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Federal reservations

So it is brave of Manmohan Singh to put his finger on a matter that is not uttered too many times lest various quarters are upset.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2007 23:00 IST

It’s almost sacrilege to criticise any aspect of regional politics these days. For a government that depends on a coalition that includes regional parties for its continuation, it is even more difficult to point out any flaws and damages in the central-regional two-way street. So it is brave of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to put his finger on a matter that is not uttered too many times lest various quarters are upset. Addressing a conference on federalism in New Delhi on Monday, Mr Singh stated what is obvious to many: “Sometimes, the resolution of problems acquires an excessively political hue, and narrow political considerations, based on regional or sectoral loyalties and ideologies, can distort the national vision and sense of collective purpose.” Before anyone joins the dots to find in Mr Singh’s words more prime ministerial disappointment towards the Left, his observation is applicable beyond the confines of the Indo-US nuclear deal. After all, it is the centipede-like coalition government at the Centre that finds itself stifled when all its feet do not move in the same direction.

This is not to say that democratic dissent at the core of coalitions be taken out of the equation. But the way democracy should not be made an excuse to impose obstacles in the way of progress, regionalism shouldn’t become an impediment to nation-building. The Sarkaria Commission looked into the balance of power between central and state governments. Many of its suggestions are valid in terms of resolving differences between the two governments. But at the core of many cases of Centre-state asymmetry lies a difference of will.

This becomes all the more important when we talk about increasing decentralisation of powers. While delegating responsibilities for nation-building to regional powers is the way forward, regionalism has the nasty habit of turning into parochialism when in the ambit of pure electoral gains and losses. It is the link of politics and national interest that must be firmed up.

Mr Singh’s observation that a single-party system at the Centre is as susceptible to working at cross-purposes with regional parties is borne out by the past. What’s needed is a national vision shared by both parties — whether the central coalition government and its regional allies or the central and state governments. For even in a thriving, noisy democracy, the national agenda shouldn’t be drowned out.