The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is conducting raids at the home and office of rights activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander. According to The Wire the raids began at 8:00 am on Friday, February 2 at his New Delhi home in Vasant Kunj and his office at Adhchini and are still ongoing. A children’s home in Mehrauli founded by Mander is also reportedly being searched.
The raids appear to be in connection with the violation of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) allegations against him. Last year in June, the Union Home Ministry suspended the FCRA licence of the think tank Centre for Equity Studies (CES), co-founded by Mander. The ministry had claimed at the time that CES was in violation of FCRA regulations. According to Scroll, the CBI’s February 2 raids are due to a fresh case of FCRA violations registered against the activist.
Mander has been a well-known voice in critiquing communalism in India and the Hindutva activities of the Union government. Two days prior to the raids, Mander had spoken on the topic ‘Resurrecting Gandhi’ on the death anniversary of MK Gandhi. The activist had spoken on the YouTube channel of the campaign for hate crime survivors founded by him called Karwan e Mohabbat (Caravan of Love). Mander is also a member of the National Advisory Council–a Union government body set up during the UPA regime.
In 2021, Mander wrote a book on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Union government’s handling of the crisis titled Locking Down the Poor: The Pandemic and India’s Moral Centre. The year before, Karwan e Mohabat and the Delhi Research Group had jointly produced a report called Labouring Lives: Hunger and Despair Amid Lockdown. The Home Ministry's 2023 order suspending CES’ licence, had alleged that Mander had used the think tank's foreign contributions to publish reports written by non-FCRA associations.
Criticism has been pouring in against the present raids on Mander and similar such searches in the homes of those critical of the Union Government. Many have pointed out that central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED), National Investigative Agency (NIA) or the CBI and others are being used to target dissenters and Opposition leaders. Earlier, on January 30, Hemant Soren was arrested by the ED based on allegations of a land scam and was forced to resign as Jharkhand's chief minister. Soren had been strident in his stance that the Sarna religion followed by several Adivasi communities is not part of Hinduism, but is a form of nature worship practised by indigenous communities.