Justified anger

Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha is never afraid of calling a spade a spade. That the United Progressive Alliance government under Manmohan Singh has progressively turned arrogant and autocratic in its functioning is becoming evident by the day and the perfunctory manner in which it sought to hold a National Development Council (NDC) meeting last Thursday bore testimony to its casual attitude and lack of respect for democratic institutions. The NDC, which is a constitutional body of all the chief ministers, is the highest forum of decision-making in the federal structure. The meeting had been convened to approve the 12th Plan Document which is of crucial importance to states. Poverty alleviation by 10 percentage points in the five-year period, creation of 50 million jobs in the non-form sector, raising the farm sector growth to 4 per cent and achieving a growth rate of 10 per cent in the manufacturing sector are some of the aims of the 12th Plan – all of which require the cooperation of the states.

Jayalalitha was incensed that she was given only 10 minutes to speak and adding insult to injury, the buzzer went off and the prime minister called the next speaker, without giving her a chance to conclude her remarks. She naturally took umbrage at being ‘humiliated’ and ‘treated like school children.’ Minister Rajiv Shukla’s defence that there was a long list of speakers, including 35 chief ministers and hence the time limit had to be imposed, betrays a gratuitous approach to such meetings and a show of contempt to the suggestions that the chief ministers come up with. If the Centre has already decided on how to go about achieving the goals set out in the Plan, why call the chief ministers at all? How can the ideas of the chief minister of a big state like Tamil Nadu be ignored? Why hold a sham NDC meeting merely to get a rubber stamp approval?

If the Centre has any respect for federalism and the chief ministers who represent people as constitutional authorities, at least in future, the NDC meetings should be better planned and structured. Instead of allowing them to make long speeches, the CMs can be asked to give their suggestions in advance so that they can be debated and the better ones adopted at the meeting.

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