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The Left's own 'foreign links'!

George Iype | September 29, 2004

India's Planning Commission is in the eye of a controversy on the inclusion of foreign consultants in some of the consultative and advisory groups on key areas that include industry, agriculture, labour, education, communication and employment.

Five economists, nominated by the Left parties into the various consultative groups of the Planning Commission have threatened to resign, if the foreign consultants are not immediately withdrawn.

The deadlock in the country's apex policy making body may be resolved after Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia speaks discusses the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a day or two.

Already, taken aback by the Left parties' attack, some representatives of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and officials of foreign consultancy firms have offered to withdraw their advisory services to the commission.

The foreign consultancy firms in the commission include McKinsey & Co. and the Boston Consultant Group.

The five Left economists in the various advisory, working and consultative committees are Jayati Ghosh, C P Chandrashekhar, T M Thomas Isaac, Prabhat Patnaik and Utsa Patnaik.

In a letter to Ahluwalia, they have charged that taking the consultancy services from the World Bank and the ADB are wrong because they are controlled by foreign states.

"The US Administration routinely uses the threat of withholding World Bank loans as a means of putting political pressure on foreign governments," the letter said.

It charged that firms like McKinsey has been getting consultancy contracts across the world because they enjoy the patronage of the US Administration and other developed countries.

Interestingly, the Left tirade against the Planning Commission that foreign countries and companies are allowed to make inroads into India's planning process is also beginning to expose the 'foreign links' of some of these Left economists.

One of them is T M Thomas Isaac, who served as Kerala's Planning Commission member for five years from 1999 to 2001 during the Left Democratic Front's rule headed by the late chief minister E K Nayanar.

Isaac headed one of the biggest village-level local decentralisation plan implementation called the People's Plan Campaign.

The campaign was a grassroots economic development initiative that the Communist Party of India Marxist-led government implemented in Kerala during 1996-2001.

But in the last two years, Isaac has been under fire from a section of Marxist leaders in Kerala who charged that the programme was at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency and the World Bank 'to derail the Kerala economy.'

Fellow Marxists alleged that Isaac planned the unique People's Plan Campaign with the active help of Richard W Franke, economist and Professor of Anthropology at the Montclair State University in the United States.

They also charged that Isaac, in the company of Franke, was trying to implement the World Bank's agenda of decentralisation in Kerala on the basis of the bank's own Development Report on Third World countries.

Thomas argued that his decentralization programme in Kerala was different from the World Bank programme and that there was nothing wrong in getting foreign advise in shaping any local planning and development programmes.

Now, forced by the Left parties' collective decision to oppose the foreign consultants in the Planning Commission, Isaac has obliged. He was, however, unavailable for comments.

Similarly, two other Left economists Jayati Ghosh and C P Chandrasekhar are founding members of the International Development Economics Associates, set up in New Delhi with the generous funding and help from the Ford Foundation in the US.

IDEA claims to be a pluralist network of progressive economists across the world, seeking to undertake and promote a range of activities including research, teaching, dissemination and application of critical analyses of economic policy and development.

IDEA, formally registered in London, was established in September 2001, following a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on 'Rethinking Development Economics' organised with the support of Ford Foundation.

Left leaders are continuing to protest against the inclusion of World Bank and ADB representatives in the Planning Commission. But they have so far kept quite on their own economists' continuing active links with foreign consultants and donor agencies.

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