Mainstream, VOL LII, No 43, October 18, 2014
Need to Review and Reverse the Decision on Planning Commission
Role of Ruling and Opposition Parties
Monday 20 October 2014, by
“The very first thing that our future National Government will have to do would be to set up a commission for drawing up a comprehensive plan of reconstruction.”
—Subhash Bose’s Presidential Address at Haripura Congress (February 19, 1938)
One of the most important strengths of any democracy is the ability to recognise serious mistakes at the right time and to take corrective action before it is too late. It is of crucial importance that India’s democracy should be able to pass this test by reviewing and reversing the highly questionable decision on dismantling the Planning Commission. This far-reaching and highly damaging decision was taken hastily without due consultation and thought.
However, despite fairly widespread criticism of this decision, the government has not announced any corrective action so far. The government doesn’t seem to care that the commitment to planned development is a legacy of the freedom movement, and the most respected freedom fighters, including Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, were closely associated with it.
What is even more surprising is that the major Opposition parties have also not been able to create any strong movement or even campaign for reversing this decision. In fact in the case of the Congress party it is now highly doubtful if it has any commitment left for planning or planned economic development. This has been well exposed in a column written for The Week magazine by Mani Shankar Aiyar (The Week, September 7). He has recalled a revealing incident which took place at the Panchmari chintan shivir of the Congress party in 1998:
Indeed, my first crossing of swords with Dr Manmohan Singh on the subject occurred at the Panchmarhi chintan shivir in 1998. I was required to draft the principal conclusions of the shivir for the consideration of the Congress Working Committee. While the CWC luminaries foregathered on the verandah of a bungalow on the other side of the road, on this side I was provided a computer to hammer out the draft. As each page was finished, it was sent off to the Big Bosses. The first page contained a cliché from previous Congress communiqués about “planned development”. Doctor sahib had scored out “planned” and written “balanced” in the margin. I rewrote the phrase to read “planned and balanced development”, and sent it back for final approval.
After finishing the draft, I went across the road to receive the congratulations that were invariably showered on me for writing a few paragraphs of recycled trite. I was, however, faced with an incensed Dr Singh, who demanded to know how I had dared retain “planned” after he had crossed it out. I began protesting when he thundered that if I did not remove it, he would take it up in the formal meeting of the CWC, and if there, too, it were retained he would have to consider resigning.
Se we have the word of an eminent and devoted Congress Member of Parliament that the man whom the Congress selected to be the Prime Minister was so intolerant of the very idea of ‘planned development’ that he was willing to resign rather than accept the impor-tance of planning even in principle!
So we cannot really expect the Congress party to start a campaign for reviving and strengthening the Planning Commission, can we?
This still leaves the Left parties, greatly weakened no doubt, but still capable of mobilising some resistance to the arbitrary dismantling of the Planning Commission. The Left parties should take up this issue with much more urgency and purpose than they have displayed so far. In future their manifesto should include the revival and strengthening of the Planning Commission as an important issue.
Various people’s organisations and move-ments should launch a campaign to prevail upon the government to first revive the Planning Commission and then to reform and strengthen it in such a way as to make it more responsive to the real concerns of the people and also to the protection of the environment.
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.