Abandoned by Akali Dal, agenda of federalism back in focus at national level
Chandigarh, November 17: The issue of India as a federation of states rather than the union of states has returned to the centre stage with the decision taken separately by West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh divesting the CBI of the powers to function within the boundaries of these two non-BJP and non-Congress ruled states. Autonomy to the states was once the agenda of Akali Dal for years that was concretised by the Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973 and the thesis of then Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gurcharan Singh Tohra in 1978.
Both these states have withdrawn “general consent” extended to the CBI.
Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act makes it clear that the CBI can’t operate in any state without consent from that state or direction from the court. The centre, however, has been getting general consent from the states to facilitate the functioning of this investigating agency in respective states. The CBI has been used as political weapon by the ruling parties at the centre, mainly the BJP and the Congress.
At the broader level, this is an issue that concerns the agenda of India being a true federal entity with autonomy to the states.
The concept of autonomy, however, has been changing after neo-liberalism was unleashed that has impacted even sovereignty of the countries at one level. Exchange rate of rupee can’t be fixed by India as the same is dictated by market forces. This is just one example. In that context, the basic issue is autonomy in the context of whatever sovereignty is there with the centre.
The issue of state autonomy was taken up in India first by DMK in Tamil Nadu, then Madras and Akali Dal in Punjab in sixties. The Batala resolution of 1968 was the first concrete hypothesis of Akali Dal on autonomy. This resolution states: “. The Shiromani Akali Dal demands that the Constitution of India should be on a correct federal basis and that the states should have greater autonomy. The Shiromani Akali Dal feels that the Central Government’s interference in the internal affairs of the states, and the obstacles it places in the proper functioning of the state machinery, are detrimental to the unity and the integrity of the country; therefore, whereas this conference demands of the Central Government that necessary changes should be brought in the Constitution, there it also appeals to the State Governments to raise their voice to protect and safeguard their rights so that the country may be able to go smoothly on the federal system and progress by maintaining unity and entity.”
That agenda was taken to a new pitch with the adoption of Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973.
Tohra further elaborated federalism at the Ludhiana conference in 1978. He stated: “The question of autonomy is not all that of merely pacing additional resources at the disposal of the states, giving the units some more ‘say’ at the decision-making levels and in the planning process or that of providing sops to the constituent parts. The crux of the matter is that of sharing political sovereignty which is not the prerogative, predicate, attribute or quality of the Centre alone; both the Centre and the states partake of political sovereignty in a coordinate manner. Seen from this angle, the case for autonomy of the states, involving as it does the decentralization of powers, is essentially a question of creating and realizing a truly federal polity in which the states would enjoy shareable attributes of sovereignty in a coordinated manner with the Centre.”
Yet another para in his speech was important in the context of the decision taken by Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. He said, “The creation of certain central agencies and their deployment in the state – Central Reserve Police, Border Security Force, Industrial Security Force – tightens the stranglehold of the Centre round the necks of the states which are already in the executive grip of the Union through All-India services under the central control”.
Over the years, the Akali Dal distanced itself from the demand for autonomy to make India a truly federal structure.
Punjab Manch organised by Patiala MP Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi has recently revived this issue but more at the academic level.
Regional parties and interest groups should join hands to forcefully take up this issue at the national level again in coordinated manner.