The remark by the Prime Minister of India to a magazine blaming foreign NGOs for protests in India against nuclear reactors and GM crops is diversionary and disturbing. You cannot allege that the views and concerns of local residents, are suspect and that Indian citizens are manipulated by foreign funds. The alleged involvement of foreign NGOs/ or foreign funds being used in the Kudankulam protests is a red herring. Nuclear energy is a hotly debated and contentious issue all over the world. Even in countries like Japan, where a significant percentage of the energy comes from nuclear power, local residents have strongly protested and caused a review of what was considered a successful nuclear energy programme. To blame a “foreign hand” for the Kudankulam protests is therefore to deliberately divert the issue.
Kudankulam is in fact an example of a non-violent, democratic peoples protest. The movement is demanding a thorough review of the process of sanction and running of nuclear power plants. While there might be some foreign funded NGO’s working on issues of environmental awareness, the participation of people and the extent of the protests demonstrates how rooted and indigenous it is. In fact, following the Prime Ministers statement, there have been unethical and uncalled for harassment of NGOs by the State, who were in no way involved in the protest.
To ascribe Indian opinion to a foreign hand is under estimating the intelligence and the participation of Indians in the democratic process. It is unimaginable that the Prime Minister of a big democratic country like India should be worried about a small sum of money going to some NGOs. The net result is that even organisations engaging in just development work are being harassed by government agencies. It is also an indication of the double standards of globalisation. Ironically, on the nuclear issue, the biggest influence of foreign funds and the foreign hand are the pro- nuclear corporations, and the US government which openly lobbied with Indian political parties in favour of the controversial nuclear agreement. Why can’t international experience of the anti- nuclear movement be a legitimate part of the debate?
Currently, the nuclear regulatory bill is trying to insert a secrecy clause against the spirit of transparency and the peoples right to information enshrined in the RTI Act and the Indian Constitution. A similar clause is being inserted in the bio technology regulatory bill. We would like to clarify, that the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) of which I am a member is not an NGO.
It is a people’s collective, that operates on indigenous personal contributions and our accounts are transparent and accessible on our website for all to see. We participate in people’s campaigns and movements and see ourselves as part of the non party political process. Therefore, I am not conversant with what the “NGO sector” thinks of the government attitude to them and vice versa. The MKSS firmly believes in democratic procedures and systems, the constitution and the role of parliament in legislating. At the same time, as a people movement, we feel it is important to engage with the State to bring issues to their attention, and do whatever we can to insist on transparency, accountability and delivery of essential goods and services from the government.
The only way to combat this alleged misuse of funds is to insist on a regime of transparency across the board, whether it is government spending, or NGO spending, or even corporate investments, which are claimed to be “in national interest”. It is of critical importance that complete transparency be maintained by all the participants in this debate: by the NGO’s, by the Government, by the movement, and most importantly by the nuclear establishment.
I do feel that there has been a systematic clamping down of democratic space available for dissent in this country. Everybody must be allowed to place their views and opinions in the public domain, and debate the pros and cons of each issue – whether of nuclear energy or GM crops, instead of subverting these issues by raising red herrings.
(Roy is political and social activist who founded and heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana.)