The elections in Gujarat may be almost over with just the outcome awaited but Wednesday saw another clash between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and state Chief Minister Narendra Modi. This time, it was at the National Development Council meeting, held to approve the 11th Five-Year Plan document.
Modi led the BJP-ruled states in opposing the government’s decision to earmark funds for minorities, which his party has termed “communal budgeting”. Singh retaliated by saying there was no attempt to divide people on caste and religion lines and the focus remained on the most marginalised sections of society.
Responding to the BJP’s charge just before the Council adopted the document, the PM said: “Inclusiveness does mean better targeting and it is not at the cost of other groups. You will all agree that if we hope to have a prosperous, equitable, just India, we must cover all groups and ensure no one is left behind.”
“The goal of this plan is to invest in our people, to enable them to become active participants in economic growth processes. The plan does not attempt to divide people on the basis of caste, creed, gender or religion,” he added.
The PM said it was a reality that there are certain social groups who are badly placed on all developmental indicators. The plan pays special attention to the needs of these groups and targets them in a precise manner.
Earlier, Modi said: “Such discrimination... will not help the cause of taking the people of India together on the path of development.” Calling for a review of the approach, he said flow of funds for various schemes should be based on the principle of equity, the socio-economic criterion alone. He also said such schemes were better left to the states.
The CM was backed by his counterparts from BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. MP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan later told the media the poor have no caste or religion, hence economic criterion alone should be the basis for allocation of funds for welfare schemes. “This (proposal) is an example of votebank politics.”
Echoing the PM, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said: “It is an unfortunate reality that society is socially fragmented and minorities along with other groups have n’t benefited adequately from our development schemes.” Pointing out that inclusive growth and social harmony can’t be achieved if minorities are excluded, he said: “This is why the plan contains specific proposals to ensure equitable flow of benefits to minorities who are different in different states.”
Ahluwalia said the government would focus on districts with a high concentration of minorities. Programmes, however, would not involve discrimination in favour of minorities. “Services provided will be available to all persons. Where programmes are in-principle individual beneficiary-oriented, the eligibility criterion remains BPL (below poverty line).”