Advice is just a pseudonym for infiltration, especially in administration. There was a time when videshi was considered the most effective panacea for all ills plaguing Indian governance. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi perceives anyone with foreign connections in ministries as a devious influence peddler. Last week, following instructions from the PMO, the Health Ministry embarked on a purge of over 150 consultants who were advising it on various health-related issues. Most of them have been working in the government for many years, and are handsomely financed by prestigious global organisations like WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A large number of these have been involved in programmes that monitor the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in India. Modi’s choice of the Health Ministry as his first arena to sweep away foreign influence in the government has upset and disrupted a well-knit system which permeates government agencies, influence policies and whose final beneficiaries are its financiers. The PM may be talking about Invest-in-India to Make-in-India, but he is not in a mood to take any advice from anyone other than those he feels has only India’s interests at heart. During the past 23 months in office, he has welcomed the largest number of foreign entrepreneurs, professionals and other icons than any of his illustrious predecessors at 7 Race Course. Yet, he has refrained from inducting foreign-educated advisors or experts sponsored by the West in key positions.
He has been closely monitoring the role of foreign-funded NGOs and other consulting agencies, which were counseling various ministries on myriad social, economic, environmental and health issues. He instructed trusted officials in the Ministry of Home, Finance, the CBI and RAW to review the role of over 100 such outfits, which had found ingress into the government. According to Home Ministry sources, foreign-sponsored consultants were not only feeding data and exclusive information to other international agencies through their participation in global seminars and conferences, but also through various research-based NGOs in India. Some of these individuals and organisations were also directly or indirectly involved with those who have been hounding Modi since 2002. To add fat to the fire, key officials of these bodies were the ones who lobbied in the US and the West to deny Modi a visa.
Now, the government has drawn up for special scrutiny, a list of over 700 foreign-linked or -funded consultants working with ministries such as Power, Finance, Environment, Education, NITI Aayog, Roads and Transport, Agriculture, Non-Conventional Energy, Mining, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Defence Production . Even some of the prominent PSUs have been identified for special screening, thanks to their association with foreign consulting firms. The PMO is convinced that most development and infrastructural projects have been delayed for a decade and more, only because of the convoluted spins given by these firms to ensure that India will continue to depend heavily on imports. For example, during the early 1980s when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, a blueprint to make India fully self reliant in petroleum products by 1990 was finalised. Yet, even after 35 years, the country spends billions of dollars on importing crude oil. Even though the Health Ministry has the largest number of foreign-affiliated advisors, India still suffers from the maximum number of diseases and reels under an inefficient health administration. The environment ministry was home to consultants from the World Wide Fund of India, while experts from Britain’s DFID worked for both ministries of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation until December. Yet both the ministries haven’t been able to get rid of parasites. During one of the numerous ministerial reviews by the PMO, it was discovered that outside experts were hanging on to their jobs much beyond their contractual terms, on one pretext or the other. None of the senior officials or even the ministers could offer credible excuses for those still clinging on to the government. It was decided that the Home Ministry will do a thorough review of each one of them.
The Ministry later on hinted that most of these consultants are tailoring their reports for ministers and bureaucrats to influence policies in such a way that it promotes the commercial interests of their parent agencies. For example, the government suspects that the quantum of the HIV/AIDS infected population in India was artificially raised to get, not only more funds from the Indian government but also to help specific pharma companies manufacturing medicines that treat AIDS. Highly exaggerated statistics on HIV victims has brought India a bad image in the world. What upset the Modi government was the inability of these consultants to reverse India’s negative image on hygiene, environmental protection, clean energy and inclusive education. Instead, the very institutions, which had drafted these experts into the government, have been playing anti-India roles on international platforms.
The reality is that the Indian political leadership has been suffering from an inferiority complex since Independence. Since various prime ministers from Nehru to Manmohan Singh saw it as their mission to establish their imprints and road maps for faster economic development, they laterally inducted large number of experts hired by international agencies to assist the government. Manmohan even packed the Planning Commission with a record number of foreign consultants soon after taking over as prime minister in 2004. This led to furious protests from the Left, forcing him to abandon the move. The Finance Ministry has always been the preferred destination for foreign-educated economists. They have been following the revolving door principle. Almost all its Chief Economic Advisors have sometime or the other been on the rolls of foreign institutions that include universities. They come to serve India and go back to the West after the government, which appointed them was ousted. Numerous Parliamentarians and others have raised questions about the undesirable influence of these money mandarins on India’s fiscal and monetary policies, which they think are guided by the ideological fancy of their permanent habitat—the US. The ongoing purge of foreign elements from the government and other institutions appears to be part of Modi’s nationalist agenda. His message is loud and clever: while in government Work for India and Dream for India.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla