New Delhi: A National Development Council meeting to finalize India’s 11th Plan for 2007-12 turned into a political fracas as the ruling Congress party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) openly jockeyed to establish their respective political positions in what many see as a run-up to general elections in 2008.
At issue was the BJP’s charge that the Congress was using Plan spending to potentially score electoral points with minority communities, even as all parties made a strong case for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Despite the heated rhetoric, the 11th Plan, as expected, was eventually approved by the council.
In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while stressing the inclusive ethos of the Plan, said: “This Plan lays special emphasis on the problems of SCs, STs and minorities. It has specific, focused programmes, both for skill development and education and also for improving the basic infrastructure in areas inhabited predominantly by these marginalized groups.”
The BJP’s charge was levelled by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who criticized the PM’s 15-point programme for minorities, saying it “should be reviewed in the interest of maintaining the social fabric of the nation.”
Modi is widely expected to lead BJP to another five-year term in Gujarat, where votes are set to be counted in assembly elections that saw the Congress mount a heated battle to unseat the controversial chief minister.
Meanwhile, the Left parties, which have been under fire for their alleged role in targeting of Muslim peasants in Nandigram who had opposed the West Bengal government’s project to hand over land for industrial use, were keen to reiterate their support. West Bengal chief minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reminded the government, which the Left parties support from the outside, of his party’s “sub-Plan” scheme to fund minority development.
The PM’s 15-point programme requires states to budget separately for minorities out of allocations meant for Central schemes.
This scheme was first opposed in a letter to BJP chief ministers, including Modi, from party president Rajnath Singh. The letter became public on Tuesday.
“The government needs to elevate the economic status of minorities so that they become more competent and self reliant, rather than make incremental changes,” Modi said during the NDC meet. “Discrimination among the eligible beneficiaries for flow of funds, based on minority status, will not help,” he said.
But Bhattacharjee said that his party’s policy in West Bengal of arranging separate funds for houses, education and employment to minorities, should be adopted by planners for the country as a whole.
At the same time, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, who swept to power earlier this year by cobbling together a vote base made up of minorities and the socially backward classes, said that since India had failed to establish a poverty-free and equitable state, laws needed to be amended, and an action plan should be framed, “to provide disadvantaged people with the benefits of development.”
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, also of the BJP, while not opposing separate allocations for minorities, said that the way these schemes were being implemented needed change.
“The government will have to make concrete programmes for the welfare of the SCs and STs over the next five years (2007-12),” he said. “These programmes should be aimed at bringing about visible changes in economic conditions.”
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia denied that the Plan’s emphasis on minorities was an election gimmick.
“The proposal on minority is not divisive,” he said. “Since our society is socially fragmented and minorities along with other groups have not concentrationfrom our schemes, we cannot achieve inclusive growth without specific proposals for minorities.”
One such measure includes special efforts to focus on districts where there is high concentration of minorities. “However, the programmes in these districts do not involve discrimination in favour of minorities as such,” said Ahluwalia. “The service provided will be available for everybody in the district.” He added the Plan has no provision for a sub-Plan for minorities as asked by some states.
Prime Minister Singh also defended the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s approach in formulating the 11th Plan, saying in his closing remarks that it pays special attention to the needs of marginalized groups and targets them in a “precise” way, and adding: “This, after all, is the true meaning of inclusiveness.”
“The Plan does not attempt to divide people on the basis on caste, creed or gender,” Singh said. “However, it is a reality that there are certain social groups who are relatively badly placed on all development indicators.”