Hindu Vivek Kendra
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They don’t get it

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 31, 2011
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/they-dont-get-it/894070/0

Eventually, the Congress’s Lokpal bill was stilled in Rajya Sabha as much by its ally as by its opposition. The overriding argument invoked state rights versus a domineering Centre. In the aftermath is a question: was waving the banner of federalism simply the most politically correct way of killing a bill no one wanted, or does federalism-in-danger have a real resonance in today’s polity, enough to unite disparate regional parties across the UPA-NDA divide?

It is possible to argue that the Trinamool Congress woke up to the Lokpal legislation’s threat to state autonomy opportunistically, a little late in the day. By all accounts, Mamata Banerjee’s party did not kick up quite the same fuss on the Lokayukta matter when the “sense of the House” resolution was passed in August or when the cabinet cleared the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill. Yet, at the same time, it is also true that more than two decades after the dismantling of the “Congress system” at the Centre, and the settling down of a cast of regional players on the national stage, the encroachment on state rights by a Congress-led Centre remains an evocative theme. The Congress must own up to a large share of the blame for the persistence of this politics of insecurity. It is not just that the party still carries ghosts from a past when it regularly flashed Article 356 to subdue “recalcitrant” state governments. The truth also is the party has not shown either the instinct or the tactical nimbleness to respond to the single largest political trend of our times: the shift of politics to the states. In the entire Lokpal drama, that ineptness was again on show.

The Congress’s tone-deafness to federal concerns ensured it disregarded objections from within its own government. Reportedly, both the ministry of law and the department of personnel and training had questioned the “constitutional validity” of having a Central law create Lokayuktas in states. During the tenure of UPA 2, Congress preference for centralisation, and its disinclination towards power-sharing, has also been manifest in the relegation, or eclipse, of all coordination mechanisms with its allies. The absence of a UPA coordination committee, which would have provided a forum for the Congress to sit across the table from its allies, has returned to haunt the Manmohan Singh government after the Rajya Sabha fiasco.
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