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Opinion | Congress must come clean on its relationship with Chinese government over donations taken

Nadda tweeted to say: “PMNRF, meant to help people in distress, was donating money to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in UPA years. Who sat on the PMNRF board? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Who chairs RGF? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Totally reprehensible, disregarding ethics, processes and not bothering about transparency,” 

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: June 27, 2020 9:45 IST
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The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, set up in 1991 after the death of the former Prime Minister, is headed by interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It has on its board of trustees, Rahul Gandhi, former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, P. Chidambaram and several other Congress leaders and family loyalists. The purpose of this Foundation was to work on issues like literacy, health, disability, upliftment of underprivileged and natural resource management.

 
This Foundation has now hit the news headlines for all the wrong reasons. BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda on Friday alleged that the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, headed by then PM Dr. Manmohan Singh donated money in 2005 to this Foundation. 
 
Nadda tweeted to say: “PMNRF, meant to help people in distress, was donating money to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in UPA years. Who sat on the PMNRF board? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Who chairs RGF? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Totally reprehensible, disregarding ethics, processes and not bothering about transparency,” 
 
The BJP President further alleged: “People of India donated their hard-earned money to PMNRF to help their fellow citizens in need. To divert this public money into a family-run foundation is not only a brazen fraud but also a big betrayal of the people of India. ..One family’s hunger for wealth has cost the nation immensely. If only they have devoted their energies towards a more constructive agenda. The Congress’ Imperial Dynasty needs to apologise to the unchecked loot for self-gains!” 
 
Late in the evening, the Congress Party spokesman in a statement replied: “Pursuant to the unprecedented tsunami in the last week of 2004, RGF received a modest amount of Rs 20 lakhs from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund in the financial year 2005, which was duly utilized to undertake relief activities in Andaman & Nicobar Islands.”
 
On media reports about the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation accepting donations from the Embassy of China and the Chinese government, the Congress party replied: “…a 2005 grant of Rs. 1.45 crores (was) received from the Embassy of China to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation for the purpose (1) Disabled Persons Welfare Program and (2) research on Sino-India relationships”.  
 
The Congress Party alleged that the Prime Minister and BJP President “ have unleashed diabolical disinformation, distraction and diversion from the real issue of Chinese incursion..”
 
The Congress party statement conceals more than it reveals. According to some estimates, the donation from the Chinese government and Embassy of China to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and Rajiv Gandhi institute for Contemporary Studies (a think tank under RGF) was to the tune of $2 million between 2004 and 2006 and $9 million between 2006 and 2013.
 
And now, look how the Congress was manipulating public opinion in favour of a Free Trade Agreement with China way back in 2009 in lieu of these donations. 
 
According to a news agency IANS report, in April 2009,  an RGICS Fellow Mohammad Saqib carried out a feasibility study, ''India-China: Free Trade Agreement (FTA)'', in association with Purnachandra Rao. 

The main objective of the study was “to gain a better understanding of an FTA between India and China”, analyse various trade issues and identify who would stand to gain and lose from such an agreement. The report concluded that China would be the greater beneficiary in all trade dimensions because of the efficiency of its economy.

The study concluded that "… both governments should decide to enter into FTA negotiations. The proposed FTA between India and China will be feasible, desirable and mutually beneficial. An FTA between India and China should also be comprehensive, with a free flow of goods, services, investments and capital," said the study.

Again in June 2010, another study was done by the RGICS. This study also proposed that an FTA between India and China would help bilateral economic relations, and that the free flow of goods, services, investments and capital would in fact benefit India's trade sector more than China's.

Critics of the Congress are asking whether there is some connection between the donations to the RGF, the Congress party think-tank lobbying for an FTA with China, and allowing the trade deficit to jump 33 times between 2003-04 and 2013-14.

In addition, questions are being posed if this donation to RGF has any connection with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Congress and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2008. There are demands that it is time that the Congress party comes clean on the MoU it signed with the CCP.

There are also demands that Congress should make a full disclosure of its relations with CCP and on the contents of the MoU as this is essential in the national interest. The Congress is the largest opposition party in India and it has governments in several states, either singly or in alliance with other parties. 

Critics point out that curiously, India's trade deficit with China starts to balloon thereafter. Overall trade deficit with China increased 33 times, that is, from $1.1 billion in 2003-04 to $36.2 billion in 2013-14, under the UPA rule.

The question also arises over conflict of interests. How could an NGO, headed by a person who wielded unbridled power during ten years of UPA rule, took donations from the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, and also from her own party’s government through national relief fund, and also took donations from eleven public sector undertakings and seven ministries? Was it all a cosy arrangement during UPA rule to fill the family coffers?
 
There are media reports over how the UPA government was in a hurry to close the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) deal, in 2011 from which China would have benefited immensely, but the Modi government, in the national interest, decided to withdraw from RCEP last year.
 
BJP leaders are now asking whether Rajiv Gandhi Foundation was so much short of funds that it had to take a donation from the national relief fund, managed by the Prime Minister to grant relief to individuals and groups during natural calamities and major mishaps.
 
The matter does not end here. In 1991, when Dr Manmohan Singh was finance minister in Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s government, he had announced Rs 100 crore grant to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in his first budget speech in Parliament, to be given Rs 20 crore annually over a period of five years.  Due to strong objections from the opposition, the RGF however declined to accept and said that the government should itself invest the funds in suitable projects.

Congress leaders must come clean about the party’s relationship with the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party. Already, the Chinese media is misusing remarks made by Congress leaders over the LAC situation in order to create confusion. At a time when all the opposition parties stand united behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  why is the Congress trying to queer the pitch, and that too, at a time of national crisis?

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