States and the Union | Indian express
The Center blames everything on states – and even if it corrects its own course, it targets states. Haven’t states called for control of vaccine supply? Yes, some states have. But some states have also called for farm laws to be overturned, then? This course of political discourse is slippery and it is the unfortunate message sent by the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who announced a very welcome reversal of the vaccine policy towards one in which the Center takes full responsibility for the provision of vaccines in the states. The attempt to portray states as culprits was not born out of a one-off escalation. In fact, it underscored a deeper and deeper pattern of antagonism, Center versus States. Especially since the BJP failed to win West Bengal after a fierce battle with TMC, the figure of a domineering center – ready to face the state or topple it or return the ball to it – has become a familiar sight. From sending central teams to investigate post-election political violence in Bengal to accusing opposition finance ministers of playing politics in the GST Council, arms agencies in triggering the party’s computer army to ridicule heads of state, the Center seems cranky and controlling, and worse, disrespectful of the state.
The past is not bright when it comes to state rights. Yet a long distance had been traveled from Kerala in July 1959 when the Center, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nehru, sacked an elected government that was not a member of Congress. The gratuitous use of Article 356 during the Indira Gandhi years was verified in the times to come – by the emergence of authoritarian regional parties in the 1980s and the emergence of coalition governments at the Center in the 1990s. The Justice Sarkaria Commission on Center-State Relations was created in 1983, the Bommai judgment fell in 1994. These ensured that even if there were pendulum swings, the Center had to be more attentive to the needs of people. States, more careful to walk in their domain. The federal balance of power has been shaped, over the decades, by the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, by important political transitions, by important judicial interventions. Ironically enough, in this story of deepening democracy, the BJP first made its mark by raising its voice for more power in states – whether it was protesting the abuse of Section 356. or, more recently, against the centralization of funding through centrally sponsored schemes. . As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi has always spoken out on the federal bias; as Prime Minister, he promised “cooperative federalism”. This promise is not kept.
A new round of legislative elections is scheduled for early next year. This could reignite hostilities between the Center and the States. This is not the way it should be, it would also undermine the gains made so far in the institutionalization of the federal idea. The pandemic has underscored the need for increased engagement, beyond state borders and levels of government. To say, as the mandarins of the BJP point out, that states must also do their part, is obvious. But it is the Center that must rethink its approach, lest this teaching moment be wasted. For the Union is always greater than the sum of its parts.