Rising Centre-State conflict

The Constitution makes India a Union of States. The Constitution also defines the jurisdiction of the States and the Centre under the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. It was implicit in the constitutional arrangement that the Centre and the States would function harmoniously. For the first few decades after the Constitution came into force there was hardly any conflict between the Centre and the States because the same party was in power in both the Centre and the States. The situation started changing in the nineteen seventies when different parties or alliance of parties with conflicting political views started being elected at the Centre and in the States. The Centre-State relationship also started changing and tended to become one of hostility. Another qualitative change in the relationship became pronounced when the party ruling at the Centre started using its investigative agencies against its political opponents in a patently partisan manner. Leaders of political parties ruling in the States became the targets of the agencies of the Centre. The opposition accused the Centre, very rightly, of misusing these agencies.
Now things have taken a worse turn. After the CBI – itself a body riven with factionalism – the ED, the Income Tax Department, etc., are systematically going against the leaders of the opposition parties. Recently, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee warned the BJP-led Centre that the States, too, had their own investigative agencies like the CID, SIT, etc., and if the Centre persists in targeting opposition leaders, the States, too, could pay the Centre back in its own coin. The very next day the CBI swooped on some former aides of the West Bengal Chief Minister and summoned some leaders of the Trinamool Congress.
Now the West Bengal cabinet has decided to set up a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Enforcement (DRIE) on the pattern of the Centre’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). The avowed objection of this new intelligence agency will be to detect tax fraud and related economic offences. Mamata Banerjee has alleged she has definite information about some BJP leaders engaged in activities against the law. It is logical to expect that this new State agency will now go after these gentlemen, further widening the area of conflict and embittering Centre-State relations. This will create a situation that will be neither healthy nor desirable. The only way to prevent such a situation will be for the Centre and the States to come to an understanding that neither side will use or misuse their investigative machinery against their political opponents.

Saturday, 2 February, 2019