Modi, Are We Not a Nation Anymore?

Published: December 09, 2014 09:17 IST
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)

Modi has dismantled the Planning Commission but, as yet, not put anything in its place. But does he know why the Planning Commission was set up in the first place? And do we not need an institution to serve those goals and objectives anymore?

The 1950 Government of India resolution establishing the Planning Commission (PC) laid down its purposes. It said the PC should "make an assessment of the material, capital and human resources of the country." Is that no longer required? Does the nation not need to know what its resources are? Second, said the resolution, the PC should "investigate the possibilities of augmenting deficient resources."

Have we become so flush with resources that there are deficits and deficiencies no more? Do we not still need to expand and deepen our resources? As Jawaharlal Nehru said a year after he had established the Planning Commission: "The Plan is in essence a realistic survey of what it is possible to do with the resources likely to be available within the framework of our Constitution and without a marked break from our existing social and economic framework. The Plan has done a valuable service by saying in a realistic way what we can do and what we cannot do in existing circumstances."

Why is Modi scared of such realism?

Third, said the resolution, the PC should "formulate a Plan for the most effective and balanced utilization of resources." Have we reached the stage where we do not need a nationwide Plan at all? Are we no longer a nation, just a congeries of States? Are there to be no national goals, no national purpose? Should we be leaving it to each State and each enterprise to decide what it wants - and get what it wants, whatever its purpose, national or partisan, and without reference to an overarching national architecture? After all, resources are limited and someone has to see how to share limited available resources among competing ends. If we do not, then the fat cats will get everything they want and the deprived and disadvantaged will be left with nothing or, at best, the dregs.

Is that the India the BJP wants, where those with access to resources (rich industrialists close to the administration) rule the roost while 70 per cent of India's poor and vulnerable get little or no share of the national cake because they cannot grab their share except from the grasping hands of the richer and more powerful? Is there not to be some rational basis to deciding what goes to growth and what to the social sector - health, education, poverty alleviation and so on? Does Modi really expect the coterie that dominates the stock market to determine the share of the national budget that the poor might claim as their right?

Let us once again invoke Nehru from 1951: "Whatever plan we might make, the test of its success is how far it brings relief to the millions of our people who live on a bare subsistence level, that is the good and advancement of the masses of our people. Every other interest must be subordinated to this primary consideration".

Fourth, said the original resolution, the PC should "determine priorities". Does the Modi government not have priorities? And if it does, how will it determine them if they have no data base to go on and no expert advice on the benefits and pitfalls of alternative models of resource distribution?

Fifth, the PC was to "define the stages in which the plan would be implemented". Of course, if there is no plan, there can be no defining its stages of implementation, but if we have no plan, and if the market alone is to determine the stages of implementation, then what becomes of the social responsibilities of the government? And what becomes of the parliamentary voice, that is, the voice of democracy? Obviously, parliament can say nothing about a plan that does not exist. But if parliament, the press and the public are to have a role in the formulation of economic policy, they will have to be told what is the government's policy. Else, the government will be left saying it has no policy and so it can change no policy!

Sixth, the PC was to "propose the allocation of resources". Note the expression "propose". Based on technical expertise, the PC would propose, but it would be the democratic, federal, political process that would dispose. If the PC has been insufficiently accommodating of the States or the private sector for resource allocation, the answer must lie in correcting the PC's excesses, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Next, the 1950 resolution provided that the PC should "indicate which factors tend to retard economic development". Kya ab itne acche din aa gaye hain ki there are no factors retarding economic progress? Is Sadhvi Jyoti going to determine what those factors are or are we going to get economists of repute to point out those factors to government for resolution? The same clause of the resolution also provided for the PC to "determine the conditions needed for the execution of the Plan". But, of course, if there is no Plan, no conditions can be created for its execution. But if we have no plan, then how is the ship of state to be steered? Or is that going to be left to the CII and FICCI to determine?

Finally, the PC was to "appraise the progress achieved in execution and recommend appropriate adjustments". Does the Modi dispensation believe that progress and failure require no appraisal? And if the PC is not to undertake the appraisal, who will do so and what will that authority appraise?

The fact is that apart from dismantling the Nehru heritage, the ruling party has no positive agenda. It somehow thinks that if the PC were abolished, the growth rate would automatically pick up, imbalances in the economy between agriculture and manufacturing, rich and poor, educated and ill-educated, healthy and unhealthy, and environmental issues would be resolved swayambhu. Nothing would lead us more quickly to anarchy and ruin than not having an institution to carry out the tasks allotted in 1950 to the PC.

Modi may dissolve the PC if he wishes, for he has the brute majority in the Lok Sabha to get away with it. But in place of the dissolved PC, he has to put up another PC, by whatever name called, for the tasks entrusted to the PC by the Nehru government are vital national tasks that only a body constituted of the experts with which the PC once sparkled can do the job.

If in recent times, the PC has lost much of its shine, it is because the Planning Commission has been run by people who do not believe in planning. Therefore, it has become an instrument for the unelected (and unelectable) to strut the corridors of power, throw their weight around, be obstructive, and usurp functions that are legitimately the domain of the political authority. If the political authority has surrendered so much of its space to the PC, that is the fault of central and state ministers, not the PC. And if the National Development Council (NDC) has contributed next to nothing to the planning process ever since we took to liberalization and globalization, that is primarily the fault of the NDC and its member-chief ministers, not that of the usurper.

Yes, there is much to reform and re-jig after more than half a century of planning. But to destroy the Planning Commission and abandon the road to planned development is to betray the people who expect government decision-making to be something more than the aggregate of corporate decisions. Hence, we need planning; and without a Planning Commission, by whatever name called, we cannot have a plan.

Modi's current exertions, like all his drama-baazi, is just showmanship without a show.

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