What is this article about?
A Washington DC based non-profit organization called International Foundation for Electoral Systems, gave rise to a FCRA-NGO called Women Power Connect in New Delhi, more than a decade ago. The latter lobbied/lobbies for specific laws in India with Parliamentarians.
What is this article not about?
- It is not about the debate on entry of women devotees into the Shani Shingnapur Devasthana.
- It is also not about whether reservation for women in legislative bodies is required or not.
During 2004-2014, several rights based laws were enacted in our Nation. As this original story on Indiafacts demonstrated, some of them, like the RTE and the CPCR Acts have foreign funded NGOs guarding their implementation as well. In the current article, we shall examine the role of foreign funding for lobbying towards the establishment of 33% reservation for women in all elected bodies. The article examines this process through an illustrative example, Women Power Connect.
Headquartered in Delhi, Women Power Connect (WPC) is a network of Women’s organizations across India. WPC is also a FCRA-NGO, i.e., one which has a registration to receive foreign funding via the FCRA mechanism. Its primary foreign donor in its initial years (see A.1) was the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which in turn was funded for this project by USAID, an Agency of the US Federal Government.
The genesis of WPC was in a meeting organized on 31 October 2004 in Jaipur (one of the six held across the country that year), with the theme, “Women and Legislative Coordination” . Ms. Girija Vyas, former Union Cabinet Minister, Dr. Ranjana Kumari and Ms. Terry Ann Rogers, Adviser and the then India Program Manager to International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) were some of the chief speakers in the meeting. In that meeting, Ms. Vyas is reported to have said “Women belong to one caste irrespective of the fact whether they are beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, from villages or cities.”
WPC was established in a manner similar to business associations in order to influence the decisions in Parliament and the Government for women’s causes. It was formally established in February 2005.
Its goals were:
- 33% reservation for women in Parliament
- Adoption of domestic violence bill
- Advocating for gender-just budgeting
In the words of Dr. Ranjana Kumari, President of Women Power Connect , the work of WPC consists of “women lobbyists working in the Parliament, with Parliamentarians, with Ministers to push for Women’s agenda” .
To reiterate: The role of IFES cannot be divorced from the establishment of the lobby group, WPC.
Not just IFES. An organization called European Women’s Lobby too was deeply involved in shepherding WPC. From the India Women’s Legal Rights Initiative (2003-2008) Report of IFES (funded by USAID), , we quote:
“In September 2005, three members of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) came to India from Brussels to provide lobby training for 35 members of the WPC Governing Body, staff and committee members. The lobby training took place over 2 1/2 days and included strategic planning on each of the three WPC priority issues. Participants trained by EWL immediately began serving as trainers at regional meetings designed to build WPC state chapters.”
One may wonder why such foreign organizations to “promote” democracy would be needed in inarguably the world’s largest democracy, i.e., our Nation. Do we not have an independent Election Commission? Do we not have bicameral legislatures? Do we not have a three-tier representation via free and fair elections?
All these are in our modern times. Digging far into the past, haven’t the inscriptions in Uthiramerur near Kancheepuram told us about local elections in the ninth century Chozha Kingdom? Thus, India certainly does not require IFES’ largesse dedicated to extending democracy. Why are we allowing them?
When the US Government contributes substantially to IFES (see A.2), which in turn incubates the birth of Women Power Connect, New Delhi, nourishes it via FCRA, and which in turn lobbies in our Parliament and legislatures (see A.3), who is writing the laws which govern us? We repeat this question endlessly. What is sovereignty?
Situation in the US
Notwithstanding the fact that India is in no way comparable to the US, it may be a good exercise to compare foreign funding laws in both the countries, given that funds to lobby for the new Gender laws in India originate from the US Federal Government. The US does not have a sectarian law like the RTE. The US does not have 33% reservation for women in elected bodies etc. either.
However, the US has two wonderful laws to oversee the inflow of foreign funds which might influence its public opinion, policy and laws. These are the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). These Acts demand that every Foreign Agent disclose their “Agent-ness” in every one of their information material (propaganda etc.). The rough equivalent of FARA in India is the FCRA. Unfortunately, FCRA does not have as stringent provisions as FARA. Furthermore, there is no equivalent of LDA in India.
In fact, the word “lobbying” (for new laws) appears neither in FCRA-2010 nor in FCRR-2011. Of course, FCRA forbids foreign funding to political parties and FCRR specifies guidelines for declaring an organization (which is not registered as a political party) to be of political nature. Clause 3(v) which deals with this matter states:
“organisation of farmers, workers, students, youth based on caste, community, religion, language or otherwise, which is not directly aligned to any political party, but whose objectives, as stated in the Memorandum of Association, or activities gathered through other material evidence, incude steps towards advancement of political interests of such groups”
Whether this clause is applicable to organizations such as WPC which lobby for gender specific laws, funded by and on behalf of foreign entities is a question that needs to be pondered upon by right thinking Indians.
In this article, we saw the example of Women Power Connect whose purpose is to lobby our Parliamentarians. It owes its origin to the Washington DC organization, IFES, funded by USAID. Although FCRA prohibits foreign funding to political parties, its language as far as advocacy and lobbying are concerned is vague. Thus, memes originating from outside our Nation are planted within our populace and polity, lubricated liberally by funds routed via FCRA. It is hoped that the Government of India in general and fellow citizens in particular wake up to this reality.
Funding to IFES
A whopping 80% of IFES’ total revenue of $68 million in 2013 came via US Government grants, as seen from its Form-990 (EIN=52-1527835) below.
A.3. US State Department document on WPC
US State Department document itself mentions that “US assembled a coalition of women’s groups, WPC to advocate in the Indian Parliament”  as seen from the screenshot displayed below:
- Foreign NGOs fund the advocacy of RTE in India – An Indiafacts Research Report. URL
- Women Power Connect URL
- Management of Non-Governmental Organizations: Towards a Developed Civil Society, by J.M. Ovasdi, Macmillan Press, Pages 163-164. (2006). (ISBN: 1403928681)
- LinkedIn Profile of Dr. Ranjana Kumari; Also Director, Centre for Social Research-Delhi
- Women Power Connect, Organization Structure URL
- IFES documentary on WPC-2005. Youtube Video (0:18)
- India Women’s Legal Rights Initiative (2003-2008) Report of IFES. URL
- Tribune news item on WPC training in Chandigarh URL
- Foreign Agents Registration Act. URL
- Lobbying Disclosure Act. URL
- Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act-2010. URL
- Foreign Contribution Regulatory Rules-2011. URL
- Form-990 of IFES. URL
- Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004 – 2005, Page 231. URL