Swati Chaturvedi was my colleague at the Indian Express. She is now with thewire.in w here she recently wrote a very well-researched article on India Foundation, a think-tank associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. It is run by Shaurya Doval, son of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, easily the most powerful man in the ruling establishment after Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Junior Doval gave some clarifications and challenged those who question the bona fides of the Foundation to challenge it in a court of law. Chaturvedi has in a subsequent article pointed out that Doval’s explanation raised more questions than the ones he sought to answer.
She found out that four Union ministers — defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu, and two ministers of state – Jayant Sinha (civil aviation) and M.J. Akbar (external affairs) — and Ram Madhav, BJP’s powerful secretary who pontificates on Kashmir these days, are directors of the Foundation.
Shaurya Doval, its Managing Director, has a day job running Gemini Financial Services (GFS), a firm that specialises in transactions and capital flows between the OECD and the emerging Asian economies”. The “GFS’s chairman is Prince Mishaal Bin Abdullah Bin Turki Bin Abdullaziz Al-Saud, a member of the Saudi ruling family and son of Prince Abdullah bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud”.
The question raised by Chaturvedi was the conflict of interest involved in Union ministers running a Foundation which has dubious sources of income. To a series of questions she asked the worthies mentioned, she got only silence as an answer.
She writes, “To get a sense of how unusual the silence is in the face of potential conflicts of interest, assume for a moment Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra as the partner of a financial services firm connected to a Saudi prince signing up India’s defence minister and commerce minister as directors of his think-tank and then holding a series of events paid for by companies whose names are not made public”.
Till the time of writing this column, none of the ministers has thought it necessary to explain why there was no conflict of interest in associating with a Foundation that seeks to influence government policies and receives funds from companies like Boeing which would like to get government contracts. In fact, the Foundation stands against everything that Modi promised to usher in, transparency being one.
Today the Foundation’s swanky office on Hailey Road in Lutyen’s Delhi may be the most happening place but there was a time just a few years ago when it operated from a flat in Dwarka in west Delhi. I was once invited by the Foundation to deliver a lecture in Chandigarh on infiltration across the borders, particularly in the Northeast. The person who invited me on behalf of the Foundation was former Punjab Police chief PC Dogra, who later commanded the Border Security Force.
In my speech I argued that the story of civilisation was the story of migration. I spoke about the arrival of the Aryans and their settlement on the banks of the Indus. It was against the Sangh Parivar’s thesis about the origin of Hinduism. I also mentioned that those who spoke against illegal migration from Bangladesh were the ones who queued up before Western embassies in Delhi for permanent visas.
I punctured the theory that the Bangladeshis were inundating Assam by pointing out that in terms of female literacy, infant and mothers mortality, health care etc, Bangladesh was more developed than Assam. It was illogical that people from a more developed country would want to move to a less developed state. If at all there was illegal migration, the border authorities like the BSF were to blame.
The speech did not go well with the organisers as was clear when I interacted with them over a cup of tea afterwards. In fact, one of them — a retired Army officer — told me bluntly that he wished I were more nationalistic like BG Varghese. I told him that I was too small a fry to be compared to the late Editor who was busy those days as the unofficial spokesman of then Defence Minister George Fernandes.
I did not try to find out who ran the Foundation. A few years later, a friend in Bhubaneswar sent me a copy of the book Harvest of Hate: Kandhmal in Crossfire written by Michael Parker and published by India Foundation. When I saw the title, I knew it was plagiarised because I had a copy of the book Harvest of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege jointly authored by Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu with guest articles by Arundhati Roy and Harsh Mander.
It claimed that the author was a Seattle-based US anthropologist. When I began reading the book I realised that it was of doubtful origin. I did not find any trace of scholarship in the book whose only motive was to link the murder of Swami Laxmanananda on August 23, 2008, with the Christian community and justify the pogrom that followed in which 300 churches and 6000 homes were destroyed rendering 60,000 homeless.
The book had many pictures of the Swami and the toilet in which he was shot with bullet marks on the walls. The scene was familiar to me as I had taken photographs of the toilet in question. The book was out and out an attempt to fabricate evidence that the Christians were killers and rapists who were out to destroy the religion of the natives. It even quoted a Church Minutes to show that the church committee had decided to kill the Swamiji.
It was probably the first time in the world that the Managing Committee of a church sat together, decided to kill a person and minute the decision in the Minutes Book. Only an “American anthropologist” could have relied on such evidence. He even quoted obscure dialects without giving translation to argue that the Christians of Kandhamal were a dangerous entity who needed to be disciplined, if not eliminated. I could not read it in full as I realised that it was written by a Parivar fellow, who sought a fictitious foreign name to establish credibility.
My search on the Internet about Michael Parker revealed little and I gave up my attempt. My friend Anto Akkara is of a different disposition. I know him for at least a quarter of a century. I was Assistant Editor with the Hindustan Times in Delhi when he approached me with a story. I helped him to get it published in the paper.
