December 14, 2014

Planning De-Commission-ed

ON December 7, 2014, Prime Minister Modi called a meeting of the chief ministers with the agenda `Replacing Planning Commission’. He was, thus, implementing his decision to dismantle the Planning Commission without any prior consultations with the elected chief ministers of the Indian states. At this meeting, the country was informed that on August 13, 2014, the union cabinet repealed the Cabinet Resolution dated March 15, 1950 by which the Planning Commission was established. We are also informed that this cabinet meeting “authorised the prime minister to finalise the contours of the new institution to replace the Planning Commission”. The Planning Commission was established soon after India declared itself a republic by adopting our constitution on January 26, 1950. The 1950 Cabinet Resolution defined the scope of its work in the following terms: "The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain Fundamental Rights to the citizens of India and enunciated certain Directive Principles of State Policy, in particular, that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life, and shall direct its policy towards securing, among other things, (a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood; (b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good; and (c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”. This was the outcome of the epochal efforts made by the Constituent Assembly in drafting our constitution and, thus, shaping our republic. The Planning Commission was the crucial link in the building of a new nation. Article I of the constitution defines this nation: “India that is Bharat is a Union of States”. The integration of British India along with the 666+ princely states into a cohesive nation required not merely a vision but also the material basis to translate this vision into actuality. Much of these objectives were based on the warning of Dr B R Ambedkar who, on behalf of the Drafting Committee, presented the draft Constitution for adoption to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949: “On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has laboriously built up”. The genesis of the character of the new nation that evolved in our century-long struggle for freedom was sought to be achieved through a process of the physical integration of the country with all its elements of rich and unique diversity of an unprecedented vast range along with the economic development of its people. The RSS and this Modi government, however, had all along opposed and continue to seek to transform the secular democratic Indian republic into their version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. This would require a unitary State structure undermining the institutions created at the time of the founding of the new republic. The dismantling of the Planning Commission is a part of this unfolding. PM Modi, at the meeting with the chief ministers, had said that the Planning Commission had become outdated because both the internal situation and the international situation have now vastly changed since the 1950s. There is, however, no reference to the fact that much of the objectives to be achieved by India for the welfare of its people have remained largely unfulfilled even today. Purveying PM’s logic, the RSS/BJP ideologues argue that the Planning Commission is an anachronism in the modern world – a jaded relic of `Nehruvian socialism’. The building of a new nation was to take place under the new Indian ruling classes – a class alliance between the bourgeoisie and the landlords led by the Indian big bourgeoisie. However laudable the objectives of the Planning Commission may have been, they could never be achieved in these long six decades primarily because the ruling classes and their governments, initially under Nehru, pursued the path of capitalist development in India. Capitalist development, however, required the creation of an economic infrastructure and facilities of modern communications, not there at the time of independence. This required an investment which the Indian monopoly bourgeoisie could not undertake at that stage on their own. Even if they had the resources, the nature of such investment meant long gestation lags ie, their capital would be tied up without returning profits for a long period - an option which they, naturally, were not inclined to undertake at that stage. The State, therefore, was to step in to undertake this task. This the State had to do by raising resources, not from the ruling classes, but from the people. The public sectors’ role was thus defined. The clearest expression of this strategy, in fact, comes three years before independence (1944), in a memorandum drawn up by Sir Puruthottamdas Thakurdas and seven other Indian capitalists including Ghanshyam Das Birla, JRD Tata and Shriram, incorporating a 15 year plan of economic development. Popularly known as the `Bombay Plan’, it was a 15 year plan consisting of three five year plans where the first “will lay the foundation for the second and which in its turn will be the basis for the third one”. Thus, the defence of the public sector and the current struggle against privatisation does not therefore, stem from an illusion that this builds socialism. Today’s defence comes from the fact that the public sector remains today the major pillar of our efforts for self reliance and against imperialist efforts to subjugate our economic sovereignty in the current phase of neo-liberal offensive. It is with this understanding that when, soon after independence, all the Western powers refused to assist India in building its economic infrastructure that the unconditional generous aid from the then Soviet Union helped India formulate its watershed second Five Year Plan laying the basis for economic infrastructure (inadequate as it may be today) upon which capitalist development thrived in our country. Notwithstanding this, the role of the Planning Commission in locating major public sector industries (notice their location) helped in the integration of economically backward areas and, to a certain extent, mitigated regional economic imbalances. Importantly, through reservations in employment, the public sector made a major contribution in the process of the delivery of social justice, however limited it may have been. Even this limited delivery of justice is today being negated by large-scale privatisation that does not guarantee even the constitutionally mandated reservations for SCs and STs. The same ruling classes which had, at one point of time, promoted the planning process in our country are, today, leading the chorus for dismantling this. Both are being done, in specific historical junctures, in the pursuit of their interests for profit maximisation. With globalisation and the growth of dominance of international finance capital, the Indian bourgeoisie today sees itself as gaining the most in terms of profit maximisation as a subordinate ally of international finance capital. Hence the drive for privatisation and liberalisation, permitting greater access to international capital to Indian economy, markets and resources at the detriment of the living standards of the vast mass of our people. They are, thus, jettisoning the goals of economic equality and social justice. They are also jettisoning the overcoming of the regional economic imbalances in the country. This is fraught with the dangers of growing demands for separation from the existing states by regions who consider themselves `backward’. The consequent dangers of such an increasingly polarised situation makes Dr Ambedkar’s warning more relevant today. The RSS/BJP, while dismantling the Planning Commission, are least concerned with such consequences as their objective is the pursuit of transforming the social democratic republic of India into their vision of a `Hindu Rashtra’. It is, therefore, not surprising that there is no alternative institutional mechanism that has even been suggested to be put in place. The “Way ahead”, PM tells us, is in “Transforming India: Reimagining the Development Agenda”. There is no clear-cut idea of what is the new institution, what its goals and functions are, or, how it will function. However, as far as the states are concerned, notwithstanding the rhetoric of “Team India”, “equal partnership of centre and the states”, “strengthening federalism” etc, the cat is out of the bag from the PM’s power-point presentation made to the chief ministers. All future flow of funds from the centre to the states will be through the central ministries, reducing the states as mere dependencies – `vassal states’. Such overdependence on the centre is a clear demonstration of moving towards a centralised unitary state structure, the exact opposite of our constitutional scheme of things and its federal structure. It is such a unitary structure which facilitates the advance towards the RSS version of `Hindu Rashtra’ at the expense of undermining the secular democratic character of our republic where, instead of improving centre-state relations in favour of the states, the exact opposite would be the purpose and result. The dismantling of the Planning Commission is, therefore, not merely an exercise confined to the domain of economics. It is pregnant with political danger to transform the Indian republic. Far from heeding Dr Ambedkar’s warning, this step by the Modi government will only accentuate the socio-economic disparities in our country alarmingly. The popular struggles against such nefarious designs must be strengthened in order to safeguard and strengthen the Indian republic in order to create a better India for all our people. (December 10, 2014)