4 Union ministers add heft to cocktail of foreign funds, politics and business

A report in The Wire questions the Government’s double standards and conflict of interest and opaque finances and functioning of India Foundation, arguably India’s most powerful think tank

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

NH Political Bureau

In Hebrew, the word Magal apparently stands for sickle. Magal Security Systems is an Israeli company that supplies security systems all over the world. And when it sponsors an event by an Indian think tank which boasts of the Defence Minister of India in its board of directors, does it make for a serious conflict of interest?

That among others is a question raised by Delhi based journalist Swati Chaturvedi in a report in The Wire on the India Foundation run by Shaurya Doval, son of the powerful National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval. With as many as four Union ministers ( Niramala Sitharaman, Suresh Prabhu, Jayant Sinha and M.J. Akbar) as board members and with Shaurya Doval running a financial services company with a member of the Saudi Royal family, questions were waiting to be raised about the propriety of the ministers in associating themselves with the Foundation’s activities.

Neither the ministers nor India Foundation chose to reply to most of the questions sent to them by The Wire. To put this ‘silence’ in perspective, the report says, “ …assume for a moment Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra as the partner of a financial services firm connected to a Saudi prince signing up India’s defence minister and commerce minister as directors of his think-tank and then holding a series of events paid for by companies whose names are not made public…”

As a trust, India Foundation is not legally obliged to divulge its financial details. But the report points out that the Government’s database shows the Foundation receiving a licence for receiving foreign contributions ( FCRA) only in June, 2017. Since the Modi Government hounded a number of NGOs for alleged FCRA violations, froze their bank accounts and cancelled their licence, it does stand to reason that India Foundation should also come clean on its relationship with the Government, ministries and the sponsors from whom it has received grants.

The report also points out that the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) has registered a P.E. ( Preliminary Enquiry) against Boeing for supplying passenger planes at inflated rates to cause losses to the national carrier. When Boeing sponsors an event of India Foundation, of which the junior civil aviation minister is a part, can he and the inquiry be influenced by the company ?

An indication of how powerful the think tank is can be gauged by the number of its ideas accepted by the Modi Government. Some of them are the following :

Ensure minimum government, maximum governance; unleash capabilities of the young; empowerment not entitlement

Expedite Posco Steel, UMPPs, Mumbai Metro, Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor

100 new cities (50 industrial townships, 20 tourism circuits, 20 knowledge cities and 10 media cities) to create construction and infrastructure jobs

Defence sector should be ‘dramatically opened up’ to the private sector

National Population Register, Census and electoral rolls to be linked with Aadhaar

Bullet trains between top metros

And some of the other ideas which were proposed by the Foundation and are under consideration of the Government are the following:

  • Student loans for all between 18 and 25
  • Nationwide tests in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10
  • Regulators to be funded by industry fees
  • Slums to give way to better living spaces

The Wire report says, “The Wire asked Shaurya Doval for details of the India Foundation’s FCRA application and whether it had received any foreign money through the “prior permission” route on the assumption the FCRA database is incomplete. But he did not answer.”

“NGOs sometimes receive foreign payments via commercial service contracts, but Doval, in an earlier reply had said the India Foundation “does not conduct any commercial transactions,” which would appear to foreclose that route as well.”

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