Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 24 April 2023

UN Democracy Fund

Source: By Nirupama Subramanian: The Indian Express

India and the US were prime movers behind the UN Democracy Fund in 2005, when they were negotiating the civilian nuclear co-operation deal. As Joint Secretary (Americas) at the time, S Jaishankar was a lead negotiator.

That India, a founding member of UNDEF, has no objections to the Fund giving grants to NGOs funded by George Soros, while he is put on the watchlist in India underlines a contradiction that’s not new.

The imperatives of the Modi government’s high table diplomacy and its domestic political ideology diverge noticeably, requiring Delhi to deploy a soft touch in the former while playing hardball at home for domestic audiences. This was evident during the Nupur Sharma blasphemy row last year. In UNDEF, India shares more common ground with Soros than it would care to admit.

Multiple Wikileaks US cables from the early 2000s reveal that a crucial part of the India-US conversation at the time revolved around how the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy could collaborate to spread democratic ideals across the world.

During Prime Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US in July 2005, when he and US President George Bush announced the India-US framework agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, they also announced the US-India Global Democracy Initiative, and support to the UN Democracy Fund that had been set up a couple of months earlier with an inaugural contribution of $ 10 million each.

At the World Summit during the UN General Assembly in September 2005, Bush and Singh co-sponsored a fund-raising event for UNDEF. At the summit, 170 heads of state agreed to work together for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Democracy was seen as essential to this. The UNDEF was part of the World Summit’s outcome document.

India gave $5 million to the fund in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. No contribution was made in 2007 and 2010. The contributions began dipping from 2012. That year the contribution was $4.71 m. The following year it was $1.85 million.

From 2014, India slashed its funding. That year, and in 2015 it was $200,000; in 2016, it was a mere $50,000. No contribution was made in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, India was back with $100,000. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, it gave $150,000.

Each year, UNDEF solicits and receives upto 3,000 proposals from NGOs around the world. An Advisory Board considers these proposals, and recommends proposals for approval by the Secretary General. Between 30 to 50 are chosen every year. In 15 Rounds of Funding so far, UNDEF has supported over 880 two-year projects in more than 130 countries, according to the Fund’s website.

The Advisory Board, constituted by the Secretary General, includes eight largest Member State contributors and six other states to reflect diverse geographical representation, including one “small island” and developing states. It also has two individual members, and two CSOs.

India has been a member of the Board since the beginning. Among the two CSOs that serve on the board currently are CIVICUS and Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network. OSF gave grants to CIVICUS annually from 2016 to 2021, except in 2019.

Headquartered in Johannesburg, CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations. The group, which monitors “civic space” across the world, has rated India as “repressed” on civic freedoms since 2019, including in its latest report released last month.