21 June, 2021

Union Of Federal Uncooperative

Despite the rhetoric, the Modi years have seen relations between Centre and states going south. At stake is India’s delicately balanced federal structure.

Art: Sanjay Basak
Union Of Federal Uncooperative

When B.R. Ambedkar, chairman of the drafting committee, gave his final speech in the ­Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, he countered criticism that by giving the Centre powers to override the states, the Constitution makes India an over-centralised nation-state. Stating that the “use and operation” of such powers “are confined to emergencies only”, Ambedkar asked: “Could we avoid giving overriding powers to the Centre when an emergency has arisen?” Now that the country is grappling with a health emergency of unfathomable proportions and many state governments are left to fend themselves, the question Ambedkar posed in the Constitution’s defence assumes salience yet again. It brings forth the vexed issue of federalism and Centre-state relations at a time when the Centre’s disappointing response to the pandemic is forcing chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled states to speak out.

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