TCS Daily

Bollywood Confidential

By Madhu Kishwar - January 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Editor's Note: This article is the first installment of a two-part report from the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India. Part Two may be found here.

Part I. No to trade, yes to aid

Aid-guzzling NGOs warn us of evils of globalization. The mammoth gathering of the Anti-Globalization Brigade (AGB) in Mumbai reminds me of a similar spectacle of self-deception in the form of a Swadeshi Mela organized at the capital's Pragati Maidan some years ago by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) -- an offshoot of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. This was one of SJM's ways of making a case against integrating India into the world economy by showcasing the supposed superiority of India's indigenous industrial sector. As one entered the exhibition venue, one was greeted with Bisleri and Pepsi kiosks -- both products of multinational soft drink giants. The bulk of the stalls at the Mela were a lackluster display of several loss-making public-sector undertakings which had been coerced into participating and paying exorbitant fees for putting up their stalls. The only pitiful proof of India's swadeshi industrial might were pathetic little stalls selling pickles, herbal shampoos, snacks and spices made by housewives looking for a side income and, of course, handmade textiles and other crafts made by our impoverished artisans.

One was left wondering: is this all the weaponry we have to take on the might of the industrial West? A furniture company took the pride of place in the center of the big hall. It had displayed the most garish furniture -- a cheap imitation of western sofas and dining tables of the kind you would see on the film set of a D-grade Bollywood film, depicting the lifestyles of underworld dons. The furniture company had a prominent board in the midst of red and purple velveted sofas which proudly proclaimed: "Made with 100 percent Imported Materials!"

There is something similarly comic about the AGBs warning us about the evils of globalization despite their own politics being altogether dependent on international aid money. Most of the NGOs who have organized events at the World Social Forum could as well advertise their NGOs as being "run with 100 percent imported money." The AGBs believe that the government should prevent the entry of foreign capital in India. Here, an ethical issue is involved. If they think bringing in western money and intellectual know-how is so harmful, they ought to start their campaign by refusing to accept grants for their political work from donor agencies of various "imperialist" countries. Or do they believe that the foreign donations that come to them are holy but money that comes in as investment is evil? Is it because a good part of foreign aid money gets routed through them whereas the money that would enter our country as business investment would bypass the NGOs altogether, that they prefer foreign aid to foreign trade?

How can we allow our economy to be run by the dictates of those whose own small organizations are not economically independent, whose livelihood comes from cashing-in on India's poverty abroad, peddling the misery of the Indian people? Any self-respecting Indian would prefer we do business with foreigners as equal partners than appear before them as groveling supplicants as do many of our NGOs. Those who seriously oppose the inflow of foreign investments in India ought to set an example by resolving in Mumbai that: a) They will not take consultancies with foreign aid organizations; b) They will not write books for foreign publishers; c) They will write textbooks only for Indian readers and publish only with desi publishers rather than for "imperialist" West's intellectual markets; d) They will run their NGOs only with local resources; e) They will not take teaching or research assignments in foreign universities; f) They will not participate in global networks financed by international donor agencies of "imperialist" countries to fight local causes; g) They will not issue press releases to international news channels about local issues and struggles in India.

If the government were to impose similar restrictions on its receiving foreign money as it would like to impose on lesser mortals in the industrial sector and the farm sector, our NGOs would go screaming all over the world that their democratic rights and civil liberties were being violated. They want a jet-setting globalized politics for themselves but a closed-door economy for Indian farmers and industry.

Last year's announcement by the finance minister that the government will no longer accept any "tied aid" has caused a great deal of panic among our aid-dependent NGOs. Harsh Sethi, an old hand on NGO politics, articulated their concerns in a revealing article entitled "What Price Hubris" in The Hindu last June. Sethi admitted that "whatever the humanitarian impulse behind giving aid, it is difficult to deny that it comes at a price, tied in myriad ways to the interests of the donor country." And yet for him the ambition to make India move out of aid dependence is mere "grandiose" posturing for which he can barely hide his derision.

Clearly, there are many in the NGO sector who want us to continue presenting ourselves before the world as beggars requiring endless doses of foreign aid rather than aspire to become active participants in the world economy. They have no problem in being tied to the apron strings of international donor agencies, but do not trust Indians to benefit from partnership in world trade. Their policy of "No to trade, Yes to aid" explains the real worth of their politics.

The author is a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. She is also founding editor of Manushi, a bimonthly journal of development and gender. This article is an excerpt from her new book Deepening democracy: Challenges of governance and globalization, soon to be published by the Oxford University Press, New Delhi.


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