History repeats itself: Now, BJP stands accused of riding roughshod over states’ rights

Banerjee’s letter read, “I am writing to you to express deep concern over direct attacks on this country’s institutional democracy by the ruling BJP

History repeats itself: Now, BJP stands accused of riding roughshod over states’ rights

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A number of issues between the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre and the opposition ruled states are leading to friction with the BJP, which once constantly criticised Congress for hurting the federal system in the country, now being accused of doing the same.

The friction cuts across several issues and the most conspicuous being the rejection of the Republic Day floats of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal ruled by the Opposition.

There has been persistent criticism of the BJP government at the Centre from the Opposition leaders that there is no consultation on issues and policies like farm laws are imposed on the states.


The biggest friction point is of course what the Opposition alleges is the misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to threaten other parties, especially before elections.

In late March, in a letter addressed to her counterparts in the non-BJP ruled states and senior Opposition leaders, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the BJP-led Centre of allegedly attacking the federal structure of the country. Asking the Opposition parties to unite against the BJP, Banerjee said the government should be “held accountable for their actions”.

Recently, after the Centre proposed to amend the IAS rules and sought opinions from the states, the Chief Minister had shot off another letter asking the non-BJP states to oppose the move.

Banerjee’s letter read, “I am writing to you to express deep concern over direct attacks on this country’s institutional democracy by the ruling BJP. Central agencies such as the ED, CBI, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Income Tax Department are being used to target, harass and corner political opponents across the country for vendetta.”

Alleging that the BJP is attacking the federal structure of the country, she wrote, “BJP is trying to attack the federal structure of this country by attempting to influence a certain section of the judiciary. As the Opposition parties, it is our constitutional responsibility to hold this government accountable for their actions, to resist the stifling of voices of dissent.”

She added, “Central agencies are jolted to action just when elections are round the corner. It is amply clear that the BJP ruled states get a free pass from these agencies to paint a rosy picture of their hollow governance.”

Speaking in the Rajya Sabha during the February session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at the Sonia Gandhi-led party for delivering lectures on federalism, as per media reports.

PM Modi noted that when Congress was in power at the centre for decades, several chief ministers were removed over ‘petty issues’. The Prime Minister went on to name Congress’ Chief Ministers from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and underscored that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t work with such a narrow mindset, the reports said.

One of the former Chief Ministers that the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech in the Rajya Sabha was former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister T. Anjaiah. who was ousted because then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi did not like the arrangements at the airport. PM Modi said, “Have we forgotten those days when CMs would be ousted owing to small incidents at the airport? Many leaders of this House know very well what happened with former Andhra Pradesh CM T. Anjaiah Ji. He was ousted because the PM’s son didn’t like the arrangements at the airport. This had hurt the sentiments of crores of people of Andhra Pradesh,” the reports said.

The Prime Minister underscored that “We do not see a conflict between national targets and regional aspirations. We maintain that we must address regional aspirations with the utmost respect and resolve issues. India will progress when we address regional aspirations keeping in mind development. When states progress, the country prospers,” the reports added.

K.K Kailash of the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad said in a February article that the One India framework has allowed the BJP to simplify and rationalise complex tax and reform policy measures and frame them in terms of being universally beneficial. While they are supposedly based on sound administrative and economic judgement, this goes against the principle that in federations states could be the ‘laboratories of democracy’. The framework has a top-down agenda and does not necessarily allow the best solutions to emerge since it assumes that the Centre knows the best. As states are always looking for money, they are incentivised into accepting central schemes even if they have other ideas. Policy centralisation reduces the space for innovation at the state level and ignores the possibility that states have better information about what works locally. To make matters worse, consultations between the centre and states have been few and far between, he added.

Kailash said similarly, the idea of simultaneous elections is a unitarian proposal piggybacking on economic logic. It ignores the fact that in a federation, states have their priorities and, as autonomous units, are definitely not subordinate to the central government.

The One Nation, One Election idea attempts to change the electoral logic of different states and artificially manufacture a uniform electoral agenda. Simultaneous elections are a technocratic solution that disrespects democracy by viewing elections as a burden and an impediment to efficiency and “good governance”. The One India thesis fits with the party agenda on national unity, uniformity and homogenisation. But it is a frontal assault on the federal idea and does not live up to the multiple values that federalism seeks to achieve, Kailash said.