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Consensus falls flat

A lame duck, in politics, is an elected official who is approaching the end of their tenure, especially one whose successor has already been elected. The official is often seen as having less influence with other politicians due to their limited time left in office.India’s late Mughals make for some of the saddest history imaginable and they featured an illustrious list of lame ducks. From the inept Bahadur Shah, Aurangzeb’s son and successor in 1707, unable even to enforce his writ in a Lahore mosque, to the unlucky Bahadur Shah II, famous for being the last of the Mughals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is anything but a lame duck. In fact he is quite the powerful man. And yet he has had to take the ordinance route for getting his key legislations cleared. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today chaired a meeting of NITI Aayog’s governing council in New Delhi. The council was to hold consultations on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act. In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister said the Centre and states must move together to end poverty. Pitching for his government’s land acquisition bill, he said the political deadlock over land acquisition is seriously impacting rural development, including the creation of schools, hospitals, roads and irrigation projects. This deadlock is not set to resolve anytime soon with Chief Ministers of nine Congress-ruled states as well as those of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha keeping away from NITI Aayog’s Governing Council meeting.This raises the pertinent question. What weight does the writ of the Niti Ayog carry when it can’t even get Chief Ministers to turn up for an all important consultation on the land bill. The Niti Ayog was supposed to be the replacement of the all powerful planning commission but it instead has become a vague nebulous body.Bibek Debroy a full time member of Aayog has himself criticized the vaguely worded mission statement of the Niti Ayog. Debroy had also added in his critique that Modi should have specifically pointed out its functions and jurisdictions lucidly.At present we’ve 60+ centrally sponsored schemes. 

Modi aims to combine them into just 10 schemes.Given the deadlock and current impasse, how will this ever come to pass remains a deep mystery. When the planning commission existed policies had to be tailored to address the fact that given India’s diversity and geography, different states would be at different stages of development. At annual plan discussions, states were urged to indicate what changes would address their special needs. According to economic experts that was a more inclusive process than the top-down approach being followed now.Critics point out that when the erstwhile planning commission existed  there were some perspective and consultation with the states due to its diverse nature.The more things change, the more they remain the same.Given the changing national political situation and the upcoming Bihar election, the calculation seems to be that the land bill, with the immense negativity it has generated, is best put in abeyance for now.
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