(by Ashfaque Swapan, March 7, 2003.)
Five authors representing a group called "Friends of India" has published a detailed report of over 200 pages which its authors say is a "thorough rebuttal" to "a vicious and well organized attack" upon the India Development and Relief Fund.
As reported earlier in India West, The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, a loose coalition of expatriate Indians, released a report in November last year which accused the Maryland based IDRF of deceptive practices by calling itself apolitical while being a front for the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella term used to describe Hindu nationalists including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The report, entitled "The Foreign Exchange of Hate," was produced by Mumbai based Sabrang Communications and France-based South Asia Citizens Web. The report led some major U.S. corporations including Oracle and Sun Microsystems to put a hold on corporate matching donations for its employees and received wide media coverage, including articles in mainstream U.S. ewspapers and the London Financial Times.
"RSS-affiliated charities in the U.S. and Britain deny any links with sectarian projects in India. Yet their own data, and interviews with their counterparts in India, provide good reason to suspect they are part of the family ," wrote the Financial Times Feb. 20, following its own investigation where it said IDRF was part of this operation.
The authors of the latest report dismiss the anti-IDRF campaign, particularly the "Foreign Exchange of Hate" report. "We find that the (anti IDRF) report presents no evidence that IDRF does anything other that what it advertises," the authors say in their executive summary "IDRF funds socio economic development projects. These are specific projects with the scope and funding of each specifically approved by the Government of India."
IDRF activist Mukund Kute lauded the new pro IDRF report. "(This is the) first time ever someone tried to read through the Sabrang (anti-IDRF) report, study the allegations, and come back to IDRF and ask questions to us and write their independent opinion about it," he told India West.
"Most of the reporters have tried to work like a postman, get some questions from here, ask the questions to the others, go back to the other side and get their reaction, rather than doing some research themselves about the finer point of the report."
Many of IDRF’s critics are unimpressed. "After spending the last Three months claiming that the report, 'A Foreign Exchange of Hate’, which exposed the links that the IDRF has to the Sangh Parivar, is wrong, IDRF now not only acknowledges the links (and goes on to defend the RSS for 'doing good work'), but attempts to conceal this by aggressive posturing of independence and factuality," The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate said in a press release.
Ramesh Rao, a Missouri based communications professor, is one of the authors of the pro IDRF report, and he defends the RSS. "We do make it clear that the demonization of the RSS is very much a campaign," he told India West. "The RSS happens to be one of the world's largest non governmental organizations."
The report that Rao coauthored also lauds the role of RSS. "The first public act of the RSS was at the 1926 Ranmavami festival at Ramtek near Nagpur, where they helped regulates queues for worshipers ... The discipline and the organizations of the RSS cadre have helped the 'parivar' render service to the Indian society and nation both during ordinary times and when struck by natural calamities."
Rao himself is a contributor to IDRF and said the anti-IDRF report was not only a "hatchet job" by leftists but also marked by sloppy investigation.
Many organizations that the anti-IDRF report claimed were affiliated with the RSS are not with the RSS at all, he said. He gave the example of the Bangalore-based National Educational Society, which receives support from the IDRF Its director, Dr. Narasimhaiah, is a former principal of National College and a Gandhian, he said.
In any case, IDRF’s Kute said IDRF is not officially affiliated with the RSS. "As far as IDRF is concerned, since we are not related with RSS, we don't take any directions from them, we have no comments," he told India West.
IDRF critics scoff at such comments as a ruse. The Campaign to Stop Funding the Hate quotes from the IDRF supporters' report in its press release: "The RSS is not registered as an organization. However, the various trusts, which in turn actually manage the activities carried out under the name of the RSS, are registered."
The press release then asks: 'Men, does not giving money to the 'various trusts' which engage in the 'actual activities' of the RSS amount to giving money to the RSS? Why is the IDRF engaging in such sophistry? If the RSS is indeed such a peerless organization, as they would now like us to believe, why spend all this time trying to deny the relationship? "Having admitted on all counts that it is an RSS operation, IDRF now has no choice left but to defend the RSS on grounds of doing service."
Meanwhile, Ramesh Rao, one of the authors of the pro-IDRF report, took to task the 200-plus academics who signed a petition against IDRF. Signatories to this petition included some of the most distinguished South Asia studies academics, both South Asian and mainstream, from top U.S. universities including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Columbia and Stanford.
He said there is a bias against the RSS on U.S. campuses. "How many dissertations or books have you seen that is in any way sympathetic to the RSS? The support of 200-plus academics is the (result of a) kind of bandwagon appeal," he said. "The RSS is a demonized organization. The South Asia experts would not like to be seen as unfashionable or politically incorrect. "Look at any South Asia program in the country and you will not find -- forget about professors -- one graduate student writing anything supportive of the RSS."
IDRF activist Mukund Kute said his organization would survive this setback. "As far as money collection and morale is concerned, we are not at all affected," he said. "The only effect is that the (anti-IDRF) Sabrang people have succeeded in distracting our attention from a genuine charity and then fighting out these malicious charges. So there is tremendous damage to the charitable cause to Indian Americans, and there is tremendous damage to the cause of poor people of India, because our valuable time, which we would have used for administering the projects in India and raising funds, that time has been diverted to fighting these allegations.
"The Indian American community is very accustomed to facing sensational charges for a few days and the truth coming out slowly. We are very sure that this is a temporary phase, and once we are through with this malicious propaganda we would be able to resume our charitable work with renewed vigor, with more volunteers and more money."
Interested readers can view the full text of the report "A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund" at the following Web site: www.idrf.org. The "Foreign Exchange of Hate" report can be viewed at the following Web site: www.stopfundinghate.org