Raw deal to States
FRONTLINE|May 08, 2020
Raw deal to States
When cooperation and trust are the keywords for governments in the fight against COVID, the ruling dispensation at the Centre has, against the principles of federalism, undermined even the State governments’ spaces for negotiation.
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
ONE OF THE KEY POINTS THAT THE HISTORIAN Yuval Noah Harari stressed in his seminal essay “The World After Coronavirus” (published in March 2020) was the need to build “a spirit of global co-operation and trust” in order to make a concerted effort to overcome the unprecedented human crisis caused by COVID-19. “Countries should be willing to share information openly and humbly seek advice, and should be able to trust the data and the insights they receive,” he said. Later, talking to Indian audiovisual media, Harari pointed out that the attacks on the Muslim minority in the country on the basis of unfounded perceptions would only weaken the initiatives to overcome the crisis. In a larger sense, he was highlighting the distrust that prevailed in the Indian society, and this observation, inarguably, was an indirect message to the political dispensations of India to build societal trust. It was also a sort of reiteration of his message to “share information openly and humbly seek advice”. Seen from a national perspective, Harari’s message should function primarily at the level of the interactions between the Central and State governments and between various State governments.

However, as India goes through its second phase of lockdown—from April 14 to May 3—Harari’s insights seem to have met with mixed reactions among the political class. The spirit of sharing and acceptance is more often observed in the breach, especially by the Central government and its political leadership. In fact, a number of important steps taken by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the second lockdown period clearly overlooked the pleas and demands from a number of States. Several State governments, including Kerala whose exemplary performance in combating COVID-19 has been acknowledged globally, pointed out that some of the Central government’s stipulations during the lockdown have done away with the space for negotiation and manoeuvres that existed for State governments before the crisis set in.

VIOLATION OF PRINCIPLES OF FEDERALISM

A case in point several States have highlighted in this context is the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) announcements on April 17, which the political leadership of the government has touted as its second major drive to strengthen relief work and stimulate the economy. The Prime Minister was quick to laud it as something that would greatly enhance liquidity and improve credit supply, helping small businesses, farmers and the poor. RBI itself claimed that the move to increase the limits on the ways and means advances would help all States. But the response from State governments, including those led by BJP’s associates such as the Janata Dal (United) and its erstwhile partners like the Shiv Sena, did not reflect this optimism. The leaderships of these governments were of the view that the Centre’s measures were grossly inadequate and openly violated the powers vested in the States by the principles of federalism.

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May 08, 2020