After Greenpeace, it was Amnesty International's turn to face Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids on Thursday for allegedly accepting foreign funding through illegal means. The human rights watchdog was quick to identify a link between the two crackdowns and the government's "attempts to silence critics".
"This sort of action, trying to shut down Greenpeace and Amnesty within days of one another, doesn't lead one to any other conclusion. I think this is an action in concert. I think this is aimed at something specific... the shutting down of free and open voices," Amnesty's Akaar Patel told NDTV.
The ED said it searched Amnesty's Bengaluru offices because the NGO allegedly received Rs 36 crore in foreign funding through a commercial route, a charge that the latter denies. As was the case with Greenpeace, Amnesty's bank accounts have been frozen.
Greenpeace's offices in Bengaluru were raided earlier this month. "This is an assault on the constitution. This is an assault on democracy itself, because it is in civil society that democracy is nurtured. This attack on Amnesty follows a similar one on Greenpeace earlier, and our bank accounts are also frozen. This has to stop," Greenpeace India Executive Director Kshithij Urs told NDTV.
The Congress also viewed it as a political move, and alleged that the country's investigation agencies were being compromised. Party councillor Rizwan Arshad said Amnesty was targeted because it championed human rights and raised its voice against the "high-handedness" of the BJP government. "As a first step, the government plugged aid from foreign institutions. Even today, they have not explained why funding was stopped. And now they have been raided by the ED. Today, the ED, the CBI and the Intelligence Bureau have no business except protecting the government's interests," he added.
The battle-lines seem clearly drawn. While the authorities say they are investigating financial irregularities, the NGOs term it as an attack on dissenting voices.
The Narendra Modi-led government has increased surveillance on many non-profit groups over the last four years, cancelling or suspending licences on charges such as misreporting of donations.
In 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs put the New York-based Ford Foundation on a watchlist and suspended environmental campaigner Greenpeace's licence under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Last year, the government banned foreign funding for the Public Health Foundation of India, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saying it used foreign donations to "lobby" for tobacco-control policy issues, "which is prohibited under existing regulations".
(With inputs from Reuters)