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Foreigners at the gates! Slavery forever!

Foreigners at the gates! Slavery forever!

Author: Meghnad Desai
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 7, 2004
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=56491

Introduction: Is the Indian State so fragile that even a consultant employed protem by World Bank, mostly an Indian, can hurt its sovereignty?

A response to Prabhat Patnaik ('It was not an objection to foreigners, just a cry for freedom', The Indian Express, October 2)

I am a foreigner of course, but a pravasi not a pardesi. One has to be careful nowadays, what with the battle raging in and around Yojana Bhavan. I have had a ringside seat watching the dharmayuddha since I landed a fortnight ago in Mumbai. I have been trying to make sense of what seems a small esoteric consideration blown up into a full-scale war somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's characters who quarrelled about ways of cracking a boiled egg. Prabhat Patnaik, a leading light of the Left group, has written a spirited defence of why the Left economists took the stand they did. As an old friend, I remain puzzled. His argument hinges on a hyper-sensitive concern for 'sovereignty', apparently a delicate plant liable to be damaged by any competent economist joining a consultative group in the Planning Commission if he is a 'foreigner'. The definition of foreigner depends neither on the place of origin nor current citizenship. The crucial element is who one is employed by. If I were to be asked to join the Planning Commission, I would not be a foreigner in the Left's definition since I am not employed by the World Bank, IMF, ADB or even UNDP; WHO, ILO, UNCTAD or even the Socialist International.

So the objection is that anyone employed by these august bodies is their mouthpiece and bound to implement the programme-obviously anti-Indian-of these bodies. ''Having their (i.e. World Bank and ADB's) representatives on Planning Commission bodies, therefore, constitutes a step, no matter how small, in the direction of undermining the sovereignty of the Indian State,'' writes Patnaik. Is the Indian State so fragile, so weak that even a consultant or officer employed protem by the World Bank, in most cases of Indian origin-not a pravasi but an NRI-can nibble away at its sovereignty?

Prabhat Patnaik argues that the World Bank and ADB have ''an agenda which is opposed to the very concept of national economic planning which informs the existence of the Planning Commission itself...'' Now I hope the concept of planning does more than 'inform' the existence of the Planning Commission; it defines its task. We could debate whether the Planning Commission has carried out that task over the last 53 years in a way that has helped the Indian economy. Is India a planned economy or merely an economy for which a voluminous document called Plan has been published, detailing targets often never met and sums of money to spend often exceeded? We could ask why is it that the model of self-reliant development without foreign capital, championed by the Planning Commission, led to a Hindu rate of growth of 3.5 per cent for 30-odd years, making not the smallest dent on poverty, and why poverty has gone down dramatically since that shibboleth was abandoned first by the Gandhis in the 1980s and more so since 1991 by Manmohan Singh, taking the growth rate first to 5.5 per cent and then to 7 per cent?

The reluctance to admit that there is nothing wrong with foreigners is what is wrong with the Left. The rest of us have seen foreigners, been foreigners in the Left's definition and worked with them. They are not ogres with horns and claws. There are good ones and bad ones, but no more nor less than there are good locals and bad locals. The xenophobia has old origins and stems from the way Indian development in the colonial times is interpreted. The notion is that the foreigners robbed India by draining its wealth away and thus impoverished India. They can do so again.

Indeed, were it not for foreigners-including pravasis like myself-who were critical of the disastrous planning of the Sixties and Seventies and who rejoiced when India abandoned that path of stagnation, India would still be 'enjoying' a Hindu rate of growth. When China abandoned the self-reliant strategy thanks to the genius of Deng Xiaoping, to be able to jettison the fallacies of Leninist economics, it left India behind, though in 1975 they were level pegging in terms of income. Our Left failed to rethink then and still fails to do so, sticking to the Third International fallacies of capitalism being in terminal crisis etc. It shuts its eyes to the fantastic dynamic of Asian economies which have become major players in global markets. South Korea was as poor as India in 1960. It has now a per capita income which is a multiple-about twenty times-of India's per capita income. The Left may prefer North Korea, which has lots of sovereignty since it is free of American influence but starves its people.

Sovereignty is a cry raised in desperation. It tells us that the Left alone cares about India. But how does it care? By yoking it with failed policies and bankrupt philosophies which guarantee slow growth and no poverty reduction? No doubt the workers in public sector industries and in ministries will be looked after with tender care as they were through the years of low growth, when their salaries rose faster than the rate of growth of the economy. India's infrastructure will remain poor; its airports slums; roads full of potholes; and power cuts frequent, except of course for MPs. But thank heavens, India's sovereignty, that delicate plant which only the Left cares about, will thrive. Alas, that sort of sovereignty will not help a landless labourer secure employment nor an illiterate woman learn. It is only a device to keep the Left in the seat of power and influence.

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