Why India needs to recalibrate the centre-states relationship and revisit the Constitution

india and state centre relations
Representative Photo

Two successive stints of the NDA government at the centre have brought forth many discrepancies in our system of governance that must be addressed in the larger interests of a democratic dispensation. I would, in particular, refer to the nature and scope of centre-state relations outlined in the Constitution amended from time to time as per the administrative necessity.

The broad outlines of the relationship were drawn at a time when the euphoria of winning freedom from colonial rule was still at its height. The nationalist and patriotic character of the early years of independence could not anticipate the emergence of an exclusivist perception of the confederating states of the union. The towering personalities of the fathers of the Constitution were visionaries and futurists no doubt, but the vote bank syndrome had not been an overwhelming force from their viewpoint that would, one day, become strong enough to threaten the solidarity of the nation.

It is this syndrome that has given rise to various problems, political, juridical, financial and social in nature and content. The Constitution emphasizes removing the divisive forces hindering national integration such as regionalism, parochialism, communalism, casteism, race-ism etc. Alas! These very harmful forces have become the bane of Indian democracy because leaders with vested interests have made them the instruments of winning an assembly or parliamentary election.

Moreover, ambiguity in the jurisdiction of the powers of the Centre vis-a-vis those of the State has led to the ugly sight of defiance of the authority of the union by the governments of some of the states leading to confusion.

We do not rule out differences of opinion on various issues between the Centre and the State. But differences have to be resolved through dialogue. Even legal expertise would also become part of the dialogue.  But at the root lies the right intention, the general good of the people and the vital interests of the nation.

In this context, the case before us is of West Bengal under Mamata Banerji’s government.  She ousted the entrenched leftist government in Bengal after pandering to the Muslim vote. The Muslim population in West Bengal is 2.47 crore (27.01 per cent) of a total of 9.13 crore. They have a majority in 3 out of the 19 districts which are Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur. Muslim votes in 6 districts play a decider in the West Bengal Elections. The districts are Murshidabad, Malda, South 24-Parganas, North 24-Parganas, Birbhum and Uttar Dinajpur. In these six districts taken together, Muslims make up 42.04% of the population. Illegal Muslim migrants from East Bengal and Rohingyas from Myanmar have also contributed to the disturbing of demographic complexion of the state. As per available reports these people have been clandestinely issued residential documents by the TMC regime.

Out of 42 Lok Sabha seats for West Bengal, 18 went to BJP in the 2019 parliamentary election. In a house of 294 constituencies 42 have gone to Muslim candidates.

Keeping the above demographic complexion in sight, Mamata Banerji, motivated by vote bank presumption, pandered to fraternizing with the Muslim-dominated constituencies. The common formula for any Indian politician caring for personal power and influence and not necessarily driven by any strong urge for national interests is to underrate Hinduism and the Hindu community.  This gift of vote bank syndrome is the bane of India’s existing democratic arrangement.  Mumata learnt the trick from her forerunners like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh. She went a step forward and adopted the policy of demoralizing Hindus in various ways like putting curbs on the performance of their age-old rituals on the occasion of different feasts. She dictated which Hindu festival would be celebrated and which will not. Contrarily, she provided out-of-way facilities and conveniences to the Muslims, attended their feasts, sanctioned scholarships and turned her face away whenever the members of the Muslim community behaved irrationally and even with a degree of anti-national activities and propaganda.

Emboldened by the state support that was quite visible, the miscreants and goons of her party (TMC) resorted to muscle power, particularly on the occasion of elections to civic bodies or state assemblies or the parliament. She let loose a reign of terror and intimidation. Perhaps caught in the web of unremitting rivalry with other stakeholders, Mamata seems to have lost control over her Frankenstein.

On noticing that violence, brutality and abuse of authority had become rampant for campaigning for the Panchayat elections scheduled for 8 July, a case was brought before the High Court which ordered that additional central security forces be deployed to ensure fair and impartial Panchayat election. The High Court ordered that additional forces be invited within 24 hours. The State Election Commission did not implement the court verdict. Hearing the contempt petitions filed by the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari and Congress’ Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary against the inaction of the State and SEC in implementing the orders of the High Court, dated 13th June and 15th June, the High Court observed: “A division bench of Chief Justice Sivagnaman and Justice Uday Kumar took exception to SEC requisitioning only 22 companies of paramilitary forces as an as against 825 companies deployed in 2013. It orally remarked:

               “Very sorry state of affairs…you are a neutral body…you need not walk any dotted line…We reposed great faith in the SEC and that is why we said that the ultimate decision must lie with the SEC…it did not act based on our confidence…so another order had to be passed…The court shouldn’t lose faith in the system…but if ultimately people are starting to lose faith, then what is the purpose of conducting elections? Independence of the Commission should not be doubted…you have gone to the highest Court…now accept their judgement…if it is difficult for the Commissioner to take orders, he can step down…probably the Governor may appoint someone else…even earlier there was no representation from the Commission…if they are so busy they better wind up their business…if they are not in a position to, then leave it to us, we will handle.”

The strictures passed by the High Court Bench are perhaps the most scathing criticism of the West Bengal government’s conceit and wilful defiance in conducting the affairs of the state according to its will in total disregard of the law governing the fair and free election. It also shows the vanity with which the government is holding the court order. What is more, the State Election Commission, which is supposed to be impartial and non-partisan has behaved in a highly objectionable manner. The SEC is talking of a couple of sensitive constituencies whereas violence and brutalities have been widespread according to dependable sources.

The height of arrogance of the government is that not caring tuppence for the scathing verdict of the High Court, it and its SEC had the audacity of approaching the highest court of the country. The Supreme Court heaped on the State government and its SEC whatever humiliation was spared by the High Court and dismissed the case. Noting that the polls in the state were marred by violence, the top court said there was no need to interfere with the HC order. “ Holding elections cannot be a licence for violence, If persons are not able to file their nominations and if they are finished off while they are going to file, where is the free and fair election”, Justice Nagarathna observed.

Imagine, an elected government dares to disregard and trivialize the judiciary and even after being rebuked, pursues its self-seeking objective of disallowing free and fair elections to civic bodies, which is working against the interests of the state and the nation.  We have cited this instance with the specific purpose that the nation cannot afford such imprudent and silly governments to run the state.  How can the union government go on watching like a disinterested observer while the rights and lives of Indian citizens are gravely jeopardized just because an obtuse and imperceptive government has been put in place?

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