NDC row: Is Delhi listening to states?

The ‘business as usual’ mindframe that Dr Manmohan Singh seems to reflect will just not do, and will certainly not lead to growth

If Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s accusation on Thursday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was “spreading pessimism” at the National Development Council meeting is taken as a challenge and galvanises the government into action, we could move forward.

Dr Singh’s pessimism over the repeated downsizing of growth targets is hardly expected from a leader of his stature, particularly after he talked way back in August of raising the “animal spirits” of the business sector. His defeatism is unbecoming of a leader, particularly at a time of economic and moral crisis that this nation is passing through. As Mr Modi said, what is ambitious about setting an eight per cent growth target in a country bursting with the energy of young entrepreneurs, one that desperately needs double-digit growth to meet the basic needs of its citizens?
The “business as usual” mindframe that Dr Singh seems to reflect will just not do, and will certainly not lead to growth. One wonders who he is addressing his remarks to. The problem lies squarely at his door and that of his tired ministers and Planning Commission bosses. They are the ones who, under his watch, are delaying decision-making, which is causing immense harm to promoters of delayed projects, and adding to the non-performing assets of India’s banking sector.
The grievances and demands of chief ministers from Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, Tripura, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are genuine, and must be addressed immediately. Most of them reflected the voice of the people and of business leaders as they complained about bottlenecks like the inordinate delay in decision-making, complicated and time-consuming procedures for statutory clearances, uncertainty in sectoral policies and directionless macroeconomic management. All these issues were supposedly being addressed since August this year. Isn’t it the duty of the Prime Minister and his men to find out why these complaints are still being made from every forum? If it is bureaucrats who are delaying implementation, action must be taken against them; if the fault lies elsewhere, that must be tackled. One can understand the frustration and irritation of Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa over the 10-minute limit set for her presentation on demands related to the 12th Plan. As it is, the NDC does not meet very often, and when it does it seems a little callous for the Centre not to wish to hear the views of the elected leader of one of India’s major states at some length. Once again, the government simply doesn’t get it: in the midst of the crisis that we are in, there is no time for one-upmanship or a blame game.

Whatever their political leanings may be, the residents of India’s capital agree on one thing. New Delhi’s air is foul.

As a neutral observer, I have no hesitation in saying that at this moment there is hardly any political party which could pose a political challenge to the BJP at the national level, but that doesn’t