The importance of cooperative federalism has been widely recognized in India in the interests of justice, democracy and national integration. Unfortunately, however, in recent times not all has been well in the context of the principles and the spirit of cooperative federalism being followed at the level of the union government, and it is certainly very much in the larger national interest to initiate remedial action sooner rather than later.
In the fiscal sphere the problems have become more difficult since the introduction of GST. The special arrangements promised to states for compensating them adequately in the initial years have not always been observed and there have been delays in clearing their dues. In normal times also this would have created difficulties but in exceptionally difficult times of Covid and lockdowns involving tough resources constraints as well as higher responsibilities, the delays in adequate compensatory payments not reaching states have been much more hurtful.
Another increasing problem relates to the tendency on the part of the union government to raise more resources from imposing such cesses as are not shared with states. Hence the overall share of the states also gets reduced. One hopes that these problems can be sorted out soon.
A particularly vexing problem has arisen with regard to the increasing tendencies to use certain agencies of the union government to take action against those state level politicians who belong to political parties which are opposed to the ruling regime at the centre. In a single or similar corruption case, those political leaders close to the ruling regime at the centre may be spared while those belonging to or close to the state government may be pursued harshly , as has indeed happened recently. Before state elections a carrot and stick policy may be used to take away key persons from the ruling party in a state which is opposed to the ruling regime at the centre.
During election, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister are not supposed to concentrate personally too heavily in a single state to defeat a particular opposition stalwart , and they are not supposed to adopt excessively antagonistic and hostile attitude. After all they have to live with the possibility of working in cooperation with the same opposition leader for another five years or so. In state elections the Prime Minister in particular is not supposed to register such a divisive presence that his position as the leader of the entire nation and all its people suffers serious damage.
State elections are to be conducted in conditions of reasonable harmony and fair play, particular care should be taken to ensure that there is no misuse or excessive use of central forces, and these forces should not be used in such a way as to impede in any way on the well-established terrain of the state law and order structure and personnel.
Unfortunately all these cautions and considerations have been violated to some extent, particularly in the context of the very high-pitched assembly election in W.Bengal and its aftermath.lt be useful to see what one of our most senior ( now retired), distinguished and experienced police officials has to say in this context. Apart from holding the most senior posts in Punjab and Mumbai for distinguished work where he is most admired, Julio Ribeiro spent six years in the CRPF and also served in the Home Ministry in a senior position where he oversaw the deployment of several battalions for state election duty, so he is very adequately experienced to comment on this issue.
He has written in an article dated May 14, “ The BJP has changed the rules of the game in W.Bengal by emasculating the state police machinery during these elections and replacing it with a massive paramilitary presence….In my time, the power to distribute or allocate duties to the paramilitary was left to state government. The rules of deployment seem to have changed in Bengal this time around.”
If there are new orders and rules in this context, the experienced and distinguished police officer has demanded, these should be placed before the people.
Another disturbing development seen recently is the completely avoidable hostile statement made by a BJP chief minister regarding a step taken by the Congress Chief Minister of Punjab which has absolutely no impact on him or the people of his state. Generally the Chief Ministers of various states are known to enjoy good relations regardless of party affiliations, as can be seen when they meet at some meeting or function, and rush to helping other states at a time of a natural disaster . Their relations may come under some strain only at the time of a border dispute or a water dispute, but this too is generally sorted out soon, often with the help of the union government. But recently we had the strange situation of a BJP chief minister of a state which has no border with Punjab criticizing the Punjab Chief minister for creating a new district! As would be expected, this in turn got a sharp reply. This appears to be a new development and such entirely avoidable tensions and criticisms should not be allowed to spoil the relations of two chief ministers who are supposed to work in cooperation with each other.
Clearly there are reasons enough for serious concern regarding the many recent hurts caused to the principle and practice of cooperative federalism and it is time now to take appropriate remedial actions.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and Protecting Earth for Children.