Saturday, January 9, 2010

The National Advisory Council Vacuum

During the UPA-I government, a body of social activists and experts was formed under the chairmanship of Sonia Gandhi. I was called the National Advisory Council (NAC). NAC, as the government claimed, was formed for the following purpose: [1]
"The National Advisory Council (NAC) has been set up as an interface with Civil Society in regard to the implementation of the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the Government of India."

It attracted all sorts of criticism from being a tool of the left to influence the government policies to being a way of justifying the role of the 'super prime minister' Sonia Gandhi. It was actually a bit of both. But more importantly it provided the vital interface between the government and the social activists. The high and mighty, elite and the rich usually form the bureaucratic and ministerial part of the government. They belong to the upper middle class and many influential persons in the government are educated in the best universities outside the country. Thus the most of the views formed by the government were actually formulated in the drawing rooms rather than on the ground. The NAC provided the government a way to look at things from a different view point other than government sources and reports formed by administrative officers, who still enjoy the colonial luxuries of sahibs and are to some extent the most disassociated from the general public.

The NAC proved to be a very beneficial body for the country and the political prospects of Congress. It conceptualized the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Information (RTI) Act and with the political will symbolized by Ms. Gandhi, the acts saw the light of the day. The skeptics bared their teeth when such socialist Utopian models started being taken seriously by the government [2]. Even the prime minister seemed not very enthusiastic about the act. But today, these acts are the two most important things that have happened to India. The impact of NREGA has been mind boggling [3] and RTI is stirring new revolutions day by day. Many nebulous ideas took shape in NAC during its heyday [4] but it started loosing some steam as the meetings of the council became more rare and many important members declined to be on the council again[5]. But it was finally buried when Sonia Gandhi resigned as its chairman following the office of profit controversy [6].

The UPA-II government came to power with a resounding public approval. Much credit for this success would go to the NAC. Yet, today the body stands dissolved and dead. The government is facing a crisis at multiple levels whether it is the climate issue or the Maoist problem. There is a a very urgent need of a fresh wave of thoughts to tackle these issues and the NAC -II can provide exactly the same. It remains unclear whether NAC became a success due to presence of left or Sonia Gandhi or both, but it is certain that we need a better dialogue between the sahibs and ground level workers to evolve into a better India.

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