The Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee and M.K. Stalin, respectively, have jointly proposed a convention of non-BJP Chief Ministers. The initiative is still nascent and there is no clear agenda or a definite date but the political context is amply clear. Relations between the Centre and the States ruled by Opposition parties are strained due to various factors, ranging from questions related to GST, the partisan behaviour of central agencies, the Centre’s move to give itself absolute powers in the transfer of IAS, IPS and IFS officers and the overbearing attitude of several Governors. The relations among States are also fraying in many instances even as the Centre’s moral authority to be a neutral arbiter is at a low. The tendency to mobilise political support in one State by berating other States, though not new, seems to have acquired an additional edge with the BJP drawing its support from the northern and western regions, while the Opposition holds on to the southern region in general. A communal angle is occasionally added, as Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath did last week in branding West Bengal, Kerala or Kashmir, apparently for the high levels of political power enjoyed by Muslims there. In Parliament recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had a heated debate on the scope and limits of Indian federalism.
The autonomy of the States in their relations with the Centre depended less on any ideological distinction between parties than on the nature of power sharing among them. When the government at the Centre is dependent on regional parties for survival, it is more accommodative towards the aspirations of constituent groups — linguistic, religious, ethnic or political. The 2014 victory of the BJP brought an end to the coalition era that had lasted for 25 years. The current upheaval among parties in power in States is related to larger questions debated in Parliament but there are individual factors too. The TRS is anxious about the BJP’s push to expand in Telangana; the DMK is anxious to protect its social justice politics from the Centre’s unilateralism; the TMC, though it emerged victorious over the BJP in last year’s Assembly election in West Bengal, still has scores to settle; the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra is determined to protect its turf from the former ally’s persistent encroachment attempts. For individual factors of power politics, some CMs and State parties could be less enthusiastic than the TMC, DMK, TRS and Sena in confronting the BJP and the Centre. Andhra Pradesh CM and YSRCP leader Jagan Mohan Reddy and Odisha CM and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik might consider it prudent to protect their respective turfs in tacit acquiescence with the BJP. A convention of the CMs can articulate the concerns of States but it should guard against turning into an occasion for counterproductive polemic rooted in electoral calculations.