NEW DELHI: As many as 63 years after it first started operations in India on the invitation of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Ford Foundation has decided to work under Indian laws in the wake of the recent crackdown by the Modi government against its activities in the country.
Sources said the New York -headquartered international donor agency recently held several consultations with top government officials after the Home Ministry’s April directive to put it on the watch list, in national interest and for the security of the country. The NDA government is understood to have told the foundation to register its activities in India under Indian rules and regulations applicable to other donors. The government action had come after it noticed that the Ford Foundation had released grants to Sabrang Communication, a private limited company run by social activist Teesta Setalvad, which was not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
In response to questions by Express, Joshua Cinelli, Ford Foundation’s media relations chief, said, “We have submitted an application to have our Delhi office registered as a branch office.” This is a major climb down from Ford Foundation’s earlier stand when it had told the then Nehru-headed government to ‘Take it or Leave it’ while refusing to register under Indian laws. Although concerns were raised during the Nehru regime, about bringing Ford Foundation under the law of the land, such suggestions were rejected by the political leadership of the country.
For 63 years, Ford Foundation had been operating in India under a Memorandum of Agreement with the government. Cinelli said that grants recommended by the Ford Foundation’s India office are paid from its headquarters in New York, and this is generally the case for its other regional offices as well. “The critical role of the office in New Delhi – as with all our regional offices – is to understand local context, work with local partners, and identify needs and opportunities within each unique region. This is a central feature of how the Ford Foundation has worked for more than 60 years,” Cinelli told Express.
Now, after the recent crackdown which puts it under “the prior permission list”, and in the backdrop of ongoing probe into its funding, the foundation has also provided complete information on funds granted to Sabrang Communication after agencies sought a clarification.Ford Foundation admitted that it entered into contractual arrangements with Sabrang Communications in 2004 and 2006, and in 2009, provided a grant to the Sabrang Trust.
The Gujarat government, had earlier this year, accused Ford Foundation of interfering in the country’s internal affairs. “How a grant of $2,90,000 was given to a private limited company by Ford Foundation to address communalism and caste-based discrimination in India etc...including for ‘media strategies’ is a subject matter of investigation,” the Gujarat government had told the Home Ministry, seeking further investigation.