When Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his maiden Independence Day speech earlier this month, one crisp announcement stood out amidst the torrent of usual homilies: he wanted to shut the Planning Commission down.

The Planning Commission is a government body that formulates five-year economic plans, among other things. What Modi will replace it with is still not clear. But he was unequivocal about his decision: "We will replace the Planning Commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country, based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilisation of resources, utilisation of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure."

Guess what? That's exactly what the Planning Commission does. So why replace it? Certainly, there are good reasons to reboot the organisation. But Modi's decision to obliterate it has a lot to do with the antipathy that the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have towards the social, economic and political legacy of India’s first prime minister, the Congress's Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is this Nehruvian heritage, in the form of the institutions he helped set up, and their lasting impact on Indian public life that remains a political threat to the BJP.

Out with Nehru

If you type "Nehruvian" in the search function of Organiser, the official RSS magazine, you get a large number of articles on Nehru and his alleged follies. Sample these quotes from one article, picked at random, written by BJP politician Subramaniam Swamy: "Today, due to what I call as (sic) Nehruism, the nation is at the weakest. India’s adrenalin has almost been drained" and "Indians have been programmed by Nehruism to be bereft of patriotic feelings” and “Nehruism is capitulation for personal aggrandisement.”

As long as Nehru’s institutions abound, his contributions remain visible and could present a credible opportunity for the Congress, and the descendants of the Nehru-Gandhi family, to perhaps claw back after losing badly in the general election that ended in May. Many a BJP apparatchik has made public statements about eradicating the Congress, and the logical place to begin seems to be Nehruvian institutions, especially those thought to be stamped with his enduring intellectual watermark.

The first move came from finance minister Arun Jaitley while he announced his maiden budget on June 10. He announced the launch of a multitude of new social schemes, all named after right-wing idols, such as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Madan Mohan Malaviya. In the past, Congress-led governments usually named such schemes after a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The second salvo was fired by urban affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, who publicly stated that the first prime minister's name would be dropped from the central programme, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. A hunt is now on to find a suitable name from the RSS-BJP pantheon to replace Nehru’s.

As it attempts to dismantle Nehruvian institution, it is also trying to co-opt Vallabhbhai Patel, who was, ironically, a life-long Congressman. But the right wing finds inspiration in his sharp, and public, ideological differences with Nehru, especially his hostility towards centralised planning.  The underlying narrative suggests that if Patel had become the first prime minister, he would have led the country to a higher plane of growth and prosperity.

A pre-election article on niticentral.com, one of the many websites supporting Modi, concluded with this pithy statement: "So if Narendra Modi does become the prime minister, he will be India’s first holistically anti-Nehruvian prime minister."

Easy come, easy go

What seems to have sharpened the political debate is this genuine anachronism: the Commission has been persisting with its centralised five-year plans, a relic of the Soviet-style planning process. It was essentially a top-down exercise that did not adequately take into account regional aspirations and requirements.

States often had to approach the Commission, hat in hand, for grants as well as plan and non-plan fund allocations. As a former chief minister, Modi must have found this very humiliating. It’s payback time now.

The Commission has also come in for some flak for its flip-flop on poverty estimates, setting up one committee after another, never quite coming to grips with a proper methodology. In addition, as an institution, it no longer provided the intellectual heft of its initial years, such as the rigorous theoretical frameworks that guided its initial five-year plans. Consequently, it became easy picking for the political class.

It won’t be too difficult to dismantle the Commission because it is not Constitutionally mandated. It was set up through a government resolution and can be shut down through another government resolution.

While politics — and some own goals — have hastened the Commission’s demise, India still needs an organisation that provides the strategic edge to economic policy-making. If large corporations can have short-, medium- and long-range plans, surely the country can also benefit from some method in its madness.

Rajrishi Singhal is a Mumbai-based journalist and a senior fellow with think tank Gateway House.