The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has got into limelight for wrong reasons having received a Rs 50 lakh donation from an NGO run by controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, who has been accused of radicalising youths, but the money has been returned.
According to officials of Union Home Ministry, which have put Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation under ‘Prior Category list’, the NGO had given donations to an allied entity of RGF called Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) in 2011 which engages in promoting girl education and providing money to needy for meeting hospital expenses.
The RGCT, a registered, not-for-profit organisation, was established in 2002 to address the development needs of the underprivileged of the country, especially the rural poor. It works in the poorest regions of Uttar Pradesh, one of the least developed states in the country, and Haryana.
Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) spokesperson Aarif Malik said the money had been given to the NGO RGCT, which was also registered under the FCRA in 2011, and it was returned in July this year after a terror attack in a Dhaka restaurant. “We have received the money back in July this year for reasons best known to the NGO. However, my point is that why has this NGO singled out. We gave money to other NGOs also,” Malik said.
He accused the government of having “pre-decided notion” of “banning the organisation after they failed to gather even a shred of evidence” during months of investigation in late 2014 which continued till early 2015. “I have a simple question. Was there anything wrong in giving donations?” he asked.
The IRF, NGO run by Salafist preacher Naik, is embroiled in a controversy because of allegations that he was inciting youth for terror. The IRF spokesman said that a thorough probe was conducted earlier after the new government took over but they could not find any evidence against it. “I wonder why our FCRA licence was renewed in August 2016? It is because the officials, who have since been suspended by the Government, went by the rule book and not under external and extraneous pressures,” he said.
The Home Ministry had suspended Joint Secretary G K Dwivedi, who was heading the foreigners division which deals with the FCRA related issues, and three other officials for renewal of the licence of IRF. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi has owned up the donation but claimed it was unsolicited and a one-off affair.
Singhvi emphasised that the donation preceded IRF’s embroilment in allegations of terror and forced conversions, adding Naik’s NGO was not on the watchlist at the time. “It (donation) was discovered by chance when the recent events happened… and some months ago, a remittance was made,” Singhvi was quoted as saying.
Organisations like IRF registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act are allowed to transfer money they receive from abroad to other FCRA approved bodies. Both RGF and RGCT have FCRA licence. Naik has come under the scanner of the security agencies after Bangladeshi newspaper ‘Daily Star’ had reported that one of the attackers of the July 1 terror strike in Dhaka, Rohan Imtiaz, ran a propaganda on Facebook last year quoting Naik. Naik, in a lecture aired on Peace TV, an international Islamic channel, had reportedly “urged all Muslims to be terrorists”.
The popular but controversial Islamic orator and founder of Mumbai-based IRF is banned in the UK and Canada for his hate speeches aimed against other religions. He is among 16 banned Islamic scholars in Malaysia. He is popular in Bangladesh through his Peace TV, which has been banned after the Dhaka attack.