By Amitabha Pande
No prime minister has made cooperative federalism as central to his governance agenda as Narendra Modi. Some indications of this approach were evident in the 2014 BJP manifesto. But at that stage, it seemed mere electoral rhetoric. Given its philosophical moorings, the BJP had always been uncomfortable with federalist ideas. Born and nurtured in the idea of `cultural nationalism`, plurality and diversity were seen as threats to be subdued by an ultra-nationalist ideology processed at Nagpur. So what brought about this change of heart?
For one, Modi is the first PM who moved from a state capital straight to New Delhi, uncorrupted by the stifling unitarian culture of the Delhi Durbar. Second, Modi knew that a major distinguishing factor for the BJP was the way it had nurtured strong regional leadership.
Its electoral success was in no small measure on account of the performance of its chief ministers. Third, Modi had acutely observed through the UPA`s sorry tenure, how the best of plans and schemes and projects could be completely stymied if the states did not cooperate. The UPA`s inability in getting the states on board on counter-terrorism, the GST (goods and services tax), the Lokpal, foreign direct investment ( FDI) in retail, and land acquisition reform made it a graveyard of failed initiatives.
So whether Modi learnt his lessons well or whether he now thinks of it as clever political strategy, his federalist impulses deserve full-throated support. The most encouraging sign of his commitment to federalism is the welcome internment of the Planning Commission. Centralised planning is the biggest hindrance to devolved governance.
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