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Imperative to take states along…

So, Narendra Modi has led BJP to a historical victory. After 30 years, India has returned a single national party with a majority of its own, further buttressed by support from another 54 MPs from other parties in the NDA alliance. For the first time since 1989, the Central government will not be constrained by the pulls, pressures and ideologies of coalition partners. This should contribute to the new government focusing on much needed reforms and legislative businesses that had long suffered.

Modi has started well promising to take all sections of the population along. He re-assured to listen to the voice of every MP. This is of great importance in the context of a large section of Indian citizens ranging from politicians to intellectuals and sections of media consistently critical of Modi and the BJP.  

An area where UPA II failed related to fostering close relations with states, especially those ruled by parties opposed to the Congress. The Manmohan Singh government did not build rapport with states ruled by the BJP and by regional parties. Not just the prime minister; other senior ministers as well as senior bureaucrats failed to engage with the powerful regional satraps. The regional parties constantly pitched for higher devolution of funds and special treatment that led to constant frictions. The National Development Council(NDC) rarely met. The Inter-State Council was non-functional and the Planning Commission ineffective. Several states came in the way of enacting vital legislation like the Direct Tax Code and GST.

Unlike most of his predecessors, Modi brings with him rich experience in heading a state as chief minister. In his several utterances he has referred to the imperative to work closely with the states. Several chief ministers, including those from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, have  had adversarial relations with the Centre.  Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal have been demanding a larger share of Central funding.  

The liberalisation of the economy in 1991 abolished the major handicap of licences, permits and quotas from the Centre for setting up industrial units. Subsequent reforms substantially added to the powers of the state in attracting investments and formulating policies for development on their own. Recent years also witnessed the Centre transferring funds allotted under Centrally-sponsored schemes to the states.

The Modi government should focus on activating the NDC which should meet frequently and provide more opportunities for discussing policies of importance for Centre state relations. Equally important is the attention needed to convene and address zonal council meetings of chief ministers of zones. This forum would help the prime minister understand more closely the problems of different states and also in better communication among chief ministers of a zone. In the context of serious differences, especially in matters relating to sharing of river waters, such communication channels would help.


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