Pandemic politics: Target Maharashtra
Cooperation between states and the Centre can be a deterrent against a pandemic. Sadly, this spirit of collaboration — the glue that keeps the Indian federal structure together — has been missing in the case of Maharashtra, which is bearing the heaviest burden of Covid-19 cases in India. The friction is such that the chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, was forced to underscore the need for constructive consultations between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government in Delhi and the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition — the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress are its constituents — that rules Maharashtra. Mr Thackeray has complained of being kept in the dark on a number of crucial decisions taken by the Centre; the imposition of the lockdown and, later, the resumption of flights are among them. Mr Thackeray’s point about the mismanagement of the migrant worker crisis in the absence of such cooperative federalism would have many takers, especially among his peers in Opposition-ruled states. The Bengal chief minister has been critical of the railways ministry for its mismanagement of Shramik Special trains.
Is there a motive behind the Centre’s confrontational attitude? The conjecture is not unreasonable. In Maharashtra, BJP leaders, including a former chief minister, have been discernibly aggressive in their attacks on Mr Thackeray’s government. A Rajya Sabha member even went to the extent of demanding the imposition of governor’s rule because of the alleged failure on the part of Mr Thackeray to contain the crisis. The suggestion is a bit rich; given the spread of the coronavirus in the entire country, a similar demand can be made for the dismissal of Narendra Modi’s government by his political adversaries. Yet, the BJP’s opponents have refrained from doing so without tempering their criticism for the Centre’s repeated bunglings. This is a principled position, one that is, unfortunately, not shared by the BJP. The inability to retain Maharashtra, evidently, rankles still. Politics — manifest in the constant needling of Mr Thackeray’s government as well as in the Centre’s refusal to adhere to the principle of cooperation — has been prioritized by the BJP even at the time of a pandemic. This pettiness and hunger for power are galling. The federal model demands the Centre to be an enabler, not an opponent, of states. Sadly, the chequered history of Indian federalism would show that ruling parties at the Centre have seldom resisted the temptation to turn the screws, as it were, on states. This kind of predation is inimical to the future of federalism in India.