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MPs split over Modi's model village scheme

india Updated: Aug 25, 2014 01:31 IST
Prashant Jha
Narendra Modi

Ten days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to MPs to adopt a village under a new Sansaad Adarsh Gram Yojana in his Independence Day address, lawmakers across party lines are grappling with the real political, administrative, and logistical challenges in heeding his advice.

While opinion was divided among parliamentarians about the merits of the scheme, even those who supported the idea had concerns about how it would work out.

While BJP MPs predictably supported their PM's idea, the opposition was divided on whether this was tokenism or could have tangible impact. Within the Congresss, Gaurav Gogoi, a Lok Sabha MP from Assam, told HT he was 'glad' the PM brought it up and got villages back in focus. But his own senior party leader, and Rajya Sabha MP, Mani Shankar Aiyar called the scheme 'comical'. "Even if all 800 MPs - from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha - adopt a village each, it will mean only 800 villages in a country of millions of villages." A far better way, he argued, would be empowering the Panchayat, and giving it more finances, functions, and functionaries.

But BJP LS MP from Bihar R K Singh disagreed."The question is of templates. When we conceive of a model village, we will first have to define what it should look like. If we succeed, it can increase the aspiration level all around and MLAs and gram pradhans will pick their own villages."

NCP RS MP D P Tripathi agreed with the government and said Modi's suggestion was 'practical'. Tripathi has decided to adopt the poorest village in the poorest district of Vidharba region in Maharashtra. He suggests LS MPs can pick a village from their constituency, RS MPs can pick one from the state, and 12 nominated RS MPs can pick any from the country.

But it is precisely the selection of a village which will be a real challenge for many MPs. JD (U) RS MP, K C Tyagi, told HT that there must be a bar on any MP adopting either his own village, or a village dominated by his own caste. "There is a real danger that he will work only for his biraadri, clan. MPs from rural areas must compulsorily adopt a Dalit or sweepers village, and those from urban areas must pick a slum."

These conditions do not quite work for other MPs. Congress's Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary says each constituency has its own alignments and each MP has his own priorities. "I have 800 villages in my constituency. Each expects funds from MPLADS. If I adopt one and give more money there, there will be resentment." BJP, he quipped, can do it if they want, but it is not 'practical'. Aiyar echoes his party colleague and says if he ends up adopting one hamlet of one village in his constituency of 600 villages, he was sure to lose the next election.

But Congress' Gogoi says he is already working on certain villages, with focus on improving educational standards, training women, and organic farming. And how did he choose villages? "The key thing is people in the village must be motivated and optimistic. I identify change-makers within a village" NCP's Tripathi too says that poverty is caste and religion neutral, and poor and tribal villages could be picked.

The third issue is of jurisdiction. In India's multilayered administrative structure, the parliamentarian has limited powers to execute projects on the ground. That falls within the mandate of the state government and local bodies.

BJP's Singh admits there is an issue. "True, a government official has power and jurisdiction in his sphere, while an MP has to work largely through persuasion, through advocacy." But Singh points to their comparative advantage. While district officials are mostly limited to their own department, an MP can cut across agencies. If an MP decides, he can pool in resources from central government schemes, work across departments, and concentrate development efforts in one village, he says. But all agree the PM’s idea, even if noble, needs far greater clarity.