Chief Ministers of four states took up their Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal’s continuing dharna at Raj Niwas with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the meeting of the NITI Aayog Governing Council Sunday. Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, N Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh, H D Kumaraswamy of Karnataka, and Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala sought Modi’s intervention in ending the “constitutional crisis” in Delhi.
Kejriwal and three of his ministers have been sitting in at the office of Delhi’s lieutenant governor for the past week to press their demand that the L-G should get the capital’s striking government officials back to work. Kejriwal did not attend Sunday’s NITI Aayog meeting.
“I along with the Hon’ble CMs of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala have requested Hon’ble PM today to resolve the problems of Delhi government immediately,” Banerjee tweeted after the meeting with Modi. Talking to reporters later, she said that a situation like the one in Delhi “cannot have a place in a democracy”.
Asked how the PM had responded, Banerjee said he had not said anything, but Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said, “We will see.”
Banerjee, Naidu, Kumaraswamy and Pinarayi had met Kejriwal’s wife at their residence Saturday evening, and had described the impasse as a threat to the country’s federal structure. With the four chief ministers — and Kejriwal — all belonging to different political parties, the crisis in Delhi appears to be turning into an issue for the ‘federal front’ as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections approach.
Interestingly, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel called on Banerjee at the West Bengal government guest house in Chanakyapuri some time after 7 pm. He had a bouquet of flowers and a box of mangoes with him, sources said; the chief minister, on her part, produced some grilled sandwiches and sweets from Bengali Market.
While neither leader commented on the meeting that lasted for an hour, a source in the Trinamool Congress said, “The meeting reflects the fact that Banerjee shares a cordial relationship with people across the political spectrum, and that she is now a key player for the opposition ahead of 2019.”
On Saturday, asked about the Congress’s opposition to Kejriwal’s protest, Banerjee had said, “The Congress has its own existence in Delhi and it doesn’t want any other party to come into power. That is their problem.” Banerjee has in the past stressed the need for the Congress to join hands with AAP in Delhi.
At the NITI Aayog meeting, the Prime Minister called for wide consultations and debate on holding simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas, keeping in view aspects such as financial savings and better utilisation of resources. The idea of simultaneous elections — which Modi has been pushing for the last couple of years — has not enthused most regional parties. NITI Aayog had last year suggested synchronised, two-phase Lok Sabha and Assembly elections from 2024 so as to ensure minimum “campaign-mode” disruption to governance.
Modi responded to criticism on the devolution of funds to states, saying states would receive over Rs 11 lakh crore from the Centre in the current financial year, which is an increase of about Rs 6 lakh crore from the last year of the previous government.
Listing his government’s achievements, Modi said all villages of the country were now electrified, and under the Saubhagya Yojana, 4 crore houses were being provided with electricity connections. Rural sanitation coverage had increased from less than 40 per cent to about 85 per cent in four years. He also mentioned the achievements of the Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion, Ujjwala Yojana to provide cooking gas, Mission Indradhanush for universal immunisation, and said the Centre was working to provide housing for all by 2022.
He urged states to identify 20 per cent of their blocks as aspirational blocks on the lines of the 115 aspirational districts identified by NITI Aayog. He called upon the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Sikkim, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh to work together to make recommendations on a coordinated policy approach to the two subjects of “agriculture and MNREGA”, including both pre-sowing and post-harvest phases. The world expects India to become a $ 5 trillion economy soon, the PM said.
Banerjee said it was not fair for the Centre to set the agenda of the annual NITI Aayog meet. “It is a routine meeting. Why does Centre set the agenda? They should allow us to set the agenda and address the problems we have. Do they want to know? You set the policy but we are the implementing authority. Cooperative federalism should be followed. Don’t interfere in state issues unnecessarily,” she told reporters after the meeting.
She also backed Chandrababu Naidu on the issue of the 2011 Census data being used by 15th Finance Commission, and asked that performing states be not penalised.
“I spoke on the 15th Finance Commission terms of reference on population-based allotment,” she said later. “We, the states who have implemented population control, are going to lose out. Bengal and southern states will be the loser. On health, Centre has announced health insurance, but in our state we already have free healthcare for all. Centre wants to work on doubling farmer income. In our state farmers are already getting three times more income. Kisan credit card is not doing well. Banks are not giving loans. We want to restructure our debt burden,” she said.
Naidu focussed on the non-fulfilment of assurances made in Rajya Sabha ahead of the bifurcation of undivided Andhra Pradesh. He raised the matter of Special Category status and the pending reimbursement of Rs 1,892 crore to the state for the Polavaram project. He said that the use of the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) for the Ayushman Bharat scheme would limit the benefits to only 56 lakh families in his state.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar supported Andhra’s Special Category status demand, and sought the same for Bihar. Kumar also spoke about farm distress, an issue that is increasingly being used by the opposition to attack the government. He said farmers were not getting remunerative prices for their produce, and “farm income is showing no signs of improvement”.