New Delhi, Aug. 19: The Congress today conceded that the Planning Commission needed restructuring but criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to dismantle it as a planned attack on India’s Nehruvian legacy.
Party spokesperson and former commerce minister Anand Sharma questioned the government’s purported hurry in announcing the decision at a time the 12th five-year plan was under way.
“We don’t know how planned development came in the way of strengthening federalism. What is the alternative institutional mechanism? There is no road map; we have not been told what the thinking is behind this abrupt decision,” Sharma said.
“The Prime Minister talks of consensus but all his actions have been contrary to his claims. Did he consult the states before announcing the major decision? He should have first written to all the chief ministers and called a meeting of the National Development Council. But after announcing this half-baked idea, he is seeking suggestions from the public. This is a body blow to the federal spirit.”
Sharma linked this “knee-jerk reaction” to Modi’s known hostility towards the Nehru-Gandhi family.
“The Prime Minister has an antipathy towards the builder of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who not only played the pivotal role in India’s freedom struggle but was the first Prime Minister,” he said.
“All the modern institutions of democracy, education, science, art and culture are the product of Nehru’s vision. But Modi has never acknowledged Nehru’s contribution.”
Sharma warned that the Prime Minister’s actions were leading to the collapse of the national consensus on vital issues.
“The PSLV he launched was not built in a month. The INS warship he inducted into the Indian Navy was not built yesterday either. The new smart cities he is talking about were already implemented by the UPA,” he said.
“Even the campaign about toilets is not new. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan was already there: this government did not raise the budgetary allocation by a single rupee. But Modi never acknowledges the Congress’s contributions.”
On the Planning Commission, Sharma said that Manmohan Singh too had suggested drastic changes and the panel’s then deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, prepared a 15-page note on a restructuring plan.
He said Modi should make that note public, and that the commission should not be dismantled as it carries out consultations, counselling and mediation with the states and private parties and prepares the development model to be followed.
“It protects the states’ interests. There is no clarity about the new structure. This decision should have been taken after a thorough debate,” Sharma said.
Asked about former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s purported support for the move to scrap the commission, Sharma said: “There was no proposal ever to shut it down. There is a difference between restructuring and dismantling.”
In June, responding to a question about the Modi government’s purported intent to downsize or even dismantle the Planning Commission, Chidambaram had said: “My personal view is that it should be a much more limited body tasked with drawing up prospective plans. At the moment it is too big, flabby and unwieldy.”
Congress chief ministers are bound to oppose the Centre’s decision although they are not in a position to get it altered. Given the party’s fixation on Nehruvian relics, it will not be comfortable with a restructured body with a different name.
Sharma claimed that the commission had served India well for decades and there was no need to decry it as a white elephant.
Manmohan Singh had said in April that the commission needed to reorient itself to the changing times and requirements of the economy, discarding the dated tools it once employed to guide the government.
Singh was addressing the commission’s members just before the general election. Montek too identified the commission’s failures and stressed the need for an overhaul so it could meet the new challenges.