Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: A democracy envisaged as a union of states is being "crippled" by the Centre's "undemocratic Union over States" mentality, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in New Delhi on Thursday, as he led a protest against the Centre's alleged neglect towards the southern state on financial matters.
Spearheading the ruling Left's protest, Vijayan criticised the 'Union over States' mentality of the Centre, by which it accords itself supremacy over the states, saying it not only manifested in financial matters, but was evident in the functioning of governors in opposition-ruled states as well.
The chief minister was addressing a gathering that included LDF MPs, MLAs, senior Left front leaders such as CPI General Secretary D Raja and CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Chief Farooq Abdullah, Tamil Nadu's Minister of Information Technology and Digital Services Palanivel Thiagarajan and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the national capital.
Another "telling example" of the mentality is how the Centre is making laws that encroach upon the states' powers and duties in several sectors, even on law and order, "which is absolutely in the States List in the Constitution", he said.
"Multinational agreements are being entered into on issues that affect the states, without seeking the states' opinion, let alone getting their consent.
"These are all telling examples of how the rights of states are being trampled upon and how India is being changed into an undemocratic 'Union over States'," the Kerala CM said.
The "body blow" to the country's federal structure is coming from the union government eating into the states' financial resources, he pointed out.
Vijayan said that the same people who wax eloquent about co-operative federalism have tried to undercut the resources to be allocated to the states by the Finance Commission.
"On top of that, we are seeing the Union's allocation for their own schemes coming down year after year, while the states are being forced to chip in more and more. As it is, the states have to shoulder the major burden of expenses in the country.
"Even in the interim budget that was presented a few days ago, the states are being further squeezed as the loans given for capital expenditures have been reduced," he said.
Vijayan further said that while there has been a "rapid rise" in the Union Government's revenue earned through cess and surcharge, "not a single penny of it is shared with the states".
He said that it is not just Kerala that is protesting against the political discrimination against states, "Karnataka has also come out in protest. They say that they suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1,87,000 crore, a loss that is similar to that of Kerala," he said.
The LDF protest also has the support of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin.
Regarding the alleged gubernatorial excesses, Vijayan said that, constitutionally, governors were to exercise their duties on the advice of the state cabinets. "However, we are seeing this phenomenon of governors in opposition-ruled states acting at the behest of the powers that appointed them, ie, the union government.
"We have seen gubernatorial excesses in Punjab, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and so on. In many states, including Kerala, we have seen governors trying to overreach their Constitutional mandate by meddling with the autonomy of the legislature," the veteran Marxist leader said.
In his speech, Vijayan also took a dig at Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, saying that he spends very little time in the state and was mostly outside. "If at all he comes to Kerala, he does not have time to read out the entire Governor's address in the assembly. But, he has time to sit on the road and create a scene," Vijayan mocked, referring to a recent sit-in on the road held by Khan.
Vijayan said that there have also been instances of governors in their role as chancellor of universities acting on the behest of their political masters in matters related to the institutions of higher education in all opposition-ruled states. "Interests and statutes of the states are being sidelined in this regard. Rather than consulting the state governments, even on matters related to state-funded universities, governors have made political interferences as Chancellors (of universities). In Kerala too, the same is happening." he alleged.
In an apparent reference to the Congress-led UDF opposition in Kerala, which has alleged that the protest is being held with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Vijayan said that the agitation is not politically motivated. "This protest is against the denial of what is rightfully ours." "Isn't it a fact that our borrowings have been limited and that our grants have been denied? How is it politically motivated to point it out?" he asked.
The Marxist veteran said there were ongoing efforts by certain sections to depict the genuine demands of the states as an issue of north-south divide.
"It is totally untrue, unfounded and baseless. Ours is a democratic protest against the undoing of federal structure and the sheer discrimination against the states, irrespective of north-south considerations," he said.
He said that February 8, 2024 will be a "red letter day" in the history of the Republic of India. "I hope that today's gathering will go a long way in reaffirming our resolve to strengthen our states and, thereby, our country. Let us hope that more states and opposition parties will join hands in this democratic struggle," he said, concluding his speech. Earlier in the day, the Kerala CM, LDF MPs, MLAs and senior Left front leaders marched to Jantar Mantar from Kerala House in the heart of New Delhi, braving the cold winter morning.