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UNEASY TIES

The call for a ‘strong Centre’ has lost much of its appeal in Indian politics. The reason for this is obvious — the days of one-party governments in New Delhi are over. Coalition governments at the Centre survive on the support of regional parties. A fresh look at Centre-state relations should have followed the coming of the coalition era in politics. The recent row between the Centre and the Nagaland government has an important message. It suggests that the restructuring of Centre-state ties should not be delayed any further if worse conflicts are to be avoided. Kohima’s proposal seems unexceptionable — it wants to develop its own energy sources. It claims to have the right to do so under Article 371A of the Constitution. New Delhi disagrees. The government of a state is responsible for its economic development. It is accountable to the people who elect it for whatever it does or fails to do. But the government in New Delhi seems to think that it is always the best judge of what is good for a state and its people. Coalition politics has clearly made such presumptions untenable. Worse, an overemphasis on unitary tendencies is not the right recipe for fostering national integration. Increasingly, New Delhi’s unilateral decisions on economic, political and even foreign policy issues are being challenged by state governments. The most glaring example was the decision to create a Telangana state.

Obviously, things have to change before Centre-state relations get worse. The need for such a change has been felt for a long time. In 1983, the Centre set up the Sarkaria commission to look into a whole range of issues — administrative, fiscal and constitutional — which affected Centre-state ties. But the commission generally opted for the status quo. In 2000, the National Democratic Alliance government set up another commission, headed by M.N. Venkatachaliah, a retired chief justice of India, to review the working of the Constitution. But it too did not change things much. The changes in the political scene require that a fresh attempt be made to review Centre-state relations. Certain responsibilities involving national security, the currency system and foreign affairs are best left with the Centre. But there is a scope for expanding the state’s powers in many fiscal and legislative matters. A new exercise to restructure Centre-state ties should start with a review of the Concurrent List.