The Congress on Saturday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to dismiss four Union ministers who are directors in India Foundation, an NGO run by National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya, calling it a case of conflict of interest, which comes under the ambit of office of profit.
Citing a report on the website The Wire, the party said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu, Ministers of State Jayant Sinha (civil aviation) and M J Akbar (external affairs), besides BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, are among the directors of the NGO. The BJP did not officially react.
Shaurya Doval, the director of the NGO, called the report “without basis”, “speculative”, and intended to “insinuate wrong-doing where there is none”. He said the “directors concerned have been associated with India Foundation long before they became Ministers or even Members of Parliament”.
The Congress also sought a preliminary inquiry by the CBI to ascertain whether provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) have been violated. The party questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue and said the ministers should resign as MPs and fight elections afresh.
Addressing the media at the Congress headquarters here, senior party leader Kapil Sibal said, “How can these ministers be directors? It is a direct conflict of interest — not only direct conflict of interest; they must be taking benefits of their position as directors. So this itself may well be an office of profit.” Sibal recalled that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had resigned as MP after an office of profit allegation arose against her when she became chairperson of the National Advisory Council. “She was not a minister, but they (BJP) created a ruckus in Parliament,” Sibal said.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that a Code of Ethical Conduct for Council of Ministers has been “in force for decades that prohibits external directorships”. He pointed out that ministers in the UPA government had to resign from charitable and non-profit boards. “Curious that Ministers received permission to serve as Directors,” Tharoor tweeted.
On Ram Madhav’s presence as a director of the Foundation, Sibal said, “Section 3 of The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 says…no foreign contribution shall be accepted by any political party or office-bearer thereof. Ram Madhav is an office-bearer — he is general secretary of the BJP. How can he be a director in India Foundation? It is a violation. It will result in prosecution and imprisonment.”
Stating that India Foundation “is in complete compliance with all statutory requirements, and activities of the Foundation, which are public and transparent, faithfully adhere to its charter,” Shaurya Doval said in a statement put up on the India Foundation’s website: “It (report) strikes a maleficent tone without any basis other than surmise. The India Foundation deplores the surmises and innuendos used to attack its legacy, reputation and credibility.”
Doval said think-tanks which provide a platform for the exchange and evolution of ideas play an important role in democracy. He said lobbying was not, and has never been, a part of its agenda. “Lobbying, which has been the bane of this country, is the kind undertaken in the shadows and back rooms and not in public forums,” he said
Doval also said no funding has ever been received by the Foundation from any overseas private corporation or individual.