A south Indian newspaper, no doubt tipped off by an interested party, has nevertheless performed a sterling public service by bringing to light the manner in which the ruling UPA dispensation is subordinating national planning and financial policy to western, particularly American, corporate interests.
Allied with this exposure is the concern that many thinking citizens have had about the mindlessness with which India is following the western practice of permitting ?fixer? professionals to mix government and private office in a most transparent manner. This is part of a larger trend whereby fixed tenure careers in both government and private sector are being discouraged in favour of contract postings that make individuals and whole social groups excessively dependent on so-called market forces, or in other words, make them vulnerable to invisible but powerful pressures.
Sometime ago, the Deccan Chronicle newspaper sought information under the Right to Information Act about the number of official foreign trips made by Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia since he became Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. It also asked for information about his personal trips, the places visited and the number of days per trip. Finally, the newspaper demanded to know which international organisations Mr. Ahluwalia is associated with as member of a committee, board or member of an advisory committee; who funds his foreign trips, and the expenses incurred on each trip (Deccan Chronicle, February 4, 2007).
These seemingly innocuous questions elicited an amazing response, and it is my personal belief that the direction of enquiry suggests that some sections of India Inc. are having serious doubts about the manner in which India has moved from ?liberalisation? to ?globalisation,? without thought to its consequences for the Indian people as a whole, and even for Indian business interests specifically.
It now transpires that the Deputy Chairman of India'sPlanning Commission, the chief planner of the Indian economy, holds two posts in US-based organisations. One is with the World Bank'sCommission on Growth and Development; the second is under the US Institute of International Finance, which oversees capital flows and fair debt restructuring in emerging markets.
Understandably, the news came as a shock to parliamentarians and analysts, who feel that this amounts to a clear conflict of interest. That this is so is readily corroborated by the fact that most of Mr. Ahluwalia'stravels abroad over the past two years have been to America, with eight visits paid for by the Indian government. One trip lasted two weeks, from May 23, 2005 to June 7, 2005, and cost the government Rs. 8,47,895. Other foreign trips have been to Italy, Davos, Melbourne, Singapore and London. Many visits are clubbed with visits to the United States, and the total cost of Mr. Ahluwalia'sforeign travel has exceeded Rs. 53 lakhs.
The government has not clarified if Mr. Ahluwalia attended meetings of the international bodies when he was in the US. But if he did, the dates of these meetings were clubbed together with the official visits paid by the public exchequer. This is because the RTI Commission was explicit that the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman had not made any personal visit abroad in the past two years.
Reinforcing a disturbing trend under which top Indian bureaucrats seek jobs in the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, and work to the disadvantage of the Third World, Mr. Ahluwalia figures in the US Institute of International Finance'sgroup of trustees responsible for overseeing the principles for stable capital flows and fair debt restructuring in emerging markets. In this capacity, he will obviously be serving the corporate and financial ideology of these bodies, and not the interests of the Indian government.
It is no secret that America has enormous clout with the World Bank, which is in fact controlled by American multinationals. Hence, there is an obvious dis-consonance between Mr. Ahluwalia serving with both the World Bank and the Institute of International Finance, which has all the largest western commercial banks as its members. These include Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, ABN Amro Bank, HSBC Holdings, Citibank and Deutsche Bank.
Many of these banks have operations in India. Mr. Ahluwalia'sclose and hitherto unknown interactions with them will obviously also play out in policy formulation and implementation in India, to the detriment of the ordinary citizen and the purely national business-corporate sector.
Singur and Nandigram signal a new Champaran-style mobilisation of public opinion in India, in the interests of the common man. The fact that everyone does not understand the intricacies of high finance does not mean that the citizen does not know where his/her interests are being hurt. Concerned citizens are waking up to the fact that in the name of foreign direct investment and technology, a plethora of institutional investors and non-transparent holding companies are buying up core sectors of the economy in several countries, including India.
The Indian media has been, and still is largely, complicit in this exercise in the vain hope that it will enhance its wealth and power to the point of complete non-accountability within India. But it is only a matter of time before the pigeons come home to roost. Available indications suggest that the heat from the fully owned and controlled advertisement industry is already being felt. The BJP?which has struck a promising new economic path by supporting the people of Singur?would do well to intervene and ensure that senior government jobs are not opened up to techno-entrepreneurs sponsored by the United States.