September 20, 2004


India's Congress waves red flag at left (Ramtanu Maitra, 9/21/04, Asia Times)

Trouble is brewing between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the left, its most important backer. Relations between the two, which have been tenuous at the best of times, seem to be getting even worse.

There was some consternation in the left camp when the new deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, handpicked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, announced in early September that he had decided to go in for an "open process of consultations". In plain English, the government wanted the opinion of foreign entities on the progress of plan schemes and the effectiveness of the country's economic policy.

What surprised some observers was that while Ahluwalia stuck out his neck for foreigners' participation in the planning process, he continued to stonewall the participation of Indian non-government organizations (NGOs). Many NGOs complained that instead of expanding the planning process to include grassroots participants, the Planning Commission was opening doors to foreign companies and the World Bank. [...]

The left parties, with about 60 parliamentary seats, have undisputed control over the lifespan of the UPA government, as the Congress does not have sufficient seats to rule on its own. They threw their support behind arch-rival Congress as they felt the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)was the "greater evil". But beyond that, the left almost believed the UPA would promote an economic program in keeping with its own. How it reached that inference is slightly puzzling though as both Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh are strong believers in globalization and economic reforms a la the Washington Consensus. Prior to his appointment as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Ahluwalia served as the first director of the Independent Evaluation Office of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)in New York.

The left parties have indicated they won't defend the government on the issue of bringing foreign consultants into the planning process when the subject is discussed in parliament. The left's action is not surprising. They didn't approve of Ahluwalia's appointment as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission in the first place, as Communist Party of India national secretary D Raja told newsmen after the appointment: "We are not very happy with it ... We know a government's policies are not decided by a single man. So we are not making a big issue of it, though we do not favor his appointment."

Moving Congress to the Right, in order to co-opt the BJP's economic agenda, is just good sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2004 10:55 AM
Comments for this post are closed.