Richard Verma
Richard Verma

Please Understand, NGOs not Anti-govt: US to India

Highlighting the role of civil society in boosting the democratic traditions, United States Ambassador to India Richard Verma voiced concern at the recent regulatory steps focussed on NGOs.

At an interaction on “The Foundation of the US-India ‘Strategic Plus’ Partnership” hosted by the Ananta Aspen Centre, an Indian public policy institution, Ambassador Richard Verma said, "I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India. I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focussed on NGOs. Whether it is by changing laws or policies, challenging them in court, or by strengthening their enforcement, those that act peacefully to seek change are not anti-government. They are for better government. By seeking to improve government, they strengthen national security, not weaken it."

In a crackdown on NGOs receiving foreign funds, the government last month had cancelled licences of nearly 9,000 such entities for violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

Emphasising that the India-US 'Strategic-Plus' partnership had been re-energised by the recent visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US and President Barack Obama to India, Ambassador Richard Verma remarked: "I think it is fair to say the bilateral relationship is stronger and more vibrant than it has ever been. The recent visits of Prime Minister Modi to the United States and President Obama to India have re-energised a partnership that has been growing steadily for at least the last 15 years or so, even if for one reason or another, it wasn't always growing as fast as it could. But one of the outcomes of the recent visits was also the recognition that our relationship is no longer solely about our strategic interests. It is also about the trade, academic, scientific, and other unofficial ties that underlie the broad popular and political support the relationship enjoys in both India and the United States. I call this enhanced relationship our Strategic-Plus partnership," said US Ambassador Verma.

Ambassador Richard Verma said that during his tenure he hoped to find ‘many areas of agreement and forward progress’ with his official and unofficial friends, ‘but I also know there will be times when we disagree, and I look forward to those conversations too’.

"It is a suggestion that our democratic traditions are strengthened when we use discussion and debate to improve. Therefore, we can build resilience in our bilateral relationship by having frank discussions on all matters of shared concern, including the importance of civil society and free expression to the promotion of a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable future," he said.

“India and the US are now engaging on more than seventy initiatives, everything from space to vaccines, including launching a civil nuclear contact group; restarting the trade policy forum to address intellectual property and food security issues; signing Memoranda of Cooperation on Smart Cities and Transportation; and hosting the bilateral India-US Technology Summit,” Ambassador Verma added.

Ambassador Richard Verma is a former Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs. From 2009-2011, he served as a Principal Advisor to Secretary Clinton. He led the State Department's budget and policy efforts on Capitol Hill, handled more than 200 Senate confirmations, and managed several major congressional investigations. Earlier in his career, Mr Verma served in the Senate as the Senior National Security Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Mr Verma served on active duty in the US Air Force from 1994 to 1998. He received his LL.M. with distinction from Georgetown University Law Center, and his J.D. cum laude from American University's Washington College of Law. He holds a B.S. from Lehigh University.

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