The BJP on Saturday slammed the 10 chief ministers of Opposition-ruled states who skipped the Niti Aayog meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, accusing them of neglecting the interests of the people for the sake of “opposing Modi”.
The BJP accused the chief ministers of “boycotting” the meeting, terming their decision “irresponsible” and “against public interest”.
“On behalf of the party, I would like to stress with all the emphasis at my command that this decision to boycott the (Niti Aayog) meeting by 10 chief ministers is totally irresponsible. It is also against the public interest,” said former law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was fielded at the BJP headquarters to take on the chief ministers. The Prime Minister is the chairman of the Niti Aayog.
Although the BJP clubbed all the 10 absentee chief ministers in the same Modi-opposer bracket, the list had at least one unlikely member — Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik. Although technically an Opposition party chief minister, Patnaik rarely opposes Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP.
The nine other chief ministers on the absentee list were Mamata Banerjee (Bengal), M.K. Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Siddaramaiah (Karnataka), Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Bhagwant Mann (Punjab), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), K. Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala).
What appeared to have riled the BJP more was that the meeting “boycott” came against the backdrop of a decision by most Opposition parties to stay away from Sunday's inauguration of the new Parliament building by Modi.
“Notably, 100 issues are proposed to be debated in the 8th Governing Council Meeting (of the Niti Aayog), and the Opposition chief ministers boycotting this is unfortunate. Their boycott of the event is resulting in not bringing here the voice of the people of their states,” Prasad said. “How far will they go in protest(ing) against Modi?”
Neither the chief minister’s office nor the BJD officially gave any reason for Naveen skipping the meeting. Sources said Naveen had cited prior commitments. He is currently reviewing the performance of various departments of his government.
However, political circles are abuzz with speculation that Naveen may have taken the decision in the light of the controversy over the NDA government’s move to have Modi inaugurate the new Parliament building instead of President Droupadi Murmu, who hails from Odisha.
By skipping the Niti Aayog meeting, Naveen may have tried to strike a balance, having already decided against boycotting the Parliament inauguration.
Political analyst Rabi Das said: “Perhaps the decision to skip the meeting is based on the reaction against the BJD’s decision to join the inauguration of the new Parliament building. People feel that President Droupadi Murmu has been ignored.
"As she is a daughter of Odisha, the BJD’s decision has not gone down well with a section of the people. Naveen has also been severely criticised on social media. A section of people feel the BJD is inching closer to the BJP. The chief minister wants to dispel this impression.”
Although Delhi chief minister Kejariwal and Punjab’s Mann, both from the Aam Aadmi Party, made it clear they had boycotted the Niti Aayog meeting, it didn’t appear so in the case of the Congress chief ministers.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot cited health reasons for skipping the meeting but Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, also from the Congress, was in attendance.
Kejriwal wrote to Modi saying he wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting in the light of the Centre's recent ordinance curbing the powers of the Delhi government. The Delhi chief minister accused the central government of having turned federalism into a joke.
Mann alleged central discrimination in the grant of funds to his state and called for a boycott of the Niti Aayog meeting.
Bihar chief minister Nitish, who is leading an effort to unite the Opposition for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, said in Patna that there was “no sense” in attending the Parliament building inauguration or the Niti Aayog meeting.
Nitish said the invitation had come a long time ago and he had informed the Centre that it was clashing with the programme to commemorate the death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru.
“I attend this event (in remembrance of Nehru) every year. I told them that the programme here is in the morning, and I could have attended the Niti Aayog meeting if it was scheduled in the afternoon. We had nominated other people and officers from Bihar to attend it, but they did not accept it,” Nitish said.
Kerala chief minister Vijayan of the CPM didn’t cite any specific reason for staying away. Telangana chief minister Rao, who heads the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, has been scaling up his aggression against the BJP in the run-up to the year-end polls in his state.
The BJP chose to see the boycotts of the Niti Aayog meeting and the inauguration of the new Parliament building as an expression of the Opposition’s, particularly the Congress’s, “Modi hatred”. BJP managers believe that projecting Modi as a victim earns political mileage.
“These dynastic parties, particularly the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, are unable to digest a simple fact that the people of India have placed their faith in a man hailing from a humble background,” BJP chief J.P. Nadda said, responding to the Opposition boycott of the Parliament building inauguration.