Thiru M K Stalin
Dear Thiru Stalin,
In your recently released book, Ungalil Oruvan (One Amongst You), you have highlighted, among others, the necessity for the States to come together to protect the equitable federal framework in which the Centre and the States should function.
On the occasion of the book release, as per news reports, you have stated, “The Dravidian model believes in equal rights to all ethnic groups. India is a union of states. The constitution says so. All the states should have higher powers and federal rights. The Indian government, which is a union of states, should act on the principles of federalism” ((https://thewire.in/politics/mk-stalin-book-release-national-ambitions-politics)
What you have emphasised thus assumes a great significance in the present context, when the political leadership at the Centre is making one overt move after the other to weaken the States financially, economically and politically. It is unfortunate that, for short-term gains, the Central leadership should choose to compromise the long-term interests of the nation. The Centre should know that it derives its strength primarily from the strength of the States. India’s strength lies in its diversity and the only way the country of its size can be governed is through mutual respect between the Centre and the States.
In this connection, I invite your attention to a letter dated 24-2-2022 addressed by me on this very same subject to Shri K Chandrasekhar Rao, Chief Minister of Telangana, in which I had referred to a series of unilateral decisions taken by the Centre in the recent times that diminish the States’ authority in many ways (https://countercurrents.org/2022/02/onslaught-on-federalism-an-appeal-for-a-federal-front/)
The intrusive forays made by the Centre include, among others, the Centre depriving the States of their legitimate share in tax revenues by raising additional fiscal resources through cesses/surcharges, in which the States cannot claim their share, the Centre diverting revenue resources from the common pool to fund Centrally Sponsored Schemes and Central Sector Schemes that encroach on areas that lie within the jurisdiction of the States, the Centre’s legislative overreach by imposing on the States, laws such as the three farm Bills, the Bill to amend the Electricity Act, amendments to the mineral development laws etc., the Centre’s summary decision to abolish the Planning Commission and discontinue the meetings of the National Development Council (NDC), the Centre’s recent decision to privatise the majority of the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) in one go and monetising their lands, ignoring the States’ interest in CPSE’s assets and activities, especially the far reaching adverse implications of CPSE disinvestment for reservations for the SCs/STs/OBCs, and so on.
Even in matters that lie within the Union List of the Constitution, such as defence and external affairs, when complex issues are involved, the earlier governments at the Centre had, by way of an unwritten convention, used to take all the political parties into confidence. The present ruling elite at the Centre has breached this convention.
In the context of the recent attempts made by China to intrude into Indian territory along its northern borders, instead of consulting the political parties and the States, the present leadership at the Centre has chosen to ignore them and even look upon the political parties in the opposition, more as adversaries than legitimate stakeholders. In the present Ukraine crisis in which thousands of Indian students across the different States are caught in a crossfire between Russia and Ukraine, the Centre has chosen to proceed unilaterally. While one can appreciate the complexity of India-Russia relations, since India has to strike a delicate balance between its relations with Russia and the safety of its students, one would have expected the Centre to build a national consensus.
What we witness today is the ruling party at the Centre wantonly ignoring the cultural diversity of the country and aggressively imposing its polarising ideas on the States. This will weaken the States and the nation as a whole. It is the existence of a united front of the States alone that can checkmate this onslaught on federalism.
Against this background, it is imperative that all the like-minded States come together and form a “Federal Front” on the basis of their collective stake in protecting the federal structure of the Constitution, safeguarding their individual cultural identities and their rights. The manner in which the present Central leadership is rapidly usurping the States’ authority calls for an equally effective, timely move from the States to counter it and protect the Constitution and its values.
I appeal to Tamil Nadu to join hands with the other States in making the idea of a Federal Front an effective reality. Such an initiative will succeed if the political parties in opposition sink their differences and come together for the sake of stopping the Central leadership from compromising institutions and weakening federalism.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India