ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Rebirth of the National Advisory Council

The National Advisory Council was reborn a year after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. While the NAC of 2004 was to monitor the implementation of the 2004 National Common Minimum Programme, the NAC of 2010 has no NCMP to track but is to take up the priorities set out in the President's speech to Parliament in June 2009. It is an "advisory" body but given that its chairperson is Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling coalition and of the biggest party, any advice it renders will clearly be seen as a directive to the government, as indeed happened in 2004-06.

Among the various institutions set up by the Government of India in recent years, the National Advisory Council (NAC) is perhaps the most significant, enjoying an unparalleled prestige and power due to the fact that it is headed by none other than Sonia Gandhi.

It is an unusual type of institutional structure with a political leader – the chairperson of the Congress Party and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – appointed as the chairperson of the council and the members being drawn from among nonparty civil society activists or experts – though all of them have been hand-picked by Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. To an extent, a parallel can be drawn with the Planning Commission; but the Planning Commission is headed by the prime minister and its deputy chairman, a non-party individual, is the de facto head who attends the meetings of the union cabinet. The Planning Commission has a well-established place in the governmental structure with formal and regular interaction with ministries at the central as well as the state governments and is guided by the National Development Council (which includes the prime minister and all the chief ministers). It has developed a transparent system of formulation of the five-year plans and allocation of Plan funds over the last six decades. The NAC, on the other hand, is an ad hoc body, once wound up and now resurrected, with no settled location in the anatomy of the government.

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