The Rajya Sabha on Friday witnessed a lively debate on Centre-state relations and federalism as it took up for discussion a private member resolution moved by MDMK member Vaiko seeking amendments to the Constitution to bring back subjects that were transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List in the last 70 years and ensure that the residuary powers are vested with the states by reviewing and restructuring the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
His resolution also wanted the government to allocate more funds to states to ensure they are financially empowered.
The two-and-a-half-hour debate saw Congress’s Jairam Ramesh and BJP members Rakesh Sinha and Shiv Pratap Shukla opposing Vaiko’s main demand, and members from many regional parties like RJD, AAP and TRS backing him.
Vaiko’s demand that the post of the Governor be abolished found support in AAP’s Sanjay Singh.
Ramesh said “tinkering with the Seventh Schedule will open up Pandora’s box” and “giving the residuary powers from the Centre to the States will be a very retrogressive move”. He said transferring items from the Concurrent List back to the State List will be detrimental not for the Centre but to the States.
Initiating the debate, Vaiko asked the House to make a distinction between unity and uniformity. He argued that residuary powers that are in the Union List should be included in the State List and items like education be deleted from the Concurrent List and added to the State List.
He said subjects like education are in the Concurrent list “only for namesake”. “Through the new education policy, they are thrusting one nation, one ration card, one Aadhaar card, one language, one religion. Where are we leading to? Finally, you won’t have that one nation… Are you going to do like the Nazis and Fascists in Germany and Italy?” he said.
He said India is not a nation but a multi-national State, a point strongly rebutted by Sinha in his speech later.
Ramesh said that while he sympathised with the spirit of Vaiko’s resolution, some of its aspects would be detrimental to national interest. He asked how subjects like population control, forests, education and administration of justice, which went from State List to Concurrent List by the 42nd amendment to the Constitution, be switched back as the central government has a key role in all these matters.
He argued that chief ministers of all parties often demand greater power from New Delhi, but are not prepared to devolve more powers to panchayats and nagar palikas.
Arguing that no Constitution can be divorced from its historical context, he said the historical context was that “Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, all wanted a strong Centre. All wanted the Government of India to be strong because if the Government of India is not strong, India is going to wither away. I sympathise with Vaiko’s sentiments (but) I think Vaiko is going to the other extreme of denying the centrality of the Central Government.”
He said “no State should forget that they are part of the Indian Union and they are strong if the Union is strong” and argued that “cooperative federalism is the only way.”
TMC’s Derek O’Brien expressed concern on the role of Governors, citing developments in Maharashtra and West Bengal. He also favoured bringing back the subject of education to the State List, saying that state governments would not mind spending extra on education. AIAMDK’s Vijila Sathyananth backed the demand, and BJD’s Amar Patnaik emphasised the need for greater financial autonomy for states.