Disgruntled NITI Aayog Member and economist Bibek Debroy has got his way and been bumped up into a stellar role as chairman of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. Debroy was upset over the appointment of rival economist Rajiv Kumar as chairman of NITI Aayog and had been seeking an honourable exit.
Well, what he has got is much more than a facesaver. Speculation is rife in government corridors that the constitution of the PMEAC may lead to the downgrading of NITI Aayog whose role in government policy making remains undefined even after three years. The twists and turns of fate are so unpredictable that if the buzz is to be believed, Debroy’s voice may turn out to be stronger than Kumar’s on the economy with this appointment.
These are early days and it will be interesting to see the dynamics that develop in the triangular relationship between the finance ministry, NITI Aayog and PMEAC. Another significant development is that PMEAC will have another key NITI Aayog official as member secretary, Ratan Watal. This too is being interpreted as a blow to NITI Aayog.
Where then does NITI Aayog fit into the scheme of things? NITI Aayog’s earlier avatar, Planning Commission, had a structured role that was crafted over 60 years. So there was no conflict between the Planning Commission and PMEAC.
Sonia Gandhi’s recent letter to Narendra Modi urging him to pass the women’s reservation bill marks the start of a battle between the Congress and the BJP to take credit for gender justice in Parliament. Mind you, there are many hurdles to cross before the controversial bill providing for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament becomes law.
But that hasn’t stopped the Congress-BJP fight for one-upmanship. Both are obviously trying to woo the women vote through this. Sonia’s letter on the women’s reservation issue came as a surprise. After all, the matter has been dormant for the past three years. So why has she chosen to flag the issue now? It seems the Congress has got wind of a BJP plan to push the reservation bill before the 2019 general election.
The buzz in political circles is that Modi may even introduce the bill for passage in the Lok Sabha in the upcoming winter session so that the logistics for getting more women in Parliament are in place before 2019. Sonia’s letter is an attempt to preempt Modi from taking credit for something she had hoped would be her legacy. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha during UPA rule after ugly scenes on the floor of the House.
It now needs a stamp of approval from the Lok Sabha to become law. But the Manmohan Singh government didn’t have the courage to take it to Lok Sabha after the fracas in the Rajya Sabha. BJP circles believe that Modi hopes to kill two birds with this one bill just before the next general election. He feels that it will attract the woman vote by strengthening his narrative about gender empowerment.
It will also give him a ready excuse to drop 33 per cent of sitting MPs and introduce fresh faces for the next election. He has already warned his MPs during the monsoon session that they are all are under watch and nonperformers will not get a ticket next time.
Officially, there is a date for Rahul Gandhi to take over as the next Congress president. The party has set October 15 as polling day for the election of the president. Yet, doubts persist that it may not happen. Rahul may chicken out at the last moment, although he announced during his interaction at Berkeley University in the US that he was ready to lead the Congress. Party circles are holding their breath and waiting for nominations to begin for the election.
Will Sonia Gandhi file nomination papers or will Rahul file? That’s the million dollar question waiting to be answered. Speculation has started because the Congress has not yet announced details of the polling schedule. Given that October 15 is just three weeks away, party workers are puzzled about the delay.
It’s given the impression that the family has not yet decided whether the time is right for Rahul to become party president and may delay the election yet again. The Election Commission has set a deadline of 31 December 2017 for the Congress to finish its internal organisational elections including the election of the president.
So time is running out for Sonia and Rahul to make up their minds on which of the two will lead the party into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.