The Huddle 2019 | What the south wants in a changing India

In a fast-changing economic, political and cultural landscape amid concerns of the Centre trying to redraw federal relations, is an alliance of the southern States the way forward?

Ma Foi K Pandiarajan, Tamil Nadu Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, suggested that all the southern States adopt a broader regional approach, sign MoUs to promote industries and probably even conduct a Global Investors Meet (GIM) together. This, he said, must be an integrative approach at socio-economic and cultural fronts, speaking at “The future of the South: The southern States in a changing economic and political landscape”.

Beyond geography

Reacting to a question by the moderator of the session, Narayan Lakshman, Associate Editor, The Hindu, Mr. Pandiarajan said that while the idea of Dravida Nadu was a non-starter as a geographic concept, alliances could prove beneficial to all States.

Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, batted for honouring the status quo on the long-drawn consensus over federal relations on economic, cultural and political fronts. He pointed out that rejecting the earlier consensus on using the 1971 census population as the basis for tax devolution among States, the 15th Finance Commission was now using 2011 census population figures as the basis. On the cultural front, there was increasing imposition of Hindi, he said.

“There is a retrograde tendency to go back in time to the 1960s when tensions between the States in the south and the Centre existed, with attempts to redraw the long-drawn consensus on federalism under the current dispensation,” he said. “Considering 2011 census as the basis for tax devolution will only penalise the southern States for responsible population control measures. Are you penalising or incentivising progress?”

Mr. Pandiarajan concurred with this views, and said that even after the recent enhancement of devolution of tax share, the State suffered a net loss. Mr. Gowda said that same was the case with Karnataka.

Political implications

Now that the decision to keep the 1971 census population as the base was opened up, what prevents the Election Commission from delimiting constituencies as per the 2021 census population the next time, asked Mr. Gowda, pointing out that the concerns were not only economic but also political.

“Kerala Finance minister Thomas Isaac articulated it thus: While the centre of gravity of the economy has moved south, the centre of gravity of politics has moved north. I don’t know if this balance will change,” Mr. Pandiarajan said.

Mr. Gowda was careful to add a rider that this debate must not be construed as a north versus south one, and the southern States were not averse to contributing to the collective development of the country and share the resources generated here with the States in need of them. “We are only demanding equity and parity within the system,” he said.

The panel saw the Centre’s attempts to promote only Hindi also as problematic. “There is a large expat Tamil population across the world and we want to start a Tamil Prachar Sabha on the lines of the Hindi Prachar Sabha. But we got no support from the Union Culture Ministry, even as the Prime Minister sings praises on the language. The Union government promotes only Hindi and Sanskrit,” Mr. Pandiarajan said.

Mr. Gowda recalled how “those pontificating from Delhi studios” cried foul when Karnataka wanted official recognition for the State flag. If the Centre acted as a flag bearer of Hindi, it was bound to get a reaction from the southern States, he argued.

The demographic was fast turning older in the south and in the days to come the growth would only get tough, said Jayan Jose Thomas, member, State Planning Board, Kerala, and Associate Professor of Economics, IIT, Delhi. “Service sector-led growth is usually inequitable and there is only so much jobs you can create from this model. The southern States need to now focus on knowledge intensive industries to create jobs to match the aspirations of its citizens. This only means high investment in a scenario where the States have less resources at its disposal,” he said.

On the challenge of mobilising more resources locally, Dr. Thomas argued that high income in the southern States also meant higher savings, which the States were not able to leverage now. “Kerala is starting a Kerala Bank which will probably go a long way to leverage the savings generated in this region for the development of this region,” he said.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 7:46:44 PM |

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