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Cooperative Federalism?

History will judge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government by the success of his key policy measures. One of the first positive steps his government took was to raise the State’s share of central tax collections significantly. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre raised State’s share from the current 32 percent to 42 percent, as per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. This massive jump will reportedly add Rs 1.78 lakh crore to the states’ kitty this fiscal year. Experts believe that such a proposal will give State governments a lot more leeway to spend according to their needs. Consequently, this move will place greater responsibility on States to ensure that they create the requisite institutional capacity to implement schemes and programmes. Cooperative federalism, however, does not just stop at the mere disbursement of funds. It includes the elected state government’s ability to function independently on subjects under its jurisdiction, which includes concerns about land use and law and order, among others. Moreover, the principle of cooperative federalism goes beyond the domain of party politics. On this front, the Modi government stands accused of running “parallel governments” through Governors or Lieutenant Governors appointed by the Centre.  It is an unfortunate scenario, considering Prime Minister Modi was once a chief minister and faced the same kind of interference from previous ruling dispensations at the Centre.   

At a conclave on cooperative federalism organised in the national capital on Wednesday, both Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke at length about the problems they faced in dealing with the Centre, and slammed it for double standards when it came to dealing with the <g data-gr-id="34"><g data-gr-id="28">non</g> BJP-ruled</g> States. Hitting out at the Centre, Banerjee said, “If two people die in West Bengal, NIA is rushed to the state but when 100 people died in Madhya Pradesh not a word was said just because it is a BJP government there. This is not good governance. Neither is running a parallel government through the Governor or Lt Governor.” Moreover, Banerjee alleged that the West Bengal Governor wrote to the Centre seeking Central forces for municipal <g data-gr-id="30">elections,</g> when the State Police were more than equipped to handle the law and order situation. Despite the Trinamool Congress’s support for the Goods and Services Tax Bill, which remains stuck under a legislative logjam, the Centre continues to interfere in West Bengal’s affairs. Although the BJP seeks to spread its tentacles in West Bengal, it should refrain from interfering with policy matters under the direct jurisdiction of the State government.    

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was very difficult to run a government without the police. “Recently, we imposed Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on striking drivers of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) but police remained mute spectators when goons stopped operation of buses,” alleged Kejriwal. Such allegations follow a long list of battles fought between the Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor and the elected Delhi government over the appointment of State government bureaucrats and the functioning of its Anti-Corruption Bureau, among others. Therefore, Modi’s earlier claims that the country is above any political party seems disingenuous, with such a long list of complaints. Moreover, the NITI Aayog, which was meant to replace the Planning Commission as a key forum for State governments to address their grievances to the Centre, remains a toothless tiger. The Centre must, therefore, address these grievances and ensure that the spirit of cooperative federalism is not defeated. As a former chief minister himself, Modi is best placed to understand and empathise with these grievances. 
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