Regulatory steps taken by the Indian government against NGO’s have opened the Modi administration to international criticism, specifically by the US Ambassador to India Richard Verma. New Delhi had suspended the registration of Greenpeace India and put the Ford Foundation on a security watch list, ordering government approval of any of its activities in India. Greenpeace had had its bank accounts frozen and been accused of violating the law and underreporting funds it received from abroad. That the NGO had “prejudicially affected the public interest” and “prejudicially affected the economic interest of the state.” The Ford Foundation is being cracked down on for supporting a group called the Sabrang Trust, which used the Ford money in part to hold meetings and workshops on religious violence, including the deadly sectarian riots that shook Gujarat in 2002.

This is hardly surprising. From Hinduvta to forced conversions, the Modi machinery has been trying to get rid of any dissenting opinion or activity. The Home Affairs Ministry has cancelled the registrations of nearly 9,000 Indian NGOs, saying they had not filed mandatory annual returns. For many this amount to a blatant crackdown on diversity and freedom of opinion, but the Home Ministry it can easily be framed as a matter of national security. But, unlike here at home, these are not charity groups that hand out guns to new recruits and manufacture suicide vests. This is about BJP security rather than national security. Many groups and development activities are supported by international donors. While the government shuts down activities that criticise it, it will also stifle contributions to economic development and empowerment.

When Modi came to power, it was on the basis of his soft image and the confidence that people had in him to uplift the economy. This soft image is fading fast. A lot of what has happened in India is about perceptions. The mere expectation of an economic boom caused one to actually take place, encouraging more investment and more spending. But with economic regulation becoming tougher, the image of India will change. It is important for the BJP to look market friendly, and not just for hard investment but for donors and NGOs as well. The system is interlinked. Civil society groups are outraged. New Delhi’s move to restrict the movement of foreign funding to local charities is an attempt to stifle voices that oppose Modi’s model of economic development. The problem is that governments (ours included) don’t realise that if they were doing it right, there would be no need for dissenting voices anyway.