Mamata Banerjee to skip ‘fruitless’ Niti Aayog meeting
Banerjee’s decision came about a week after she decided not to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony to protest the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s claim that over 50 of its workers were killed in political violence in Bengal.Updated: Jun 07, 2019 23:49 IST
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday she will not attend a Niti Aayog meeting slated for June 15, stressing that the central government’s think-tank has “no financial powers” to support a state’s plans and that it is “fruitless” for her to attend the meeting.
Banerjee’s decision came about a week after she decided not to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony to protest the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s claim that over 50 of its workers were killed in political violence in the eastern state , a charge she described as “untrue”.
PM Modi is set to chair a meeting of the National Institution for Transforming India, or Niti Aayog, in the national capital next week. It will be the first meeting of the think tank’s governing council, which comprises all chief ministers and select Union ministers, in the new term of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
“Given the fact that the Niti Aayog has no financial powers and the power to support state plans, it is fruitless for me to attend the meeting of a body that is bereft of any financial powers,” Banerjee wrote in a letter to PM Modi, triggering a fresh political slugfest in her state.
She also suggested that focus should be shifted to the Inter-State Council (ISC) to deepen cooperative federalism and strengthen federal polity. Niti Aayog, which has replaced the Planning Commission, was set up in 2015 to create a platform for cooperative federalism that helps the working together of states and the Centre.
ISC is an institutional framework for states and the Centre to come together to discuss emerging issues of the federal structure to support Centre-state, and inter-state coordination and cooperation.
“The experience of last four-and-half years we had with Niti Aayog brings me back to my earlier suggestion to you that we focus on Inter-State Council constituted under Article 263 of Constitution, with appropriate modifications to enable ISC to discharge its augmented range of functions as the nodal entity of the country,” Banerjee wrote.
“This will deepen cooperative federalism and strengthen federal polity. May I also reiterate that the National Development Council, which has been given a quiet burial, may also be subsumed within the broadened constitutional body of the Inter-State Council,” she added.
At a press conference in the afternoon, Banerjee said, “The Planning Commission was much more effective. States could express their views there, which is not possible in case of NITI Aayog. So what is the point in attending such meetings?”
The BJP and the Trinamool Congress have been engaged in pitched political battle in the state where the saffron party won 18 of the 42 seats in the recently held Lok Sabha elections — just four less than what Banerjee’s party managed to bag. PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah campaigned aggressively in West Bengal even as Banerjee led the charge of her party in attacking the BJP.
Political killings have been reported from different parts of the state in the election season and even after the conclusion of the polls, and both parties have blamed each other for the violence.
Hitting out at Banerjee, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh told news agency PTI: “Her decision only reflects that she is yet to accept her defeat and wants to politicise everything. While doing so, she is affecting the development of the state. She should be ashamed of it. Only she has problem with Niti Aayog, other chief ministers don’t have any problem.”
Jay Prakash Majumdar, the vice-president of the BJP’s West Bengal unit, said the aim of the June 15 meeting was to determine how the country can progress. “But instead of entering into a discussion, the Bengal chief minister chose to avoid it. This proves how anti-national she is,” he said.
The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress was quick in its reply. “What is the use of attending a meeting which doesn’t bear any result? The BJP can’t force us to attend the meet; it is the prerogative of the chief minister to decide. And neither TMC nor Mamata Banerjee needs lessons on nationalism or development from a communal party like BJP,” state food supplies minister Jyotipriyo Mullick said.
Banerjee skipped Niti Aayog governing council’s first meeting back in 2015. But she turned up at the meeting last year in June along with other chief ministers of the Opposition bloc — Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Karnataka’s HD Kumaraswamy and N Chandrababu Naidu, who was then the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.
From the Opposition camp, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the newly elected Andhra Pradesh chief minister (YSR Congress Party), Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Punjab CM Amarinder Singh (Congress) are expected to attend the June 15 meeting.
Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (Congress) are yet to give a confirmation on their attendance.
(With inputs from Hindustan Times Correspondent in New Delhi and agencies)