrorist outfits on the one end--like the PWG--to other groups which are actively into electoral politics and are part of the political mainstream in India. Once you blur these important distinctions, it is then only a step away to smearing people, Balaji, because he worked with DFYI volunteers in clearing bodies, or Sandeep because he gave a speech or accepted an award at xyz party meeting!
Naren, this is as best I can make of this sustained campaign against AID, Asha, Balaji and Sandeep, which I am quite sure will fail in the long run.
The authors of the article you sent are probably counting on most readers taking their accusations at face value. they know that most of us will never bother to look into the details of AID and Asha's grassroots work. It also seems to me that one could use the exact same devious and dubious logic of 'guilt-by-association' to link everyone who's sympathetic to or voted for the BJP, to the communal incitement of VHP leaders, to the violence of Bajrang Dal, to the murder of Staines...so on and on. That would put a plurality of Indians--and many of our friends and family--in the same 'unpatriotic' category as the e-mail seeks to place Balaji and Sandeep in!
(End of email)
In conclusion: It is obvious from Raju Rajagopal’s mail that Sandeep and his supporters had in some way been discomfited by protests at the venue of his talk show in Stanford and that the protestor, a ‘young man’, according to Raju Rajagopal, had distributed some damning flyers which goaded dear Sandeep into offering to ‘dialogue’ with the young man. From Raju Rajagopal’s email it would seem that this young man refused to divulge his name and that seems to have irked Sandeep and Raju Rajagopal no end. The protesting young man, it would seem also refused to ‘dialogue’ with Sandeep as 'Raju' puts it.
I cannot help wondering how much this young man’s protest and his flyers must have frightened Sandeep Pandey and his supporters because as I remarked in my Plainspeak, they cannot afford to have the US government placing them under its scanner and such protests only draw needless attention to themselves.
Well, well, well! The protest must have been a great victory for the young man if he could force Sandeep Pandey to offer to talk to him. Vigil cannot lag behind in public spiritedness. Vigil in turn offers Sandeep Pandey its forum for a dialogue with the intelligentsia of Chennai. If Sandeep Pandey or the young protestor get to read this, I hope they will take up Vigil’s offer and come forward for a dialogue.
22nd October, 2005
Sandeep Pandey - Naxal terrorist in a blue funk