In the Niti Aayog meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was uncharacteristically combative and forthright. In a direct message to the prime minister, Patnaik said it is high time that the country gets out of election mode and allows state governments to function.
Immediately after his opening remarks, Patnaik launched a veiled attack on BJP-ruled NDA, saying: “My speech has been circulated which deals with the agenda points and requirements of our state and the people. It speaks of the just demands of our state relating to railways, telecom, banking, reduction in central fund, special focus states in view of frequent disasters, inclusion of some of our important languages in the 8th schedule etc. However, I would like to use this time to reflect on some of the issues/concerns that affect us as a country today and the Niti Aayog is dealing with them.”
In what is seen as a subtle attack on the NDA, Patnaik went on to say, “Elections are an essential feature of democracy. However, the hallmark of a mature democracy is that once elected, governments are meant to work for people, beyond party lines. It’s high time that we, as a country, have serious introspection on whether we are able to do the same. Every crime is being politicised, every action of an elected government is being seen from a political angle.”
Patnaik described this kind of atmosphere as “one of the biggest threats to the pace of development and peace in the country”, reiterating that “it is high time the country gets out of this election mode and allows elected governments to function”.
The chief minister of Odisha also made a strong pitch for women’s reservation in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, saying, “History will not forgive us if we renege on this commitment”. Patnaik pushed for committed and targeted action by the Niti Ayog in taking along “regions that are neglected” and “populations that are vulnerable” in areas such as “malnutrition, connectivity, sex ratio imbalances”.
Patnaik also pitched for a revaluation of the examination pattern for UPSC, NEET, JEE, asking: “Should we not have exams that focus on equality and attracting merit as opposed to exam patterns that are heavily dependent on highly paid coaching classes?”
Arguing that the existing pattern of examinations will “truly eliminate merit in the long run and deny justice to lakhs of our children in rural areas that don’t have physical or economic access to coaching classes”, Patnaik said that the Niti Aayog should look into this very serious issue or else in a few years’ time there would be serious distortions.
The chief minister also advocated for the Niti Aayog developing into a “repository of innovations” drawn from the country and across the world and “help replicate it” with focus on futuristic technologies, new world economy, solutions for climate change and inclusive governance model. Patnaik also asked for decision to be taken on the proposals from different states relating to inclusion of tribal communities in the scheduled tribes list which have been pending since 1978.
Hailing India’s “unified approach” in tackling the Covid-19 challenge, Patnaik pointed out that the European countries and the United States could not put up a “united front”. Patnaik argued for the “same unified response” and “inclusive approach” to be adopted for all major challenges facing the country “in the true spirit of cooperative federalism”.
In what is seen as a subtle message to the BJP, Patnaik ended his speech by saying that history will remember us on what our response has been on critical issues affecting our people and the country, rising above political considerations.
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