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Communal forces, not civil society, manipulate, says Medha Patkar

IC Correspondent IC Correspondent
29 Nov 2021
An interview with Activist Medha Patkar on the recent statement of NSA Ajit Doval

National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s theory about 'fourth generation warfare' undermines Constitution, has evoked mixed reactions from civil society activists. While some justified it saying that few NGOs, especially those getting foreign funds, have indulged in anti-national activities others rejected the theory saying it will do great harm to the nation’s security.

Several activists have come out to oppose the NSA remarks that civil society is the new frontier of war and it is the responsibility of police to protect people from being subverted, divided and manipulated. In his address during the Passing out Parade at the Hyderabad-based Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, Doval said, “People are most important. The new frontiers of war … is the civil society. War itself has ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable.”

Indian Currents Correspondent spoke to noted social activist Medha Patkar who disagreed with the NSA’s remarks. On the contrary, she charged that communal forces are manipulating things for their vested interest. “Unconstitutional, violent ways and means are being used not by activists but by those having political interests to win over new vote bank”, she said. Patkar said that Doval’s remarks are nothing but an attempt to crush dissent and added that it was an assault on democracy. She urged new police officers to follow the principles of integrity, honesty, and impartiality and safeguard the values of the Constitution.
Known chiefly for her work with people displaced by the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP), a large-scale plan to dam the Narmada and its tributaries in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, Patkar is an advocate of human rights. She founded her campaigns on two basic tenets in the Constitution: the right to life and to livelihood. 

Q: National Security Advisor Ajit Doval wants his officers to be at war with civil society activists. He says the new frontier of war, called the 4th generation of warfare, is represented by the civil society. 

A: It is a clear message to the new police cadre that they should protect the rulers and not the people, by challenging the dissent with force.  Even today, police use various means to crush dissent and assault those who challenge the establishment through democratic and non-violent means. Bhima Koregaon case is an example for us. In that case civil society activists were targeted and put behind bars without any evidence. I hope new police personnel would follow constitutional values and democratic means to protect people. I appeal to the new police cadre to follow the path charted out in the Constitution and be humane in their approach. 

Q: Kindly explain ‘suppressing the voice of dissent’…

A:  It means that deprived sections of the society will not be allowed to be represented because civil society includes everyone. The war referred by him is against the warriors who represent the deprived sections of the society. It should be condemned.

Q: The global trend shows that civil society is at the receiving end. Be it Russia, China or Hong Kong.

A:  That’s true. Unfortunately, it is happening in India also. Democracy is being crushed by all means. The political interference in the working of democratic institutions is rampant. Heads of democratic institutions are not being allowed to have an impartial viewpoint.  I disagree with Mr Doval when he says that civil society can be manipulated. On the contrary, manipulation is being done by communal forces. Unconstitutional and violent ways and means are not being used by activists but by those having political interests who are using other means to woo new vote bank. 

Q: There are allegations against NGOs, especially foreign funded ones, that they collect sensitive information through local NGOs, pass it on to the funding agencies which share it with their respective governments. Then these governments adopt various means to stall developmental projects in India to protect their own interest.  Kudankulum agitation of 2012 happened during the regime of UPA-II. 

A: NGOization has certainly brought an impact on the social movements like Narmada Bachao Andolan in terms of providing data and information to outsiders which was not done deliberately. Knowingly or unknowingly if NGOs are misusing foreign funds, the government should review it. There is no proof that confirms manipulations.  

It is certain that foreign input or guidance has changed the priority against mass action or mobilisation. That is an area of deep concern. Our movement did not receive any foreign fund support. Localisation is more important than globalisation or collecting funds from foreign bodies. Foreign funding has no commitment to the local cause. 

The present dispensation or Ajit Doval has no moral right to question civil societies on foreign funding as they themselves are hugely funded from foreign countries. Not all NGO activities can be painted as anti-nationals. The government has picked up this point to take control over NGOs and not on parties. Political parties are also getting funds from foreign countries. What about them? 

Q: Is it more of a fight between left liberal and right liberal?

A: Left viewpoint is not acceptable to the present government. Rightist viewpoint is creating an assault on the democracy. Caste, religion, and gender are being used by undemocratic forces to influence the vote bank. Any other perspective is not acceptable to them. So, they are not liberal at all. 

Q: In 2014, an Intelligence Bureau report said: “The concerted effort by select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian developmental projects” names Seven Protest Movements, as significant Anti-Developmental Activities. The report was commissioned by the previous UPA government, and had been submitted to the new government. Narmada Bachao Andolan was in the list.

A: The present government is challenging mass-based organisations besides those active on social media or on papers. Many NGOs are under surveillance. They have been facing several challenges.  Prior to 2014, NGOs had democratic space to work for the voiceless but after 2014, the space got shrunk. There is an open attack on NGOs as several activists are in jail. The rulers are opposing all those ideas which go against undemocratic means. That is why they are challenging all forms of NGOs including trade unions and labour unions as the latter are challenging the government. We have to push ourselves forward because mass movements are protecting the state in the best possible way. In Parliament, there is no scope for raising the question in the question hour. It is people’s politics which matters today. That’s why many party-related fronts like that of farmers and labourers are getting associated with people’s politics. The government is promoting corporate social responsibility and not community social responsibility. Legal protection is not easily available to all of us. Earlier, democratic space was available for dialogue to find a solution which is not available now. That is an assault on democracy.

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