In the present Indian context, this Collective of States can act as a bulwark against authoritarian policies of the Union government that take away the rights of the states guaranteed by our Constitution.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK StalinTwitter: MK Stalin
Voices Opinion Friday, April 15, 2022 - 14:41

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin in his speech at the recent seminar conducted by the Kerala CPI(M) in Kannur firmly put forward his views on collaboration and cooperation among states, saying, “We must organise a Collective of States – to fight, to resist. We must form a collective of the Chief Ministers of south India, and then form a collective of Chief Ministers from all the states of India, separately.” The statement was made against a series of policy decisions and political actions taken by the BJP-led Union government in recent years. The BJP is systematically undermining the rights of states through (i) Financial powers; (ii) Uniform policies; and (iii) Governors as pseudo-heads of states.

This clarion call for a Collective of States is made against the background of consistent actions of the BJP government that are an affront to the federal features of our Constitution. At every conceivable opportunity, the BJP has undermined the rights of states and usurped their powers using the brutal majority they have in the Lok Sabha. Some states that used to oppose the suppression of state autonomy in the past remain mute today. This has left us with only some states that are ruled by non-BJP parties to continue this fight and struggle against the anti-federal and anti-constitutional actions of the BJP-led Union government.

Any incremental progress that was made in the last 60 years to ensure states’ rights has been completely wiped out in the last seven years. What is worrisome is the aggressive push of the BJP to reset the established constitutional principles on state autonomy. If immediate steps are not taken by regional parties to counter the Hindi and Hindutva imperialism of the BJP, there will be some irreversible damage to the plurality and diversity of this nation.

Disproportionate financial powers

It is regrettable we have to live through the relevance of what Perarignar Anna, the founder of the DMK party, had famously said in 1962 in the Rajya Sabha and how it is applicable in today’s political context: “...but the moment we are denied a steel plant, the moment you are denied a new railway line, the moment we are denied an oil refinery, the man in the street is going to get up and say, this is the way of Delhi. This is the way of northern imperialism and unless you come out of the imperialism, you are not going to make your country safe.”

History is repeating itself; Tamil Nadu and other states not ruled by the BJP are facing the same predicament now. For example, in the 2022-23 Budget, the Union government has allocated a sum of Rs 13,200 crore for Northern Railway whereas the amount earmarked for Southern Railway is only around Rs 59 crore. The disparity is alarming. Anna’s quip comes handy: “North is flourishing, south is waning.”

The Budget is a testimony to how the BJP is pandering only to the Hindi-speaking population and distributing more funds for their cause at the expense of the high GDP contributing southern states. Its policies are aimed at promoting schemes for the northern states. For every 1 rupee contributed by states in our country, Uttar Pradesh receives Rs 1.79 while TN receives only Rs 0.45. In 2018, Stalin wrote to 10 Chief Ministers lamenting on the Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission which led to inequitable distribution of central taxes to the states. The biased treatment of the states based on political patronage has to be nipped. This can be addressed and remedied only if there is a united front from various state governments.

Uniform policies

The BJP’s grand vision is to homogenise the entire country; it can be gauged by its toxic obsession with the words, “One and Oneness.” It wants to conveniently suppress the fact that India is more in the nature of a subcontinent, geographically, demographically and linguistically. This attempt at homogenising is bound to create disastrous consequences for the future of our country and the very idea of India envisioned by our forefathers. The party proposes to implement schemes conceived from the confines of Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, across the length and breadth of the country, without any forethought about its relevance or impact in all places.

Governors as pseudo-heads of states

To enforce the policy decisions of the Union government at the state level, the Governors of opposition ruled states are trying to act as Super Chief Ministers, clearly breaching the propriety and decorum that is expected from them. There are many instances in the recent past on how Governors in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Maharashtra acted not in consonance with the state government, but rather expressing their dissent to actions that are in contrast to BJP policies and initiatives. Even after the unequivocal condemnation of the actions of the Tamil Nadu Governor by the Supreme Court in sitting over the recommendations of the state cabinet, the present TN Governor has the temerity to continue to do so. The BJP uses the office of the Governor to stall the democratic functioning of state governments.

With every passing day, the Union government is misusing institutions and taking away their independence. It is also curbing parliamentary debates on critical social and economic issues, interfering in state affairs, and distracting people from mainstream problems and challenges by diverting their attention to trivial issues like food practices, choice of clothing, etc.

Collective of States

In the present Indian context, what we require is active collaboration and cooperation on the basis of cultural ideology. This Collective of States can act as a bulwark against authoritarian policies of the Union government that take away the rights of the states guaranteed by our Constitution.

The Collective of States will be able to garner and mobilise public opinion simultaneously across states, which will be hard to ignore. When Chief Ministers – rather than political parties – come together, it will be a formidable combination. However, a lot of work has to be done to build the framework – its structure, format, responsibilities and duties. Not least is the persistence and commitment to the cause. The idea has germinated now and is certain to bloom.

A Saravanan is a spokesperson for the DMK.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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