If I did not know better, I would have thought that all the chief ministers who met on Monday were talking at complete cross-purposes. But, clearly, they all had an agenda which mattered very much to their own states. Let me tell you just a few. Nitish Kumar of Bihar spoke of zero tolerance towards corruption, Naveen Patnaik spoke of a mineral resource rent tax on private mining companies, Raman Singh wanted housing for security personnel and Narendra Modi wanted a dedicated force to tap the hydrocarbon reserve in the Sir Creek area.
It is all very well to be able to do your own thing in every matter but then to hold the Centre responsible when things go wrong is simply not on.
The question of dealing with terrorism comes to mind. There may be fine points to argue about with the Centre when it comes to the National Counter Terrorism Centre. Then again, the states affected do not seem to be able to deal with this menace on their own.
The chief ministers made several valid suggestions. Some were a bit off the bat like the odd request for phone-tapping from the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Hmm, not terribly democratic there, and something which the Centre would not want to take up and run with.
But apart from the sharp variations in the demands, even the language of the chief ministers is interesting. While I am all for federalism, to mangle George Orwell from Animal Farm, some states may be seen to be more equal than others. It is all very fine to hold an annual bash and put forward demands. But in reality, the states and the Centre seem to be at cross-purposes for much of the time.
Federalism is all very fine, but when you are dealing with a country the size of India, there has to be more than a bit of give and take. The question of money is one of the very important issues, and this is a constant source of contention between the Centre and states .
Every time the chief ministers get together, there is talk of a Third Front. And I would perhaps suggest that it is not such a good idea to have a Third Front as that headed by the likes of HD Deve Gowda and as talked about every time the chief ministers get together. But the manner in which the chief ministers have been asserting themselves, if done in a positive way, could be a good harbinger for times to come. I feel that India may be in for a change in the whole democratic structure, in which the states may want a much greater say in their own affairs.
The post of the chief minister should be seen as not just influential but also as adding strength to the nation. Mamata Banerjee, who seems to do nothing but trip up the UPA of which she is a part, has been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
Surely, this must give a person like Banerjee a bit of a shot in the arm as far as delivering the goods are concerned. Listen to what Time had to say about our Mamatadi. "Though much of Indian society remains hidebound in patriarchy and tradition, strong women still prevail in the nation's political life. Mamata Banerjee rose to the fore last year when she and a movement she built from the grassroots wrested control of her home state of West Bengal, ending three and a half decades of sclerotic communist rule."
Strong words there, but it does suggest that the importance of the states is becoming more vital to our democracy. And here is where the chief ministers must show their mettle. Long ago and far away, before Indira Gandhi came to such prominence, regional satraps were not just influential but also were able to exert a positive effect on the Centre. Many of them, as you will know, are remembered even today in our history books. Perhaps, their overweening influence did many of them in, but the political discourse of that time was constructive and contributed to the greater common good. Now we see a situation in which chief ministers seem to be at odds with the Centre over the most petty of issues. This cannot work either for federalism or for any other system of governance.
For all who may fault him, Narendra Modi is one chief minister who seems to be holding his own and not running to the Centre for each and every thing.
So by all means, the chief ministers must push for their own agendas, but they must not lose sight of the fact that they are a very crucial part of the federal structure which will not hold if they continue on a collision course with the Centre on footling issues.