The decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to abolish the Planning Commission and replace it with the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog stupefied many, including veterans in the BJP. The move is believed to part of de-Nehruisation, in line with the Sangh parivar’s ideology.
As the first Union minister for industry and supplies in India, Syama Prasad Mookerjee declared that a national planning commission would be instituted while tabling the first industrial policy resolution in the Constituent Assembly in 1948. “The Government of India have given careful thought to the economic problems facing the country... The immediate objective is to provide educational facilities and health services on a much wider scale, and to promote a rapid rise in the standard of living of the people.... For this purpose, careful planning and integrated effort over the whole field of national activity are necessary: and the Government of India propose to establish a National Planning Commission to formulate programmes of development and to secure their execution”, the IPR 1948 stated.
But the idea of a planning commission for national economic development was not Mookerjee’s. As the president of the Indian National Congress Subhas Chandra Bose, had set up a national planning committee (NPC) in 1938 with Jawaharlal Nehru as its chairman. But then India was under the colonial yoke and the NPC, which prepared a detailed planning model for social and economic uplift, was on paper only. Mookerjee translated the concept into a statutory reality under the newly independent regime. He renamed it the National Planning Commission. After the new body was operational, it was rechristened the Planning Commission a couple of months after India became a sovereign republic.
Kamal Mitra Chenoy recollects this buried episode of the history of endeavour for reconstruction of India in his book, The Rise of Big Business in India. Mookerjee was arguably the most talented political leader in the periphery of the Sangh parivar although he was conceptually different from the likes of Praveen Togadia and Mohan Bhagwat. An eloquent orator and an outstanding parliamentarian, Mookerjee was committed to the democratic polity — which was why he differed with VD Savarkar within the Hindu Mahasabha.
Mookerjee was the president of the Mahasabha in 1938 .The latter was ideologically opposed to the centralised planning in 1938 as it was inspired by the Soviet model of Gosplan. However, Mookerjee never spoke against it. Small wonder, 10 years later Mookerjee and Nehru felt the need for instituting a national planning body.
So NITI Aayog is a nail in the coffin of not only Nehru, but that of Mookerjee as well, although he was a role model for Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Sankar Ray is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal