A host of issues agitating the states brought together seven Opposition Chief Ministers who, at a meeting called Wednesday by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, resolved to unitedly fight the BJP and what they described as the violation of federalism by the Centre.
“Darna hai ki ladna hai” (should we be afraid or should we fight), Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray asked the assembled leaders that included West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, Jharkhand Chief Minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren, and Congress Chief Ministers Amarinder Singh of Punjab, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh and V Narayanasamy of Puducherry.
The Chief Ministers were of the view that a common programme should be drawn up to wage a united fight against the Centre for undermining the rights of the states.
As a first step, the Chief Ministers discussed the option of approaching the Supreme Court to seek postponement of the JEE-NEET examinations in view of the pandemic. There was consensus among them on moving the top court.
They also decided to jointly seek an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to mount pressure for release of GST compensation dues to the states which are “bleeding financially.”
The sentiment at the meeting was that the central government was taking decisions without consulting the state governments – be it on the New Education Policy or the draft Environment Impact Assessment notification.
Maintaining that there are a number of important and pressing issues that impinge on Centre-state relations, Sonia Gandhi said the interaction was aimed at having a “coordinated approach” in Parliament when the monsoon session begins on September 14.
Banerjee said state governments are being “bulldozed like anything”. All the Chief Ministers said the revenues of their states have been badly hit and the situation is such that they are finding it difficult to pay salaries. “From where the money will come… it will come from the sky?” she asked.
“And if we want to say something, then of course there are so many agencies… we will be surrounded… let them. But what to do?… I have not seen in a democracy these types of atrocities. I am sorry to say. It is the most unfortunate part of today… we are facing an acute crisis and we cannot speak. We cannot speak out. We cannot speak freely. The media cannot speak. They are also being guided on what to speak and what not to speak… spending lots of money against all of us… from Facebook to everywhere. Fake news, distorted news to damage (those) who are in the Opposition. They don’t care,” Banerjee said.
Thackeray said all Chief Ministers are facing the same situation. “We will have to first decide darna hai ki ladna hai… otherwise we will keep meeting like this, discussing issues… having tea, snacks… it has no meaning… ladna hai to ladna hai, then whatever happens will happen… For us, it is Satyameva Jayate, and not Sattameva Jayate,” he told the meeting, beamed live on social media platforms.
Thackeray said Opposition-ruled states should draw up a “programme” listing the issues being faced by them and approach the Centre. “We are not begging. It is our right… the right of our people. People have voted for us, and also for the Prime Minister. It is not that the people who have voted for us are from outside, and those who have voted for them are from here. It is the same people.”
He said Opposition Chief Ministers should keep meeting. “Whatever we have to do, we will do it together. It is the voice of the people and if somebody tries to suppress it… we should raise our voices…. We are together, we will be together, and we will fight together,” he said.
Gandhi and Banerjee agreed. “What he said was right. We should have a programme. Kisiko bhi koi state mei problem hota hai, dikkat hota hai… koi bhi political party ko (if any state, party has a problem) … they try to divert… sab ko alag alag karke rakh dete hain (they split them) … but we must raise our voice. Otherwise what will happen… there will be no other political party,” Banerjee said. “I agree that we have to work together and fight together,” Gandhi said.
Soren said “we (the Opposition) look weak and are not able to raise issues strongly. The ruling side is using all weapons against the Opposition which will affect federalism.” He said the ruling side manages to divert attention from issues. He alleged the Centre is biased against Opposition-ruled states.
In her opening address, Gandhi spoke on the issues affecting the states. She said the finances of all states have been badly affected by the delay in payment of GST compensation. “This refusal to compensate the states is nothing short of a betrayal by the Modi government and a betrayal of the trust of the people of India. On the other hand, the central government continues to profiteer from unilateral cesses which are non-shareable with states, and corners this revenue,” she said.
While ordinances have been issued without consulting states on agricultural marketing, the draft EIA notification 2020, she said, is deeply anti-democratic. “Laws meant to protect the environment, livelihoods and public health are being weakened. The auction of coal mines too, I am aware, has been objected to by some Chief Ministers,” she said.
“Public sector assets created over decades are being sold off. Here too, some state governments have expressed their strong opposition. Six airports have already been given to private hands. The Railways are the life-line of the country and they are being privatised too… Announcements like the National Education Policy should worry us. This is a setback for progressive, secular and scientific values and reveals insensitivity to what the states have been saying. Problems of students and examinations are being dealt with very uncaringly,” she said.
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