One thing I noticed in him was the passion with which he did the story. I could see passion in his eyes when he spoke about the subject. I realised that he had all the potential to become a good reporter. Soon he meandered into what can be called Christian journalism. He wrote for Christian journalistic organisations on Christian subjects. Sometimes he would contact me to get a quote on a developing story.
He covered the Maramon Convention with as much passion as he followed Pope John Paul II, now a Saint, on his visit to India. He was all over South Asia reporting tsunamis and earthquakes, again, for Christian news organisations. His nose for news took him all over the Indian subcontinent.
There comes a time in the life of every person when an incident or a series of incidents change the course of his or her life. It is like how Ayodhya and its aftermath jolted the people who believed until then that India’s secularism was beyond breach. The murder of Swami Laxmanananda was one such incident in the district of Kandhamal. It also changed the life of Anto.
As was his wont, he got immersed in the reporting of Kandhamal. He was stunned by the faith of the poor people who refused to be cowed down by the foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar. They would suffer any indignity or even loss of life but they would not renounce their faith, nor take up arms against the perpetrators of violence. He began documenting their bravery in the style of a classist in the form of articles, pamphlets and books.
Unlike many journalists like me who move from one subject to another as the exigencies arise, Anto made Kandhamal his raison d’être. I do not know how many times he has visited the district, which is not easy to access. Each time he comes across some piece of evidence that the anti-Christian campaign was orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar.
Anto is convinced that the seven tribals, six of them illiterate, who were “convicted” for murdering the Swami are innocent. He has been using the weapon of prayer to get them released. In the process, he has also been exposing the fraudulent manner in which the charges were foisted on the illiterates like in the case of the Ryan International School murder where an innocent bus cleaner was arrested while trying to save the actual killer by the Haryana Police.
When providence has its way, journalists stumble across valuable information that can take the lid off a cover-up. That is how Anto wrote his latest book titled Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda? with a Foreword by Kuldip Nayar (Veritas India Books, Pages 280, Price Rs 300). He has succeeded in smashing to smithereens the claim that the murder was the result of a Christian conspiracy.
I have travelled extensively in the area and I know how the likes of Praveen Togadia used Swami’s body to incite passions and attack thousands of Christians, their places of worship, houses and establishments. Significantly, there was no violence in the place where the Swami was killed while most of the looting and killing happened along the circuitous route through which the body was taken for its final resting place.
This busted the theory that the anti-Christian violence was the spontaneous reaction to the killing of the Swami. What attracted me the most in the book was the chapter entitled “India Foundation - the Truth Factory”. It cleared many of the doubts I had about Michael Parker and his book. It was Providence which helped Anto uncover the truth about the book. On a visit to Kerala, Ram Madhav, one of the Directors of the Foundation, gave a set books and CDs to a Catholic bishop, who knew Anto.
As the Bishop had no use for such books, he called Anto and gifted them to him. He learnt to his horror that another book titled “Orissa in the Crossfire: Kandhamal Burning” was the same book authored by Michael Parker. The new author was Brannon Parker. How could two authors write the same book and publish it under different titles when the publisher was the same India Foundation?
As publisher of the book, Nirmala Sitharaman, who is now the Defence Minister, wrote in the book, “As part of understanding the violence of Kandhamal, Mr Parker travelled to Orissa and spent several months studying and researching the issue in totality”.
She described Michael Parker as “An American social researcher based in Seattle”. In the next sentence, she also declared that “As one born in India, Mr Parker had great interest in the social dynamics of the country”. However, the profile of Michael Parker that is printed on the concluding page of the book gave a different account: “Michael Parker was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in 1967”.
Anto met Rajaram Sathapathy, the Times of India correspondent whom Brannon Parker interviewed. He flatly denied meeting anyone by that name. Anto’s research led to the startling finding that the publisher’s address that the book carried — Flat No. 343, Chandanwadi Society, Sector 10, Dwarka, New Delhi — belonged to the present National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. In short, the fraudulent book was published by Doval in the full knowledge and with the full support of the present Defence Minister.
For want of space, I do not want to give more details of the dubiousness indulged in by India Foundation in getting the same book published under different titles by two authors with the same surname Parker. Anto is convinced that the book was part of the orchestrated pogrom that Kandhamal witnessed.
In history Jospeh Goebelles, Hitler’s propaganda minister, was the one who perfected the art of telling the big lie.
To quote him, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.
“It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
That is what India Foundation has been doing all along. The tragedy is that the brains behind it like Nirmala Sitharaman are Today the ones who decide the country’s policies!
NB: Along with the book, the journalist author is anchoring an online petition demanding the release of the seven innocents convicts at www.release7innocents.com. Each online signature generates instant emails to the Chief Justice of India, President of India and the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
(Published on 20th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 47)