Barely two weeks after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance celebrated the first anniversary of its second consecutive tenure in office, the Prime Minister’s Office has released a list of the office bearers of the National Advisory Council (NAC).
The 15-strong body, including its chairperson, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is an interesting mix of activists, retired bureaucrats, economists and politicians. They have one thing in common—their hearts beat for the so-called aam aadmi. In fact, this will be the defining ideology of NAC; it is also, and not coincidentally, the electoral promise of inclusion that the UPA so successfully articulated in the 2009 general election.
It is a surprise, therefore, that a special body had to be evolved to ensure implementation of this agenda. Seen in this context, the move to appoint NAC is a tacit admonishment of UPA-II (this is the alliance’s second consecutive term in office) and the leadership of his own government by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for its failure to provide the desired push to the inclusive agenda, especially on entitlements such as food security and women’s reservation in the legislature.
A cynical view would suggest that the UPA’s new-found energies are with an eye on the next general election, which is four years away, and a series of key state-level electoral battles, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. While it is a fact that the pursuit of an inclusive social agenda is to the electoral advantage of the UPA, it is also a fact that this is now a precondition for preserving the socio-economic fabric of India.
The reasons are evident. India’s growth over the past two decades has been visibly skewed. As the findings of the Tendulkar panel (since accepted by the UPA) on poverty showed, the number of people living below the poverty line in the country has fallen, but definitely not as fast as was popularly perceived. And most of India’s poor are concentrated in what is now called the Red corridor.
An even more insidious trend, as pointed out by Mint columnist Himanshu, is the growing income inequalities in both rural and urban areas—with the latter showing a sharper deterioration. Citing the Human Development Profile of India Survey, conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research in 2005, Himanshu has pointed out that inequality increased by 3 percentage points between 1993-94 and 2004-05 in villages and almost 6 percentage points in urban areas.
The constitution of NAC comes in this context and could well set the stage for a makeover of UPA-II.
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