(Excerpt from the speech of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at a seminar organised as part of the 23rd CPI(M) party congress, in Kannur)
The founders of our Constitution did not create a unitary, monolith government. The powers and functions were separated into three, and they were placed under the State List, the Concurrent List and the Union List.
After the passing of the Panchayat Raj Act, local self-government bodies were given rights, and the powers were devolved. Hence, I said, villages must grow, and with the growth of villages, the States would grow, and with the growth of States, the nation would grow. The Union government is bent on decimating the villages and States of India. This is antithetical to the Constitution.
The Union government has breached the jurisdiction that was defined by the Constitution and is encroaching, intent on expanding its jurisdiction.
Even the British did not set out to create an all-powerful unitary structure as now. Even in the Government of India Act, 1919, it was said that self-government in provinces must be such that the interests of the locality and the provinces were taken care of. It was also said that the Union government must oversee and govern the unified framework of such provinces.
I explicitly accuse the Union government for its tendencies to concentrate powers with an intent to subjugate the States and local bodies, something that even the British did not undertake.
Mahatma Gandhi said then, “Self-government without autonomy is akin to replacing the white tiger with an Indian tiger.” That is the reality now. Such independence is not worth anything, is what the revolutionary Bhagat Singh then said.
States are responsible for the well-being of their residents and are undertaking active efforts. Is it not treachery if our rulers in the Union government derive joy in subjugating and making the States crawl before them? Is that not an act of extracting revenge from them? Thinking that they are extracting revenge from the States, they are extracting revenge from the people.
Once the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, it implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that infringes upon, and deprives, the fiscal rights of the State. They have snatched tax revenues. While they promised compensation, the disbursal of compensation is not complete. And the incomplete compensation has not been given on time. They are also not releasing the funds meant for the State government. Until now, Tamil Nadu is yet to receive ₹21,000 crore.
The Planning Commission was the place where States could raise these rightful demands. They have gone on to dismantle such an institution, which ensured a space for the voices of the States. The National Development Council was the place where States could articulate these demands. Predictably, they have gone on to dismantle such an institution as well. No funds are allocated to railway schemes in South India. To ensure there are no such debates, the Railway Budget was done away with, predictably.
They will legislate on agriculture, which is firmly placed on the State List of the Constitution. But they will not conduct a debate, a discussion on that. All Acts are now legislated without any debate. Parliament is now devoid of any special debates, and there are no appropriate answers to any questions raised.
The Union government is now operating with a thirst for power to control even the cooperative societies in our villages.
Given that they have a majority, they are executing every action with impunity. They think that all these acts can be implemented using the office of the Governor in each State. When there is an elected Cabinet in each State, is it not unconstitutional to seek to rule over the State via the office of the Governor? Can a Union government function in this way? Is it constitutional to seek to run a parallel government through the Governor’s office in the States led by non-BJP parties? In Tamil Nadu, the NEET Bills passed twice by the constitutionally elected legislature have not been sent to the President by the Governor, who is engaging in delaying tactics. Is he acting in accordance with the Constitution?
It is not just NEET Bills — there are 11 Bills in the hands of the Governor. What is the reason for him not to act upon them? Do the powers of the nominated Governor overrule the will of eight crore people? If this is the norm of governance in several States ruled by Opposition parties, then can we call this a functioning democracy?
The reality is such that while I may be the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and Pinarayi Vijayan may be the Chief Minister of Kerala, if we are yes-men, they would not create any problems for the government. The moment we legislate for improving the life of the poor, vulnerable and subjugated; talk about educational rights; articulate the culture of South India; and speak on the principle of equality, they throw a spanner in the works and disrupt the proceedings.
We must face this, and we are facing this through the legislature, the courts, and the public space. To face and overcome these active efforts of disruption, we must organise the collective of States — to fight, to resist. We must form a collective of the Chief Ministers of South India, and then form a collective of Chief Ministers from all the States of India, separately.
The Constitution needs to be amended to bestow more rights to the States. To make this happen, we must come together, united, looking beyond the boundaries of politics. Given the current political climate, it is important for like-minded political parties to come together and bond, to form a united front.
Victory is possible only if like-minded political parties come together and it is this victory which will ensure the sustenance in this country of the ideals of social justice, equality, and secularism. I request every party to initiate actions to ensure such a victory.
Let us fight for State autonomy! Let us create a truly federal India!