The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh changes tune

New Delhi, Sept. 11: Manmohan Singh is distancing himself from the controversy over the inclusion of World Bank experts in the Planning Commission's consultative groups.

The Prime Minister, well-placed sources said, was not 'particularly excited' by the idea and thought it was an 'avoidable controversy'. He also felt it had been 'blown out of proportion'.

Led by Jyoti Basu, the Left has condemned the induction of experts from international institutions, including the World Bank. Yesterday, Basu said: 'We are not satisfied with the functioning of the government.'

Singh's first response to Left criticism was to defend Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who had clarified that the experts were included only to provide inputs for mid-term appraisal of the Tenth Plan.

But the Prime Minister reportedly 'revised' his stand after getting inputs from the Congress that the Left should be mollified.

Singh, the sources added, could not be expected to go into the 'nitty-gritty of what committees were constituted or start speaking to individual ministers and heads of commissions on how to run their departments'.

The Left has urged the government to reconsider the move and sought an explanation why it wanted World Bank representation when the Congress in Andhra Pradesh had held the institution's structural adjustment policies responsible for the plight of farmers and other marginalised sections. Basu said the World Bank had always given wrong advice on crucial issues.

Initially, the government did not treat seriously what sources called another Left 'whine'. But after Basu lent his voice to the protest, Singh had to revisit the proposal because the government depends on the 'good offices' of the CPM leader and his party colleague Harkishen Singh Surjeet to rein in the 'hardliners'.

CPM sources, however, said Basu was only 'echoing' his party's line to send the message to the rank and file that it had not deviated from its anti-Congressism.

In the government's perception, there are two areas of dealing with the Left: one, 'ideology-centred' and economic policies and two, high-level appointments. On ideology, sources close to Singh said he was clear that there could be a clash.

'If Left and Congress agreed on everything, the former may well have joined the government,' said a PMO official.

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