16
Nov

The Hindu Tamil: Federalism and the Delhi Durbar

   Posted by: aman   in Punjab

Friends, my first article in Tamil.

A few weeks back The Hindu (Tamil) called me asking for an article on the DMK leader M Karunanidhi. I replied I was most poorly placed to talk about him. They persisted saying it was for their commemorative issue. I sat down to write and realized the deep solidarity between Tamil and Punjab politics in opposition to the central government. Issues include language and call for greater federalism. I am sure the translation does justice.

Federalism and the Delhi Durbar

What Europe did in terms of political reorganization in 1993, India had already done in 1947. The European Union was a coming together of nations to form a unified market, after independence India came together as a union of states bringing together many distinct and diverse nationalities in terms of the people’s ethnicity, languages, culture, customs, traditions, cuisine, costumes and aspirations. A quarter century after the formation of the European Union, the cracks that now show up in Europe’s composite narrative – of inequality between nation states – have been far too visible right from the inception of the modern Indian state. All these wounds in India erupted from a single call: greater federalism, enshrined in the Indian constitution, which challenges the centre’s push to impose a uniform framework on the nation – mostly in terms of language, taxation and governance.

Punjab is a case in point. Post-independence the centre reorganised the rest of the country on linguistic lines by creating the states but denied the same status to Punjab. It feared a Sikh religion majority state next to Pakistan already carved out on religious lines. The States Reorganisation Commission report in 1955 did not consider Punjabi language unique enough to ask for statehood and sought to impose Hindi on the region. This led to a decade long non-violent Punjabi Suba agitation led by the Akali Dal in which thousands courted arrest. Finally, in 1966, Punjab was trifurcated into a territorially much diminished state. But Punjab had learnt well the shenanigans of the Delhi Durbar. The Akali Dal sought to re-look the centre-state relationship and articulated their stance in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, 1973.

The Resolution sought greater powers to the state over the headworks of its rivers, stake on the capital Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas left out of the state. It questioned the centre not allowing the state to benefit from the tax structure of the Green Revolution ushered in the state a decade back to save India from hunger. It sought an end to exploitation of cash crops, raised the need for crop diversification, tax subsidies on farm machinery, pushed for government procurement of all farm produce, and rapid growth of the agro industry. It sought a dry port to trade with neighbouring countries. It also called for reinstating the dignity of Punjabi language and a radio station to broadcast Gurbani – the Sikh religious texts.

A similar demand was arising from another set of independent people: Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, owed its birth to the Dravidian anti-Hindi movement against the imposition of the language in the 1940s/50s. In 1971, the Rajamannar Committee – instituted under the leadership of Karunanidhi of the DMK – presented its resolutions suggesting the formation of an inter-state council to suggest changes to the relationship between the centre and the states and secure greater autonomy for the states. Former Chief Justice of Madras, Dr P.V. Rajamannar sought reconsideration of Articles 256 and 257 (Obligation and Control of States and the Union) that empower the central executive to issue directions to the state governments and to reorganize the items in the Union, State and Concurrent Lists. He called for a re-look at the Planning Commission, the repeal of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act of 1951, and changing the tax structure.

The centre’s response to both Punjab and Tamil Nadu was extremely slow and finally negative. In the 1980s, it instituted the Sarkaria Commission to look into the calls of the states. The Commission report in 1987 ignored the core demands but proposed other Constitutional measures. The centre ignored it, locked it away. Recently, in an effort to make India a single market regime through the Goods and Service Tax, the government bandied a new term Cooperative Federalism which is an inherent oxymoron. What does it even mean? The sub-text is clear: the Delhi Durbar lacks the political will to give up its control of the states.

The tension shows up in the revival of Hindi language politics, in the inter-state water distribution whether it is the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal or the Cauvery Water issue, the agrarian and industrial crises and farmer and labour suicides. The struggle for federalism is more than a half century old and Badal and Karunanidhi have turned nonagenarians. But the Delhi Durbar – in spite of change of guard – has grown stronger at the cost of the states. The wounds on India’s body politic remain unaddressed. Some have dried into scars but all remain alive and continue to fester. They will not heal until the centre yields.

Also posted here …

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