Uddhav Thackeray’s call for an ‘honest discussion on federalism and Centre-state relations’ at his party’s Dussehra rally has national resonance. Indeed, the overbearing attitude of the Centre has irked several states. Other non-BJP states have complained about the big brother attitude of the Centre on issues such as the NEET exam, GST compensation, distribution of Covid vaccines, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the three farm laws. What rankles most though is the political use of investigation agencies by the Centre.
During her recent campaign for the Bhabanipur bypoll, Mamata hit out at the Centre for using Central agencies against TMC ministers and leaders. Her own nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife are being grilled by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Pinarayi Vijayan was hounded by the Central agencies over the gold smuggling case. One of the accused, after being released on bail, said that he was compelled to accuse several top politicians, including Vijayan. Now, Uddhav, whose Shiv Sena was till recently in alliance with the BJP, has joined the chorus. He says that the Centre is “hounding us and even our families through the I-T, ED and CBI”. He even likened the BJP to a jilted lover throwing acid on Maharashtra. Several ministers in the Uddhav Thackeray government are being investigated by Central agencies, including former Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Three senior Shiv Sena leaders are currently being probed by the Enforcement Directorate in different cases of alleged money laundering.
A couple of days prior to Dussehra, NCP chief Sharad Pawar alleged that Central agencies, including the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau, were being misused to target opposition parties in Maharashtra. He was primarily referring to the I-T raids on his nephew Ajit Pawar, the same man who had been given a clean chit when he sought to break away from the NCP and ally with the BJP. It is difficult to support Pawar’s contention wholeheartedly but given the reckless disregard for constitutional morality and the arrogance of the BJP regime, one tends to sympathise with the larger issue.
Uddhav has asserted that the makers of the Constitution made it clear that the Centre and the states have equal powers; that the states don’t have to kowtow to the Centre. Citing Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, he had said states have equal powers; the Centre has powers only in three scenarios -- an emergency, foreign affairs and invasion of the country by foreign powers. Apart from this, the states have equal powers and any interference by the Centre in the working of the states is a violation of the Constitution.
With the crucial Mumbai civic polls in February in mind, Uddhav said people must decide if they want this kind of Centre on their heads every day. In fact, he raised the issue of the survival of the MVA government; “In the current scenario, the question arises whether the Centre will allow the states to survive. They are trying to break and topple our government. I challenge them to bring us down. They will not succeed.”
Other CMs have raised the banner of revolt in their own way. Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin scrapped the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) in Tamil Nadu, saying that it went against the spirit of federalism and violated the constitutional balance of power by curbing the rights of the state governments to decide on the method of admission in the medical institutions founded, established and run by them.
He even urged the chief ministers of 12 states to put up a united effort to restore the primacy of state governments in administering the education sector as envisaged in the Constitution. Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi condemned the Centre’s decision to unilaterally extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force to a 50km-belt along the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
Opposition parties see these as attempts to weaken the federal structure so that the BJP can have an opposition-‘mukt’ Bharat. It is this sentiment that Uddhav wants to tap into: “Who will talk about this? I don’t want so-called experts from the street to talk about this. I want constitutional and legal luminaries to talk about this and express their views. There must be an open discussion about this. The Centre must not interfere every day… power too is an addiction and those in power have now become addicted. They want to take control of everything, from market committees to the Lok Sabha. This is an addiction of power. Who will fix this? Addiction to power is dangerous and can destroy lives.”
The Centre-states relationship is a contentious issue but the frequent confrontations between states and the Centre will not help democracy and damage its federal structure.