Niti Aayog’s new strategy: A call for growth or acceptance of failure

Celebrating India's 75th year of Independence is a matter of pride, but achieving a "New India" needs more than a textual articulation

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 20 December 2018
NITI Aayog's policy
Credit: Getty Images Credit: Getty Images

Seventy years ago, similar energy, effort and resolve from all Indians freed the country from colonial rule within five years of the launch of the Quit India movement in 1942. Then, like now, foundations had been laid but a committed acceleration of effort was necessary. The Prime Minister’s call for Sankalp Se Siddhi is a clarion call for a radical transformation for a New India by 2022-23,” roars the NITI Aayog’s Strategy for New India @75 document in its introduction for the now almost fabled “New India” to be gifted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi had said that just like Mahatma Gandhi took just five years (Quit India movement was launched in 1942) to gain Independence from the British, he would simply repeat the same by launching a strategy paper in 2018 and attaining the “New India”.

After close to four years of the NITI Aayog, by far, this is the most noticeable document from the body that replaced the erstwhile Planning Commission. It has a vision for the country, and aligns with the vision of the executive head of state. And as it claims, the agency consulted over 1,300 experts, both from government and non-government agencies, to prepare the blueprint for a new paradigm of development to be achieved in the next 4-5 years.

Before diving deep into the codes of the proposed “New India”, let’s look at what the document clearly spells out. Going by its language, context and preamble, one tends to believe that after Mahatma Gandhi, we have just another such Mahatma to offer a new deal for the country. Since the proposal is benchmarked to the Quit India movement, the argument is that this is India’s first new vision after Independence. Modi, in his opening remarks in the document, says that this will be a “mass movement”—a phrase he has been using frequently in his speeches during his tenure. It is certain that he has snatched this phrase from the non-government types; no prime minister in recent history has been successful in using this phrase. His articulation of the “new” vision has uncanny similarity to Jawaharlal Nehru’s “tryst with destiny” call. Not surprisingly, Nehru is his main point of reference while bringing out all the ills with the old India before 2022-23.

The tall call for a new deal for India falls flat when one looks into the details of the strategy document. Its drivers for the change are: employment, economic growth, doubling of farmers’ income and housing for all, besides a boost for the service sector. As one reads the details, one gets the feeling that there is nothing new the Strategy for New India @75 is talking about. For each of these drivers, India is at present facing an upheaval task of bringing in radical changes. There is no doubt about that. But the strategy is not exactly new. It says in generic terms that India needs to increase agriculture growth, raise employment and reform agricultural markets.

These are the same codes that in 1950s—when freshly-Independent India was settling down to draft its growth strategy—policymakers and political leadership identified as drivers of growth. And now too they remain the same. But for a country that has not been able to readjust these drivers to make them propel growth, another call for doing the same is more of an acceptance of failure, than a new vision.

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