Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pooh-poohed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s charge of treating Chief Ministers “like schoolchildren” and “stifling their voices” by imposing a time limit of 10 minutes for the speakers, who are mostly CMs, at the National Development Council (NDC) meeting here on Thursday.

Without saying so in so many words, Dr. Singh, in his concluding remarks in the evening, said: “I thank all the CMs for complying with the electronically imposed time limit. Had they not complied with the limit, we would not have been able to accommodate 40 speakers even in this long session.”

Ms. Jayalithaa walked out of the meeting earlier in the day, claiming that she was “humiliated” and treated badly by the organisers (Centre) for cutting short her speech by pressing a buzzer after 10-minutes of her speech due to which she could not express many of the State’s issues.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rajiv Shukla, however, dismissed her charge, saying no leader should make political capital at such events. In fact, Dr. Singh gave her the opportunity to speak first soon after his speech, though her turn was to come later. Since there was a long list of speakers, including 35 CMs, the time allotted to each was fixed, he said.

“The same arrangement has been made for the CMs of the Congress and non-Congress ruled States. The buzzer is being pressed even for a Congress CM,” he said.

The NDC meeting should be used by the CMs to achieve something for the people of their State instead of “making an issue out of a non-issue.” It was not appropriate on the part of a leader of Ms. Jayalalithaa's stature to walk out of the NDC meet.

Law Minister Ashwini Kumar and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari too denied there was any discrimination against Ms. Jayalalithaa.

“Ms. Jayalalithaa even said during her speech that the rest of the written speech may be considered as read,” Mr. Kumar said.

The sources said Planning Commission Secretary Sindhushree Khullar had sent a letter to the Chief Secretaries, conveying that the maximum time permissible to each CM would be 10 minutes because of time constraints. The Tamil Nadu government made a request to the PMO that Ms. Jayalalithaa may be called first as she had to return to Chennai early.

Justifying Ms. Jayalalithaa’s walkout, CPI secretary D. Raja said the Centre was not an imperial power. “It cannot treat the CMs in such a manner by limiting their speeches to 10 minutes.”

While BJP Chief Ministers Narendra Modi (Gujarat) and Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) supported Ms. Jayalalithaa’s action, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan welcomed the system of limiting the speech of CMs to 10 minutes, saying all States were equal.

Mr. Modi said sarcastically, “The less they hear, the better it is for them [the Centre].”

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