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Sonia Gandhi was ‘Super Prime Minister’ during UPA regime, suggest newly-released NAC files

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In a revelation that could reignite the debate regarding the undermining of the Prime Minister’s Office during the Congress-led UPA regime, the Government of India released 710 files of the controversial National Advisory Council (NAC),The New Indian Express reported on Sunday.

According to media reports, the files give an idea of the unaccountable power that the body had over the UPA government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, influencing policy decisions in various sectors.

Here are some of the revelations from the files that were released by the Centre.

One of the files, dated 14 September, 2011, highlights the undermining of the prime minister’s position. On that day, the NAC chariperson Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to the then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh with recommendations to strengthen the natural resource management under the MNREGA. The recommendations were also agreed upon in mail sent by the minister on 28 September 2011, The New Indian Express report stated.

The report narrated an instance where the Ministry of Shipping and Ports knocked the doors of the NAC to resolve implementation issues relating to the development of ports in the western sector was highlighted.

The daily quoted File 11012/2/2014-NAC, dated 25 February 2014, to highlight the Congress president’s apparent lack of trust in the prime minister’s abilities.

The file suggested that the NAC had taken a more proactive role in formulating policies than previously expected from it, as the body sent recommendations on developing sports in the northeast to the PMO with the prior approval of the chairperson – Sonia Gandhi.

The many of the files also bring to light the extra-constitutional authority that the members of the advisory group had over the bureaucracy.

According to the daily, in a file (26011/1/2011-NAC-1877) dated 20 April, 2011, Rita Sharma, a secretary in the NAC, wrote a letter to the rural development secretary to bear expenses of an NAC working group meeting on improving natural resources management under MNREGA.

In another instance, a declassified file reveals how a coal ministry official had to make a presentation on improving coal production and formulating a new coal distribution policy at the NAC office at 2 Motilal Nehru Place in 2007.

The report in the daily, added another instance in December 2013, when officials from the finance ministry were summoned to the NAC to discuss the possible implications of the new education cess.

In another report in the same publication, a 2004 letter written by the NAC chairperson to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, suggested that the Rae Baraeli MP advised the prime minister to strengthen public sector companies and make them more autonomous and professional. The report added that the former prime minister also implemented the recommendations.

The political slugfest over the revelations has already begun with the BJP feeling vindicated over its long-standing stance. “This is something which we have been saying for a very long time that Sonia Gandhi was the ‘Super Prime Minister’ during the UPA regime,” quoted BJP spokesperson Zafar Islam as saying.

However, the Congress party was quick to dismiss the allegations of NAC being an extra-constitutional body. “Sonia Gandhi resigned from the NAC in March 2006 and came back in June 2010. She never got any loan waived off any big industrialist and did not even interfere in any policy to help anyone,” the publication quoted K Raju, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi as saying.

The National Advisory Council was formed on 4 June, 2004 after the Congress-led UPA came to power, defeating the BJP-led NDA. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was the chairperson of the body until it was dissolved in May 2014.

The advisory body was constantly under the scanner from its inception, with the BJP calling it an “extra-constitutional” body and termed the constitution of the council illegal.

The powers of the NAC became apparent in 2010, when the former prime minister himself acknowledged the role played by the Sonia-led body in formualting the Right to Information Act and the MNREGA.

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