Federalism under strain
Amidst the flurry of announcements made by prime minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day address was the purported move to dismantle the Planning Commission. Though we are still to know what would be the Modi model, which would replace the 65 year old Soviet-inspired structure, to regulate and monitor development across the nation, there are a few who are already claiming it to be the first step towards strengthening federalism.
According to the supporters of the move, with the advent of the coalition era of governance, the state chief ministers who were not allies of the ruling dispensation at the centre came to resent the patronising attitude of the Plan panel. They argue that the Centrally-sponsored schemes (CSSs), evolved by the Plan panel for the distribution of Central Plan assistance to socially desirable development programmes across the states through a mix of central and state funding, emerged as a source of friction in the federal relations.
There is truth in this assertion but it’s also true that the Planning Commission provided a forum for exchange of dialogue between the states and the centre. Its negotiations repeatedly may have put the spirit of federalism under test but it did manage to succeed in securing, if nothing else, a semblance of uniform development across the country. In a nation where states have divergent economic and cultural status, the Planning Commission played role of a fair arbitrator to a great extent. Hopefully the new model is able to provide a forum for rigorous discussion to the states over the distribution of national wealth.
The challenge for PM Narendra Modi to uphold the spirit of federalism is greater especially given the recent incidents of the hooting of the opposition chief ministers at the official functions attended by him. These functions are being held in the states where the assemblies are scheduled to go to polls in near future. Political passions in these states are natural to run high, however, the PM is expected to show greater statesmanship to build ‘Team India’ and insure dignity of opposition chief ministers is not violated when they bare sharing dais with him.
Referring to the incident which took place in Ranchi, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren, who was hooted out in presence of the PM, said it was like rape of federalism. Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who belongs to Congress, decided not to attend PM’s function at Nagpur later in the day leading to the discussion whether it was a case of breach of protocol. To ensure that protocol is followed, Centre will have to also ensure that the dignity of the state represented through its chief ministers is also upheld.