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An unhealthy adversarial relationship

At the Economic Editors’ Conference (EEC) 2012, I submitted to Finance Minister P Chidambaram (PC) the importance of policymakers in Delhi to visit state capitals frequently to disseminate information on major policy issues. This was effectively done for several decades, which helped in harmonious working of the Centre and the states. Central ministers and senior bureaucrats, heads of public sector undertakings, members of the Planning Commission and other policymakers used to visit the states to apprise the locals on major policy issues. Even business leaders like Nani Palkhivala and Verghese Kurien made rich contributions. Sadly, all these have now come to a halt. To my question at the EEC, the lawyer in PC provided a quick repartee: “are not these policies discussed in detail, in the national television?” he asked.

I submitted that Times Now’s Arnab Goswami and his counterparts in NDTV and CNN-IBN have reduced discussions over the TV to fish market quarrels. Their presenting rank adversaries in each and every debate ends up in no-holds-barred hits below the belt. Pitted against the acerbic Manish Tiwari of Congress, even the once gentle Nirmala Sitaraman of BJP turns equally aggressive. How then can one expect them to throw light on current and emerging issues?

Unfortunately, for states like Tamil Nadu there is the added factor of an adversarial approach: the AIADMK has been bitterly opposed to the UPA government at the Centre, in which its arch-rival the DMK was a part. This has resulted in an unhealthy situation of the state opposing any and every move of the Centre. Look at the list of some of these not so much related to politics but to vital development issues:

The stalling of the elevated expressway connecting the Chennai Port and the Ennore Port via Maduravoyal handled by the National Highway Authority of India for over a year.

The state has stopped work on laying gas pipeline across the state connecting Kochi with Bengaluru that will provide piped gas facility to towns and villages in Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Namakkal, Salem, Dharmapuri, and Krishnagiri districts.

The state is opposing the move of the Centre to offer a small portion of the shares of Neyveli Lignite Corporation to the public. The state opting to buy 3.56 per cent of shares in a total 10 per cent divestment cannot have any impact on management control.

The most recent is the state suspending exploration activities for methane gas in the Cauvery delta area.

The TN Chief Minister is as inaccessible as Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President, at the Centre. The Central leadership is unable to open up dialogue even on such vital economic issues.

In the Congress, Pranab Mukherjee had a suave leader of stature and a troubleshooter acceptable to a wide spectrum of political leaders. Sadly, the Congress today lacks another such leader. Chidambaram at the best of times, has not been gregarious. Even Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh once described  PC as ‘intellectually arrogant.’

And at the state level the Dravidian parties have failed to build a strong second line leadership. Thus, the present impasse continues.

IE has been suggesting greater attention to planning by policymakers and public sector corporations working in the state. GAIL, involved in laying gas pipelines, could have taken the initiative to get the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Chairman of the company to do the ground work. Even while IE organised a seminar demanding such a pipeline in 2009, sadly, there was little effort on the part of the Centre and GAIL to apprise sections of the state on this project. The same goes for large public sector corporations like the NLC, SAIL and BHEL. Neither the concerned ministers nor the chairmen and other senior executives of these companies bother to establish close rapport with policymakers in the state. The result is lack of appreciation of the vital contribution made by these corporations to the state’s economy.

With elections round the corner and with the AIADMK firmly pitted against the Congress-DMK alliance, there appears little prospects of any improvement in Centre-state relations in the near future.


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