By Ishani Panda
As tensions between India and China have come to an end when the Chinese troops moved a kilometre back from their previous position along the line of actual control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, a political slugfest has erupted between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress over the appropriateness of accepting funding from the Chinese before the standoff and the fights emerged between India and China.
While the BJP has alleged that donations were made to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) by the Chinese government in 2005-06, the Congress Party has hit back by claiming that the PM CARES Fund, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project for COVID-19 relief, accepted multiple donations from Chinese companies.
Donations accepted by the RGF are a matter of public record – which shows that the Foundation did indeed receive the money from Beijing, and even other governments for research studies – but there is less clarity about what companies have given money to the PM CARES Fund, which is yet to disclose a list of all donations received.
This is because the functioning of the PM CARES Fund has been largely opaque since it was set up, with its controlling authorities only recently disclosing a few operational details.
Set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an aim to collect funds for fighting the Coronavirus pandemic, the PM CARES Fund received huge donations from several Chinese companies just ahead of the conflict at the LAC between China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Indian armed forces.
According to an analysis of news reports published in sections of the media, these donations range from Rs 1 crore to Rs 30 crore. For example, Tik Tok – a Chinese video-sharing social networking service that has been at the receiving end of the call to boycott Chinese goods and services – has donated Rs 30 crore to the PM CARES Fund.
Similarly, Xiaomi, a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer which commands nearly 29 per cent of the Indian mobile market, donated Rs 10 crore to the fund.
Chinese networking and telecom giant Huawei has also pledged money to the PM CARES Fund and a few state relief funds. In the past, multiple different reports have highlighted Huawei’s links to the Chinese state in general and with the People’s Liberation Army in particular.
The Congress Party has alleged that another Chinese smartphone maker, Oppo, which shares the same parent company like OnePlus, had donated to the PM CARES Fund.
However, media reports on March 29 indicated that the company had donated Rs 1 crore to the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) as part of its effort to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the pledged announcements were made in April 2020, a few weeks before the first signs of military tension between China and India entered the public domain. On May 5, there was a clash between Indian and Chinese patrols on the northern bank of Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake.
But even before that, there were growing feelings of resentment against China over its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, parts of which were echoed by the BJP’s online support base in India.
Notably, with an aim to attract donations, the Modi government has also announced income tax exemptions to the donors under Section 80 G of the Income-tax Act 1961. However, the total opacity regarding the functions of the PM Care Funds is being maintained.
“PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of PM CARES Fund may be seen on the Website pmcares.gov.in,” the PMO replied tersely in response to an RTI. A petition has also been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking to declare PM CARES Fund as a “public authority”. The next hearing of the case is scheduled for August 28.