The Niti Aayog on Saturday rejected claims made by the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, the central government had ignored the spirit of cooperative federalism.

In a four-page letter addressed to Modi, Rao made the comments on Friday while stating that he would boycott the seventh governing council meeting of Niti Aayog, scheduled to be held on Sunday. Modi will chair the meeting of chief ministers and representatives of all states and Union Territories.

In his letter, Rao had said “imperative federalism” had replaced cooperative federalism in the country. He claimed that the Niti Aayog had failed to meet the “lofty objective of bringing the states on the same page with the Centre”.

“The Centre’s actions show that the initiative [Niti Aayog] has gone astray as states are not included as equal partners in the national development agenda,” he wrote.

The chief minister also raised objections to Modi’s recent comment criticising freebies announced by political parties.

“Those promoting revdi culture feel that by distributing free revdis [a type of sweet] to people, they can buy them,” Modi had said at a rally in Uttar Pradesh last month, according to The Indian Express. “Together we need to defeat this thinking. Revdi culture needs to be removed from the country’s politics.”

In his letter, Rao said that welfare schemes should not be called freebies.

“Pensions for handicapped or disabled people are freebies?” he asked. “Is helping farmers by giving a financial incentive so that their land does not remain barren freebie [culture]?’’

Niti Aayog response

On Saturday evening, the Niti Aayog released a statement, saying it was unfortunate that Rao decided not to attend the general council meeting of the planning body.

In response to Rao’s claims of the Centre undermining federalism, Niti Aayog said that the members of the body have held 30 meetings with chief ministers of various states over the last one year.

“A delegation led by vice chairman Niti Aayog met the Telangana chief minister in Hyderabad on 21st January 2021 to discuss development issues pertaining to the state,” the statement noted. “More recently, despite requests made by Niti Aayog for a meeting, the chief minister did not respond.”

The Niti Aayog also countered claims made by Rao about inadequate release of funds to Telangana for water-related projects.

“Over the last four years, government of India allocated Rs 3,982 crore under the Jal Jeevan Mission for the state of Telangana,” the Niti Aayog claimed. “However, the state chose to draw only Rs 200 crore.”