Last week as Minister for Finance and Planning Ajit Pawar presented the Shiv Sena, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) first budget, the all too familiar bemoaning was heard of the ruling alliance minister’s helping themselves with an extra scoop from the state coffers, as if it was some sort of an ice-cream at a buffet lunch.
Sadly, this has been an all too familiar political narrative that one has got to hear in the corridors of power, be it Maharashtra, or in any state capital, or in New Delhi. Those in power are accused of siphoning off, or diverting development funds to strengthen their own bastions. You are damned if you are a law maker from the opposition benches, because you are not going to get any funds or development projects.
That status-quo was apparently sought to be shaken up by Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) then leader of opposition in Legislative Council, Nitin Gadkari way back in 2003. In a rare show of bipartisanship and unity between opposition benches and support from ruling Congress-NCP alliance legislators from Vidarbha region, and never before in the upper house, the opposition had forced amendment to the money bill accusing the government of violating directives issued by the State Governor under Article 371(2) of the Constitution that had sought to ensure equitable distribution of state finances in removal of development backlog in Vidarbha region.
The tragic-comedy of it all was captured on that eventful day in 2003, which happened to be the last day of the budget session of the Maharashtra state legislature.
After a prolonged, protracted and often heated debate, the legislative council had forced amendments to the money bill and referred it back to the lower house, the legislative assembly for reconsideration.
As the drama was unfolding upstairs, in the upper house, down below in the lower house, the legislative assembly was busy winding up its proceedings and had almost begun with the singing of the national anthem.
A alarmed official of the state legislature secretariat came tearing down from upstairs, but by the time he managed to reach the lower house, the assembly was in the midst of signing the national anthem.
Hard as he might have tried to draw the attention of the then chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde to what has happened in the upper house, it was too late by then. Shinde was left fuming at his then Parliamentary Affairs minister, late Dr Patangrao Kadam who by then had left and almost reached Pune, thinking that there will not be any last minute hitch. Shinde was then forced to convene a one day special session in May 2003, just to get the finance bill ratified again.
That unique show of bipartisanship was the only flash in the pan. The accusation then was that over the years ruling party politicians had diverted development funds meant for development of Vidarbha, to their bastions in Western Maharashtra. Much of the heated debate focused on the diversion of funds meant for completing irrigation projects. The multi-crore Irrigation scandal, bears testimony of it to this day.
Bipartisanship has never been the hall mark, or virtue of our politicians, especially when it comes to development or infrastructure projects. The ultimate welfare of the people is tossed out of the window.
It has now become an all too familiar script that is played out each time there is a regime change, and it is essentially political in nature. Any new incumbent government, as has been the case with the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray led MVA, that comes to power the first thing that it goes about is stopping all projects, schemes and policies of the previous government, orders reviews and investigations into those initiated by the previous government, especially if it is not your own alliance government and happens to be of your political rival.
The net result of this politicization of development issues has been that infrastructure development has always been lopsided, convoluted, stymied and often stunted. We still do have remote, hilly tribal areas, or districts which are yet to see electricity and often get scared at the sight of a four wheeled vehicle.
We are yet to develop that mindset, culture, attitude and bipartisan approach towards development, especially infrastructure projects. Agreed care needs to be taken that projects do not violate environment norms, but once the project is duly cleared, then politics should take a back-seat and bipartisanship should take over to ensure that the project is completed on time and that the people get the ultimate benefit of it.