New Delhi (IANS) After a donation from the Chinese government and allegations of links with CAIFC, a Chinese body that the US branded as an intelligence gathering front of China, questions are now being raised about the mismatch between the financial freedom Rajiv Gandhi Foundation enjoyed and the help it has extended.
"Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is like a shell company floated by the Gandhi family to extort money from anyone who needs political protection, countries seeking preferential trade agreements to exploit Indian markets like the Chinese or simply to siphon off millions of taxpayers' money as donations from various PSUs and ministries. The work they claim to do is nothing but a facade to legitimise this brazen loot. It is nothing but an arrangement to enrich the Gandhis," alleged BJP's national social media chief Amit Malviya while speaking to IANS.
While that remains a political allegation, has there indeed a stark disproportion between the foundation's monetary clout and the work it did?
To begin with, there is an international scholarship called Rajiv Gandhi Cambridge Scholarship, to Indian students keen to study in the prestigious British university. Started in 2014 and 2015, it has supported seven candidates so far, on its own. For the first two years, the scholarship cost was shared between RGF and the Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust (CCE).
It also runs the Rajiv Gandhi Access to Opportunities (RGATO). Started way back in 1992, so far, it seems to have supported just a little above 2,900 people. "The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation believes that the increased mobility of a physically challenged person greatly enhances their access to education and employment. Based on this belief, the Foundation launched the Rajiv Gandhi Access to Opportunities (RGATO) programme in 1992," claims the RGF website. However, in this programme's 18 years of existence, just "more than 2,900" seem to have been benefited.
Another programme that the RGF has advertised on its website under the "livelihood" section is that of "Natural Resource Management". "As a response to recurring drought, increasing water scarcity and depleting ground water aquifers, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation initiated its natural resource management (NRM) programme in November 2001," it reads. However, it jumps to 2011, a decade after it was launched, to talk about how the Foundation promoted Gram Gaurav to take forward its NRM work.
Either there is no mention of work for the first 10 years of the programme or there wasn't any significant work done to mention, in the first place. "Since 2012, the project has impacted 1,760 families through the construction of over 500 structures," claims the RGF website. It also says, that as a result of it's work, around 900 women in the project area have been organised into self-help groups.
Meanwhile, there is a "schools program"e" that has a "coming soon" link and its "Memories and Archives of Rajiv Gandhi (MARG)", is a public gallery which appears to be just personal memorabilia. It was inaugurated by interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last year and has around 31,000 photographs, 2,300 audio tapes, 500 video tapes, 1475 spool tapes of Rajiv Gandhi's alone. The photos displayed are "of Rajiv's life early life, family, professional career as pilot, entry into politics as a Member of Parliament, then as Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition".
The BJP's objection seems to stem from the fact there is a perceived mismatch between the financial clout of the Foundation and the number of beneficiaries. According to its last available balance sheet from the financial year 2018-19, the Foundation had an "unutilised grant balance" of more than Rs 36 lakh. It had a corpus fund of Rs 1,008,818,584, according to the last balance sheet.
But the Congress dismisses the BJP's allegations. Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid told IANS that "its one thing to make an allegation like the BJP does and other to prove. The work done by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is outstanding. Its sad that despite doing so much good, the BJP attacks us for political gains".
These set of new allegations by the BJP comes in the wake of a slew of charges against the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation that ranges from receiving funds from the Chinese government, PM's National Relief Fund or the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies' (RGICS) association with the CAIFC.
On Saturday, BJP President J.P. Nadda himself raised the various issues relating to the foundation, calling the funding a "sin". Nadda asked 10 questions to Sonia Gandhi, which ended with a query about absconding bank scam accused Mehul Choksi's alleged link to the foundation.