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Centre-State ties vital for nation building

Thursday, February 08, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

Even as Shiv Sena, the oldest ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crossed swords with the Narendra Modi and Devendra Fadnavis, another powerful partner Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu also came out openly against the ‘step-motherly’ treatment his Andhra Pradesh state is receiving from the Centre. While Udhhav Thackeray has been talking about the attitude of Modi, here Chandrababu has been more pointed and sharp. Udhhav has already announced his decision to contest 2019 elections without having alliance with the BJP, while Chandrababu has been more cautious. He announced to withdraw support if the Union Government failed to provide ‘necessary assistance’ to Andhra during the ongoing budget session of the Parliament. However, the national media seems to be turning its blind eye towards the discontent brewing amidst regional parties and their leaders. Except Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadami Party (AAP), who has been quarrelling with the Centre every other day, no other regional leader and their regional grievances find suitable place in the media.  That is a sad commentary on the ‘unity in diversity’ concept.

Holding up GST
If one were to look at the specific instance of the GST, a number of regional parties, which are not part of the National Democratic Alliance, including JD(U), BJD and Trinamool Congress of West Bengal lent support to what has been dubbed as a path breaking reform. While the Congress has been accused of holding up the GST in the past two years, during the erstwhile UPA government, it was not regional parties, but BJP ruled states, including Gujarat, which vociferously opposed GST. Even in the sphere of foreign policy, state governments have begun to change their approach both towards the neighbourhood, and in the context of seeking foreign direct investment. While in 2011, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Bannerjee resulted in scuttling the Teesta Agreement, PM Modi lauded her role in India-Bangladesh ties when the Petrapole-Benapole Integrated Check Post (ICP) was inaugurated by Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina via video conferencing on July 21, 2016.

If one were to look at the sphere of foreign investment, while Investors summits held by states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, ruled by national parties (currently the BJP is in power in all the these states) draw immense media attention. Similar efforts by states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, which also held investors summits in 2015 and 2016, are not highlighted sufficiently in the national media, whether print or electronic. The efforts of two states, ruled by regional parties, in seeking FDI stand out — Andhra Pradesh led by TDP and Telangana by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).

Chandrababu Naidu in his current tenure as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh has been aggressive in reaching out to potential investors in East Asia and South East Asia. Singapore is partnering the state of Andhra Pradesh in the development of Amaravati, the proposed capital city of the reconstituted state. Naidu has also visited China twice and interacted with a number of investors. In his earlier tenure as CM, the Andhra CM aggressively wooed IT companies and was able to attract giants like Microsoft to Hyderabad (now capital of Telangana). The Andhra Pradesh CM was also invited to the World Economic Forum at Davos. It would not be wrong to say, that Naidu, in his earlier tenure as Andhra Pradesh CM, was the first state leader who sought to aggressively reach out to foreign investors. He had achieved sizable success in his campaign.

If one were to look at the instance of Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao has visited China, Malaysia and Singapore to hard sell his state. The IT Minister, K Taraka Rao, son of the Chief Minister, too has travelled to a number of countries. The state's investment policy has also been lauded by many as being investor friendly. More recently, the state set up a foreign ministry which will deal with issues pertaining to Diaspora and foreign investment. KTR has been appointed as the in charge of the Foreign Ministry. While states like Punjab and Kerala do have departments which deal specifically with issues pertaining to NRI's, Telangana is the first state to set up a 'foreign ministry'.

Change of approach
Considering these aspects it is high time now that the national media as well as national parties change their approach towards regional parties. It is true, that on certain issues regional parties may have a different take from national parties, yet with the economic and social transformations taking place, Pan-India and the voter becoming increasingly impatient, regional leaders cannot afford to remain populist and insular. The fact that many regional leaders, such as Mamata Banerjee have Pan-India ambitions, is also changing their outlook and approach towards key economic and foreign policy issues. While the national media and national parties need to change their approach, it is also important for regional parties on their part need to learn from each other's experiences, and utilize forums like the Inter-State Council more productively, so as to learn from each other's successes in the policy sphere.

In conclusion, in the current economic landscape, a healthy competitive spirit between state governments, including those ruled by regional parties, is inevitable. All must realise that India has recognised and has adapted ‘Quasi Federal System’ where states of the Union and the regional parties are supposed to play a significant and many times decisive role in the process of nation building. If this fact of life is ignored, powerful leaders like Uddhav and Chandrababu are sure to raise their voice and take a hard stance against the Centre and central rulers.

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