NEW DELHI: The lexical and logical semantics over the Planning Commission’s new nomenclature, NITI Aayog, kept the political class engaged in a verbal slugfest on the first day of the New Year.
It began with a government resolution issued on Thursday altering the role of the 65-year-old ‘Yojana Aayog’ from being the top-down plan panel in to a National Institution for Transforming India (NITI), a think-tank for the Centre and the states. It will consist of the PM and CMs, Lieutanant Governors, national and international field experts and will be networked with educational and policy research institutes.
The new body will, among 13 reference points, pay special attention to a rural/village development pattern dictated not from the top, that is New Delhi, but from the grassroots.
The idea being the aggregate of development from below will add up and create a transformative national agenda. It would also, quite significantly, focus on ‘national security’ while making economic strategy and policy. And, all this is to be done in a structure that reflects the spirit of “cooperative federalism” built on a “strong states make a strong nation” concept.
Explaining what the aim will be, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Thursday: “Through NITI Aayog, we bid farewell to a ‘one size fits all’ approach towards development. The body celebrates India’s diversity & plurality.”
The Opposition, obviously, does not agree. Structurally, NITI Aayog will have the Prime Minister as its chairperson and will include all Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors. It could be noted here that, the new body was set up by a resolution of the Union Cabinet as was done in the case of original Planning Commission way back on March 15, 1950.
The Planning Commission, attributed to Nehruvian ideology, was based on Feldman-Mahalanobis model of economic development, on inputs from legendary statistician Prashanta Kumar Mahalanobis.
The latter was instrumental in shaping the second Five Year Plan.
In its conception, the Plan panel, through its five-year planning module, was to focus on all-round development of Independent India, whose rural economy was impoverished by years of colonial rule that had virtually killed and defanged indigenous farming patterns, skill, industry, craft, artisanship, trade and worst the internal-external linkages, obviously to create a ready market for its industrial output. One of the prime reasons for maintaining colonies.
But, on Thursday, much of the political debate centred around the sparring between the Opposition and the government.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, who saw it as a semantic battle, called the renaming “aniti and durniti” (injustice and bad policy) that went little beyond “nomenclature and gimmickry”.
The Congress, which saw it as a rejection of a Nehruvian idea, called the 13-point character of the new NITI Aayog all “fluff with no substance”.
“The North Block or the Finance Ministry which has a short-term view of fiscal and monetary objectives, will now be the arbiter between the states and the Centre. I am afraid, the stake-holders in the process, will discriminate against the states,” Manish Tewari, Information & Broadcasting Minister in the former UPA Government, said. It is another matter that the UPA Government itself had proposed to revamp the Plan panel and prepared a 10-page note to that effect.
However, with no political backing, it remained just a note circulated among the then Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Name change was not part of their agenda, though.
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta gave the most calamitous response: “It is not a change of name, it’s a dismantling of the economic structure of the country. The Planning Commission has been abolished. This government does not believe in planning, it is all for promoting unregulated free market economy.”
Along with the changed nomenclature, the designation of the functional head of the plan body too will go. It will no longer have a Deputy Chairperson, but a Vice-President to supervise the NITI Aayog.
The Prime Minister continues to head the new panel, though.