The Centre has quietly launched a drive to sensitise government institutions about the activities of what it calls “subversive” non-profit organisations (NGOs) operating in the country. Top sources in the government said this move is being implemented on the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and is based on a two-pronged strategy — to “counter those working against the nation’s interest and protect the ones empowering the public and addressing social problems”.
Modi, who had first raised concerns about certain NGOs in 2018, is learnt to have told senior officers that if “suspicious foreign entities are investing money in vulnerable NGOs, then it should not be considered as charity but investment for other purposes which should be properly examined by the institutions and authorities”.
The prime minister is understood to have conveyed to top officers, “If the money is being pumped in for a social cause and nation-building, then there is nothing wrong. But if it is used by civil society to further the cause of foreign powers and subvert democratic institutions, then there is a serious danger. This is a new kind of challenge and we must be ready to face it.”
A senior official privy to the development told Firstpost that officials are treating the challenges posed by these NGOs as “fourth generation warfare”, as he termed it. He further said the “ulterior motive of foreign powers” investing huge sums in certain NGOs and nudging them to take up politically-sensitive activities remains invisible, unless the patterns are carefully scrutinised by the authorities.
The government directive said Pakistan’s ISI is “targeting civil society groups and using a variety of tools to trigger socio-economic fault-line and communal tension (sic)”.
“The states need to extend scrutiny to the village level to find out those NGOs who are working among the poor and are at the same time involved in conversion. It is difficult to know whether religious conversion taking place in various states with the help of NGOs is done through offering money, or whether such conversions are matters of faith. The beneficiary may not inform the District Collector, and may even deny that payments were made to him or her by the group when questioned. State authorities have been tasked to create awareness and also prepare reports on the ongoing religious conversion for further examination by the central government,” sources said, adding that at least 14 NGOs in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and a few others in Goa, Manipur, West Bengal, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh are under the scanner for their involvement in conversion and propagating a particular religious ideology.
Former CBI director Vijay Shankar said that there has to be strict regulation on funds flowing to these NGOs from abroad, because it is a very sensitive matter and many western countries, after 9/11, have changed their domestic rules to monitor funding as well as activities of non-profit groups.
Former Intelligence Bureau chief DC Pathak told Firstpost that the government needs to be vigilant about charity organisations in case funds are being utilised for activities other than their defined ones. He said, “We have seen earlier that NGOs were used to take up certain causes, and that is why the government and authorities need to be very cautious about scrutinising their activities, like many other foreign powers are. There has to be a clear policy of categorising those doing good work on the ground and some who might have other motives. Government authorities should develop a mechanism to strictly check such activities.”
Sources added, “We have come across some propaganda materials related to certain groups…which is basically full of deception and lies to mislead marginalised sections. They have also become active on social media platforms, and use seminars, conferences and public meetings to achieve their objectives. Authorities in the states have been told to evolve a mechanism to deal with such groups within the legal framework.”
Prakash Misra, former Special Secretary (Internal Security), Ministry of Home Affairs told Firstpost that many NGOs operating in southern states and tribal areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha had come under the scanner a few years ago for triggering communal disharmony, and even supporting Naxalite movements. Misra said strict auditing of funds of these NGOs is vital to safeguard government institutions.
“There were also instances where money was used for religious activities to create disturbances. The authorities should have an appropriate structure to deal with any deviation by civil society groups strictly,” Misra said.