The Ford Foundation and India

I return to my journal after a long hiatus of over a year and a half in which I was very busy in the field and also doing some research to understand the problems that the poor in my country face. Why is it that despite so much effort the poor still remain oppressed. Researching into this I came across literature on the role of the Ford Foundation and the USA Government in the immediate post World War II era in preventing true emancipation of the poor in India. The fear of the spread of communism from China to India led both to advocate rural development without radical social change. Here is a note that I have written based on an article by Sunil Babu – THE FORD FOUNDATION AND INDIA The young Henry Ford II reshaped the Ford Foundation in 1945. Earlier there were three members as the trustees of the Foundation. Ford resolved to broaden the board and gave a new shape and direction to the institution with the concern being national and international policy work instead of just local philanthropy. Thereafter from 1948, Henry Ford II began to scale up the Foundation’s work nationally. Mr. Rowan Gaither was the first person who took responsibility to find out the possibility of scaling. According to his report he suggested that America’s main policy goals should be to remove poverty, disease and racial conflict as these conditions produce unrest and social instability. He was more concerned about the spread of the communist movement in the World. He said that such miserable conditions of the masses contribute to the spread of communism. The Foundation worked on the basis of his report in the following decades. When India got freedom in 1947 the Ford Foundation was not an International organisation. A massive change had come in world politics after the Second World War. The breakdown of the European colonial powers gave the USA an opportunity to consolidate its hegemony and make it permanent. On 20th January 1949 President Harry S Truman declared South Asia as an under developed area and launched the era of development. He advanced the idea of development as a strategy for the USA to lead the world. This was the political context in which the Ford Foundation entered South Asia. Ford Foundation’s Staff was recruited from high government, business and academic positions for easy interchange of ideas between the Foundation and high level American government officials, academicians and business figures. The Foundation was organised for its operations to keep in touch with leading American figures and government officials for their advice on international operations. The Foundation selected countries such as India and Pakistan for its wider international role. India was a newly Independent poor country and it lacked financial support for its development programmes. Thus, this country which was on the rim of China could get affected by communism. Ford Foundation staff discussed the possibility of a long term, well financed and wide ranging programme of rural development with the US State Department and the Government of India. Finally it got the permission to enter India and its staff visited various development projects under way in India including the Etawah rural development project in Uttar Pradesh. This visit was to provide a vision for South Asia’s future development, the appropriate American policy in India and the Foundation’s role. More than $55 million of American aid was given to India. A joint programme was signed on 4th January 1955. This programme was launched on Gandhi’s birth day on 2nd October 1955. It was clear that the Ford Foundation and the American Governmnet funded the Indian government not for their commitment to the Indian people but to reduce the spread of communism in South Asia. The Ford Foundation sponsored not only the community development programme (CDP) but also sociological research on rural areas called Village Studies in India and this became a new tradition in Indian sociology. The Ford Foundation rushed to implement the programme and foreign representatives of the Foundation kept a direct watch on all villages. Thus, the exact picture and policy goals could as a result be drawn from the project. Most of the village studies were in the Structural-Functionalist framework with rich descriptions about the villages of India. The village studies in different areas had given the clear-cut picture of Indian villages that was essential for the Ford Foundation and the USA. Village studies provided an idea of what actually was going on in different villages. This picture helped the US to assess the possibilities of the development of the communist movement in India. The USA realised that the South Asian villages could become a cradle of communism and revolution could occur with the help of the Chinese. The agenda of the Ford Foundation and the USA, therefore, was to resist the spread of communism in Asia because they were thinking that India is an ideal place where they have to work for resisting communism. Structural-Functionalism is not simply a theoretical frame work, but also has a methodological and ideological character which had been the most accepted methodology for sociologists in the USA. As it is well known the functionalist theories of the sociologist Talcott Parsons, which flourished in American sociology in the post World War era papered over class differences and stratification of society as major causes of conflict and oppression. Those who did the village studies based on structural functionalism became popular in India and abroad. Thus, totally ignoring the deep stratification and the resulting oppression of the poor in rural areas and advocating rural development without addressing these deep inequalities and injustices. The Ford Foundation, therefore, had funded the village studies and community development programme to further the American agenda of stalling peasants revolts in South Asia because India is on the rim of China and could have been affected by communism. The consequence is that even today the vast majority of the masses in rural South Asia still remain oppressed by deep class and caste based inequalities and injustices.

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