IDRF Supporters Dispute Charges, Critics Unimpressed

By Ashfaque Swapan

India West, January 10, 2003 website

Supporters of the India Development and Relief Fund have announced "an outpouring of spontaneous support from well- wishers of India from all walks of life and from all across the globe" following charges by critics that the U .S.-based non- profit has been misleading donors with its apolitical facade while furthering the agenda of the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar in India.

IDRF's critics remain unimpressed, saying in a press release that the response "does not in any way counter the arguments of the report and campaign. Instead, (supporters) to dismiss the authors by calling them names."

The "Stop Hatred and Let India Develop" campaign ( said in a press release that their campaign in support of IDRF has already received over 5,000 signatures.

“This campaign was started in direct response to an organized hate movement initiated by Mumbai-based Sabrang Communications Private Limited, the worldwide Forum of Indian Leftists, France-based South Asia Citizens' Web and California-based Friends of South Asia," the press release added.

"The 91-page report of Sabrang/ FOIL is a masterpiece of manipulation of facts and arguments by assertion," Ramesh Rao, a Missouri-based college professor, told India West. "The thrust of the report is that the IDRF has funded RSS-affiliated social work programs, and by association, IDRF is an RSS supporter, and in turn therefore supports hate.

"We do not agree that RSS is a hate organization, but we are not holding a brief for RSS here. Polemics on whether RSS is a 'hate organization' are totally irrelevant and an intentionally obfuscatory device of hate campaign against IDRF.

"Our statement is simple IDRF is an apolitical social welfare organization with an admirable track record of funding non-sectarian services."

UCLA historian Vinay Lal, a spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Funding the Hate ( scoffs at the rebuttal by IDRF supporters. 'The supposition that the authors of the report are spreading hate is astounding, and entirely un- imaginative, since the accusation of fomenting hate is merely turned upon them," he said.

"The authors of the report have nowhere suggested that they do not wish to see India develop; nor are they counseling hatred towards anyone. Yet their particular argument, namely that IDRF has become a conduit for funneling money to organizations affiliated to the RSS or to other Hindutva organizations, is deliberately misrepresented as an argument against the development of India. IDRF's defenders deploy precisely the same strategies that the Bush administration is using to denigrate civil libertarians - tarnishing dissenters as traitorous, anti-national, and so on. Let us not forget that the assassin of Gandhi, and his mends, supporters and patrons similarly represented the Mahatma as a friend of Muslims and of Pakistan."

IDRF supporters point to several factual errors in the critique of its activities. The report categorizes Miraj Medical Center as RSS-affiliated, but it is actually affiliated with the Church of North India, their press release says. The report also describes Maharashtra-based Jnana Pra- bodhini as RSS-affiliated, but the
IDRF supporting press release argues that "this fine institution is also funded by the Government of India, industry, and welfare organizations including Asha and AID in the U.S."

In a press release, the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate acknowledged that its characterization of Miraj Medical Center was mistaken.

"We thank Mr. Rao and the LID volunteers for pointing this error out because without knowing, they have helped our case immensely," the release said. "The Miraj Medical Center account is a Donor Directed Fund and NOT an IDRF grant recipient as the LID release claims." The press release added that their argument that IDRF sends funds under its control to RSS-affiliated organizations still stands, because support for the medical center fell beyond that criterion.

As for the Jnan Prabodhini, the CSFH said that just because other non-sectarian organizations support a group does not mean the organization is not RSS-affiliated. "It is critical to note that they have not denied that Jnana Prabodhini is an RSS outfit," their release said. "If they do want it to be out of the 83 percent (of RSS-related projects) then they should be able to prove that it is not an RSS operation. Their inability to do so can be explained very simply. It is indeed an RSS organization. The organization was launched and headed by an RSS worker, V. V. Pendse."

Meanwhile, IDRF supporters take issue with a petition by South Asian academics criticizing its role(I-W,Dec.13)."Drubbed by popular opinion, Sabrang/ FOIL/FOSA now reveals its contempt for democracy and the Indian American community," their press release said. "Their Web site brags the support of some 'South Asia academics.' We respectfully submit that one does not require a Ph.D. in South Asia Studies to read the Sabrang/FOIL/SACW report and form their own informed judgment regarding the report's claims and motivations."

Since IDRF supporters are dismissing critics as leftists with an axe to grind, India-West asked Ramesh Rao how he explained the fact that U .S.. corporations like Oracle and Cisco had discontinued matching funds and several mainstream American academics had agreed with the critique.

"Both of the above questions are really best directed to the persons/corporate entities that you cite," he replied. "There are more than 4,000 faculty of Indian origin teaching in the U.S. I know from speaking to them that there are many who are skeptical of the Sabrang report, some undecided about it, and a few who have rejected it completely." He added that over 200 academics had signed petitions supporting IDRF.

However, UCLA historian Vinay Lal, a critic of IDRF, says it is significant that IDRF had been criticized by "300 faculty presently working in American universities, who together account for the bulk of the faculty working in South Asian history in the U.S."

Rao, on the other hand, expressed confidence that IDRF, on the other hand, ex- pressed confidence that IDRF will emerge stronger from the controversy.

"We trust that U.S. corporations and Indian Americans can see what we see: that someone who calls the Miraj Medical Center an RSS-affiliate, just to manufacture data to support their false conclusion, is simply expressing blind prejudice and bigotry, whatever their education, title or rank," he said.

The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate is unconvinced. "Mr. Rao's LID release does not in any way counter the arguments of the report and the Campaign," its press release says. "Instead, Mr. Rao seeks to dismiss the authors by calling them names. Calling the authors of the report 'left-anarchist-fundamentalist' cannot be a substitute for substance. . .Our call to all readers is once again simple -'Let us join hands and stop the funding of hate'."

Box Quote 1: “Our statements is simple – IDRF is an apolitical social welfare organization with admirable track record of funding non-sectarian services.” -- IDRF supporter Ramesh Rao

Box Quote 2: “The authors of the report have nowhere suggested that they do not wish to see India develop; nor are they counseling hatred towards anyone.” -- Vinay Lal of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate.