By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: One step forward, two steps backward. That seems to be the pattern governing Kerala’s relations with the Modi-led Central Government.
While the recent outbreak of the Nipah virus saw the Centre and the state handling the situation in perfect coordination – it was cooperative federalism at its best, gushed the media in the state – the controversy relating to the Centre’s U-turn on a project to set up a rail coach factory at Kanjikkode in Palakkad district in the state saw the protagonists back at loggerheads.
The ratcheted up tensions saw Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurating a dharna organized by the MPs of the Left parties outside Rail Bhavan in the national capital. The occasion found the chief minister turning a scathing tongue against the Modi government for punishing the people of Kerala for electing a Left Democratic Front government. There is no other explanation for the ‘persistent neglect’ by the Centre of the state’s interests, the CM averred.
There is a grain of truth in the CM’s allegation. Kerala, he said, was being given the cold shoulder while BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have been sanctioned similar projects without any objection whatsoever. Such blatant discrimination compounded the original offence of the Centre in consistently and persistently neglecting the state on various demands, the CM pointed out.
What is even more objectionable is Union Railway Minister Piyush Goel’s sarcastic contention that a rail coach factory cannot be built in thin air! The statement, smacking of arrogance, amounts to an insult to the people of Kerala. The Railway Minister was wrong on facts too. His contention that the coach factory was delayed solely because of the state’s inability to acquire the land needed for setting it up flies in the face of facts. The fact is that the state had handed over 240 acres of land to the Railways years ago.
Kerala is aggrieved because, even as the Kanjikkode coach factory was delayed, a similar one in Rae Bareilly in UP had been commissioned and another such project was being actively considered for Chennai.
The tone and tenor of the statements emanating from leaders belonging to various political parties in the state point to the possibility of the protest being intensified in the days to come.
That said, it must be conceded that the state’s failure to launch a ‘united’ protest on the issue can only weaken its case. The Congress-led United Democratic front (UDF) refused to attend the protest organized by the LDF. The UDF organized a separate protest outside Rail Bhavan on Monday, bringing to the fore the schism between the two dominant fronts in the state. Such an attitude is self-defeating. And the two fronts must avoid giving the impression of an open rift on vital issues concerning the state.
The state is also extremely unhappy about the Prime Minister’s refusal to meet an all-party delegation led by the CM to discuss various issues including the Centre’s reduced ration allocations to meet the food needs of Kerala. This is the fourth time Prime Minister Modi has said No to the chief minister’s request for a meeting. This was unheard in the annals of the country’s history, and bodes ill for harmonious Centre-state relations.
The PM’s refusal to meet the CM saw the Congress-led UDF supporting the LDF government’s stand on the issue. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala came down heavily against Modi for denying an audience to the Chief Minister. The PM has, over the last four years, come in the way of development of Kerala, Chennithala charged.
The Centre’s perceived hostility to the state has resulted in the collapse of several industries in the state. A satisfied state and a strong Centre are essential for strengthening the concept of cooperative federalism. It is time both the Prime Minister and the chief minster of Kerala shed their antagonistic stance and recaptured the spirit of cooperation that animated the harmonious handling of the post-Nipah virus outbreak in the state. (IPA Service)