Tinkering spies

The amount of Rs 50 crore-plus going to the NGOs opposing the Koodankulum nuclear plant is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg

When the Cold War ended, everyone thought that conspiracy theories would disappear, too. However, a return to the untainted past is never possible. For example, 20 years ago few would have believed that political and economic power would shift, even marginally, towards the Brics nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) from the developed West. The 2008 economic crisis accelerated this process, though many nations continue to live in denial. And some, it now seems, in malevolent wait.

In India, conspiracy theories are back with some justification. We face a genuine threat to our energy security in the form of the agitation around the Russian-built Koodankulam nuclear reactor in Tamil Nadu.
First there were rumours that the agitation by various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was being funded by the West — a handful of NGOs with foreign links were reported to have pumped in a little over `50 crores for the agitation. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that NGOs obstructing the Koodankulam nuclear reactor were receiving funds and support from American sources. (He also said that funds from Scandinavian countries were being pumped into protests against the use of genetic engineering in agriculture.)
Former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and many teams of experts have conducted safety reviews and said that the Koodankulam nuclear plant — in which India has invested Rs 14,000 crores — is safe and ready to generate power in a few weeks.
Dr Singh is not known to make statements about “a foreign hand”. He would not have pointed a finger at America unless the Intelligence Bureau, which is under the home ministry, had done a proper and detailed investigation and given him sound proof. Every intelligence agency worth its name has a wing that closely monitors incoming foreign funds. This has become routine procedure since after 9/11.
So, then, it is safe to conclude that the agitation around the nuclear plant is motivated dissent and that India is being held to ransom by a small but powerful group. Also, the amount of Rs 50 crore-plus going to the NGOs opposing the plant is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg.

Lobbying is an acceptable form of business in the developed West. In many countries it is normal for lobbyists to interact directly with policymakers. Lobbying happens in India as well, but it is not officially acknowledged.
Every sphere of life has some good, bad and ugly aspects and the same applies to NGOs. In July 2011, there were news reports that Indian NGOs had received Rs 42,200 crores from foreign donors in the last five years. This is more than what the Central government had spent on the world’s largest social security scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, in 2009-10.
Donations to NGOs can be made under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Currently, the home ministry website lists over 42,000 NGOs who have FCRA clearance. I have no doubt that a majority of NGOs are doing excellent work, but we need to look very closely at those who agitate on issues that impact our national security.
The Prime Minister’s Office is now directly monitoring the Koodankulam situation. Some hard decisions will be taken, including, I hope, a thorough audit of the funds that Indian NGOs receive.
The entire political system (three wings of governance) is under scrutiny. Financial audits of Team Anna and Baba Ramdev are being done. Why should it be any different for NGOs and religious organisations?
We have a crisis situation looming on power generation. Almost every project is being delayed on one pretext or the other. I wonder what the ministers of atomic energy, power, coal and the officials at the Planning Commission have been doing for the past two years?
It was the courage and foresight of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who braved international pressure and sanctions and gave her approval for nuclear tests in 1974. Many may not remember the gunboat diplomacy deployed by US President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger when they dispatched the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal to frighten India.
Four decades ago our national security was threatened. Today, energy and food security are critical for our growth. Should we be surprised that nuclear plants and thermal and hydro power projects are being targeted?

In the first week of March, after a flurry of poll surveys where everyone will claim to be an expert, the results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election will clear the air.
The reality is that the public is always ahead of the politicians and the only definite factor I can see is anti-incumbency. This applies to all states going to polls this year.
In Punjab and Uttarakhand, I predict a win for the Congress. In Punjab, I see Amarinder Singh and the Congress winning 62-65 of the 117 seats. In Uttarakhand, the Congress should win 30-35 seats in the 70-member House.
In Uttar Pradesh, I will be surprised if Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav do not get a near majority on their own, with close to 200 seats. Mayawati and the BSP will be a distant second with 100 seats and the Congress is most likely to pip the BJP to third place.
March will be a volatile month as everyone will interpret trends in their favour. But I doubt if any of it will be valid in 2014.

The writer is a former Union minister

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