In Search Of An Allegation

In Search Of An AllegationShaurya Doval and Suresh Prabhu
Snapshot
  • A leftist website recently published a story attacking the India Foundation. Here’s why none of the claims made in it stand scrutiny.

A story by the online news portal, The Wire, has made insinuating claims against one of the leading think tanks of the country, India Foundation (IF). However, a closer analysis of the claims in the article suggests that the story is devoid of any facts and is based solely on propaganda.

Not even one legal lacuna is yet to be pointed out regarding the working of India Foundation. The primary point of contention of the story is that a few serving ministers are on the board of directors of IF and that this amounts to conflict of interest because the Foundation organizes events at an academic and policy level and the ministers are the policy makers.

It needs to be pointed out here that the ecosystem of think tanks in India was till now dominated by only a few organisations, owned and run by a handful of so called ‘intellectuals’. It was India Foundation which stepped in and democratised this system and took a lead in terms of being a key policy player.

Ministers, being the policy makers, and being open to interact with the stakeholders at academic conferences and events organised by IF, is certainly a thing which can’t be objected to. No one in their right minds can term this lobbying. The conferences are open to participation for everyone. There is an open call for participation to such conferences or seminars. Hence, anyone can participate and voice their views and opinions to the ministers who may be participating in that event.

Secondly, this allegation also stems from an improper understanding of the company law and the trust law. The Director of a Trust is very different from a Director of a Company, under the Indian legal system. A company is owned by the shareholders, on the other hand a trust is owned by the trustee. The Directors of a Trust, in most cases, as in this one, are honorary i.e. they draw no salary. The whole point of a trust is to legalise and institutionalise a position of trust, which is usually not based on money. Therefore, being directors of a trust can’t in anyway be a conflict of interest.

There has been another allegation, not in the story, but by former Union Minister, Shashi Tharoor, that this holding of directorship is against the Code of Ethical Conduct for Council of Ministers. It is very sad to learn that a leader of that stature has lied through his teeth and there is no provision prohibiting directorship, in the Code. The Code can be accessed here. It also needs to be pointed out that another think tank, which goes by the name of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, had and still has, Dr Manmohan Singh as a Trustee, even when he was serving as the Prime Minister of India. This report of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, from 2009-2011, lists Dr Singh as a Trustee. It needs to be reiterated that the position of Trustee includes ownership, which is not the case with the position of a Director.

There is another allegation that the India Foundation has an FCRA license. An FCRA license is a license given by the government to receive funds from abroad, by complying with a set of norms. The sole fact that the Foundation has such a license seems problematic to the author of the Wire story. This contention is as absurd as someone being accused of having driven rashly just because they have a driving license, not substantiating the accusation of rash driving by any facts. It has been clarified by the Foundation that not even a single penny has been received by foreign sources till date.

If one were to just check the website of the Foundation properly, it would be clear that the Conferences and events organized by the Foundation are always in collaboration with other bodies. The event on ‘smart border management’ was organised in association with FICCI, as has been acknowledged in the story itself. India Foundation was just a knowledge partner in the event. The ‘sponsorships’ are for the events and not for the funding of Foundation itself. Such is also the case with Indian Ocean Conference, which was a joint effort of India Foundation, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Bangladesh, and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore. The funding by Boeing and others was specific to the conference, which again was not the sole show of India Foundation.

The Wire needs to be more sensible and less partisan to cut any ice with the judiciously thinking people of the country. Moreover, this kind of motivated journalism is not something which is good for the health of our democracy.

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