Two basic considerations underlay the opposition to having representatives of the World Bank, and the ADB in the now dissolved committees of the Planning Commission.
The first consideration is that a sovereign State must not have persons owing allegiance to another sovereign State, or to an organisation under the control of another sovereign State, on any of its official bodies. It is this feature which distinguishes a sovereign State from a comprador, a colonial, a client, or a puppet State. Now, organizations like the World Bank and the ADB are clearly dominated by the metropolitan States (unlike UN organizations they do not work on a one country-one vote principle). Indeed, one can cite numerous instances where the World Bank for example has been used as an instrument of American foreign policy. Having their representatives on Planning Commission bodies, therefore, constitutes a step, no matter how small, in the direction of undermining the sovereignty of the Indian State. True, de facto the World Bank and the ADB have been very influential in Indian policy-making, but having them on Planning Commission bodies would be a de jure abridgement of sovereignty; and the transition to this de jure situation certainly constitutes a leap.
Secondly, while the above is a general argument which applies in principle to any foreign-State-controlled organization, the World Bank, and the ADB are specific organizations which have a specific agenda. This agenda is opposed to the very concept of national economic planning which informs the existence of the Planning Commission itself; besides, it has had, according to a large body of evidence, fairly disastrous consequences, when put to practice, over large parts of the third world including in our own country. The Congress government of Andhra Pradesh has for instance blamed the World Bank (and the McKinsey group which drew up the 2020 Vision document for the state) for the dismal condition of its rural economy; and nobody to my knowledge has yet argued to the contrary.
Giving these very organizations representation on Planning Commission bodies would have shown imperviousness to this rural distress, and betrayed the mandate originating inter alia from this distress which brought the UPA to power. Neither of the above considerations has anything to do with ‘foreigners’ as such. The objection is to foreign-State-controlled bodies, and that too to bodies which are currently in the dock in this very country for the consequences of their ‘advice’. The very raison de etre of the Planning Commission, is based on a conception opposed by these bodies. The fact that the Planning Commission has in the past invited several noted economists from all over the world, from Ragnar Frisch to Oskar Lange to Michael Kalecki, to give their suggestions on Indian planning, is therefore not germane to the present issue: they were not part of any officially-constituted committees; and they came in their individual capacity, not as representatives of organisations owing avowed allegiance to foreign States.The Planning Commission’s recent move was thus entirely without precedent.
Having ‘doors and windows open’ to outside voices does not necessitate including them on official committees of the State. Doing business with them or borrowing money from them is altogether different from according them places, no matter how small, in State organs.
Whether some state governments (including West Bengal) have done business with them in the past is again not relevant to the issue on hand. Whether they constituted only ten persons out of a total of four hundred is likewise entirely beside the point, as is the precise status and the potential influence in shaping policy of these task-forces and consultative groups. Likewise, the fact that they, as donors, have something to say which must be heard, does not entitle them to places on official committees. And the argument that since they are giving ‘inputs’ anyway, it is better for them to do so in the presence of others who contest their views is a non-sequitur when used to defend their presence on official committees. (The fact that the State Department of the US gives ‘inputs’ for our foreign policy does not mean that we should invite their officials to our cabinet meetings.)
What has been particularly remarkable about this whole episode is the attitude of a section of the media and of the elite towards those who have opposed the inclusion of these representatives in the Planning Commission committees. Apart from personal innuendoes, and meaningless questions like ‘why are these people afraid of foreigners?’ the issue has been presented as an instance of Left intransigence.This plays down the question of the sovereignty of the nation-State which is involved in the inclusion of these representatives and which should concern everyone. Of course, making it an entirely Left versus the Rest issue, when the critics of this move are raising the issue of national sovereignty, implicitly makes national sovereignty an exclusive concern of the Left and thereby pays an unwitting compliment to the Left; but it does simultaneously belittle the question of national sovereignty.
The fact that the issues involved are much more significant than those normally associated with mere Left versus the Rest debates is underscored by the opposition that the inclusion of these representatives has generated even among non-Left economists committed to the idea of the nation. (And those of us belonging to the Left who opposed the move did not do so qua Left economists; this was an appellation coined by the media). This systematic unconcern with the issue of national sovereignty shows in turn the extent to which a section of the elite and the media has already seceded from the Indian nation. The strident tones in which the critics of inclusion are belittled by these elements, apart from showing how little they have learnt from the electoral verdict of May, underscores the distance that separates them from the ethos and aspirations of the freedom struggle. This struggle was precisely to establish a sovereign Indian State, free of the hegemony of metropolitan States, as the condition for the freedom of the Indian people.
The writer is a senior economist and Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU