South may be sour grapes for BJP
South may be sour grapes for BJP

 BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, has recently been winning election after election in several states. Though it is tasting victory every time it faces the Congress, it is faltering a bit while fighting the regional parties. In UP, the SP and the BSP, jointly were able to defeat the BJP in the recently conducted by elections. 

Many regional parties, including the TRS, TDP, AIADMK, and the CPM (It has been voted out of power in Tripura, and, if it loses Kerala also, perhaps, it can be categorised as a regional party) are engaged in a massive preparatory exercise for challenging the ruling party in the elections due the next year.

The ready weapon they have at hand is the allegation that the Centre has been less than impartial in dealing with their financial and other needs. In fact, as things appear now, such a complaint can be nursed by any state including, and to the south of, West Bengal. 

As all these states are in the southern peninsula, the scope has arisen for the grievance that the Centre’s attitude is informed by a preference for the northern part of the country vis-a-vis the Southern. This criticism has become a willing handmaiden in the hands of even new political parties such as the one established recently by Kamal Haasan designed his party flag with a picture showing linking six hands, symbolic of unity of 6 southern states (including Puducherry). One has to wait and see whether Haasan will once again raise the Dravida Nadu slogan of Dravida Kazhagam days.  

Of late, there has been a feeling, in the mind of the common Tamil Nadu citizen, that ‘northern’ BJP is needlessly poking its nose into Tamil politics in the post-Jayalalithaa era.  Coming to the Telugu states, in the wake of the strengthening of the movement in support of the demand for a Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh, even the TDP has been forced to question the ‘step-motherly’ attitude of the Centre. 

Galla Jayadev, a Member of Parliament from that party, warned in a severe tone “Mr Prime Minister, don’t take the Andhras’ for fools”. Fight between political parties was given a colour of discrimination against Andhras’. Now that the TDP has walked out of the NDA alliance, it is to be expected that it will revive the Telugu self-respect slogan, once raised so effectively by NTR nearly four decades ago and use strong language to criticise the BJP.

And if this is the situation in AP and TS, where elections are due next year, one can easily imagine how much more so it would be in states like Karnataka where elections are imminent. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has already demonstrated his uniqueness by designing a separate flag for it recently. He has also demanded increased autonomy for the states which, according to him, should be permitted to evolve their own financial and fiscal policies, including the right to seek external assistance from agencies outside the country. 

He has also lamented that the earlier practice of discussing important policy issues in the National Development Council has been discontinued following the formation of Niti Aayog and demanded that the Central government should consult the states before entering into international agreements which affect the interest of the latter. 

He points out that under the South Asian free trade agreement, the Central government recently decided to import cheap pepper from Vietnam via Sri Lanka, following which, the farmers of Kerala and Karnataka have been put to severe losses. Many such injustices are being meted out to the southern states, he further contends.

In support of that complaint, he cites the fact that much more is going to the Central coffers by way of taxes from the states then is being received by them in the shape of assistance. He further points out that national schemes are been designed keeping the interests of the all the states in the country in mind, as a result, some states are being put to disadvantage. He pointed out that while Uttar Pradesh receives Rs.1.79 in turn for every rupee of tax collected by it, Karnataka receives only 47 paise. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is what the Centre is doing, he alleges.

The main reason for such complaints arise is the fact that the population is the main criteria based upon which the Centre allocates resources to the states. And, till the 13th Finance Commission (FC), Central funds were allocated to the states on the basis of their population in 1971. When the 14th FC proposed to alter the date to 2011 the southern states protested vehemently as, until 1971, there was not much of awareness of the importance of family planning. 

Following the massive campaign launched by the Centre thereafter, there was a tremendous response from the southern states, and a majority of families learnt to be content with two or three children. Consequently, evils such as illiteracy and lack of access to primary health were effectively dealt with, and considerable improvement was shown in those areas in the southern states. This, sadly, was not the case in the northern states, where the population grew, more or less, at an uncontrolled rate.

According to the United Nations the replacement fertility rate should be less by 2.1 than the total fertility rate. The figures are 3.4 in Bihar, 2.7 in UP, 2.4 in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh 2.3. In contrast, in Kerala it is 1.6, in Tamil Nadu 1.7, and in AP, Telangana and Karnataka, 1.8. In other words, states which are acting in a disciplined manner, in terms of population control, are losing out. Despite the protest of the southern states the 14th FC approved a weightage of 17.5% for population.

And now the 15th FC has raised the question of considering 2011 population as a factor again, which has caused a highly controversial situation to arise. In the meeting convened by the Commission in Hyderabad in February this year, the southern states vociferously opposed the move. Reports were put out that the Commission officials insisted on states furnishing information in the form designed by them on the ground that it was a national policy. No wonder this led to suspicion and distrust.

One estimate has it that, had the 14th FC taken the 2011 population figures as the basis, states which controlled population growth in the years 2015–20, numbering 12, would have lost Rs. 1,25,392 crore and that those 17 states which failed to control population growth, benefitted to the same extent.

Along with the doubts that are entertained by the states about population as a basis, suspicion exists about the manner in which the Centre deals with what is called the ‘revenue deficit’. The 14th FC made a detailed mention of the state wise revenue deficits from 2015–20 and recommended the appropriate Central grants to be made to them. 

In actual practice however, the deficits being exhibited in the state budgets differed substantially from the numbers used by the FC and the Centre was calculating the deficit in different states in varying ways. As I was witness to the ongoing disagreement and fracas between the Centre and AP on the subject.

It is but natural that, on account of the aforementioned facts and figures, doubts may arise that the Centre is not being entirely fair and just in the treatment it is meting out to the southern states.

Having had experience of working not only in the state secretariat but also in the government of India, I can state with some authority that, once a formula is fixed, all distribution of funds happens in accordance with that. It is only after the dispensation in place has been implemented in accordance with the norms prescribed, and one enters the area of discretion, that consultations with higher levels become necessary. 

This is equally true of day-to-day decisions taken at different levels even within the bureaucratic system. I recall how Kamal Pande, Secretary in the Agriculture Ministry when I was serving as a Joint Secretary, asked me a question in regard to the release of funds I had made to Andhra Pradesh state under the then Crop Insurance Scheme.

“Did you actually release so much to Andhra Pradesh State?” he asked me. “I did not “, I answered, “The formula did.” He then asked me why I had not felt the need to consult him before taking that action, to which I replied that I did not feel the need to do so as I was acting within my competence.

In the making of a formula, however, the political echelons have a role to play. There is also a prevalent feeling (real or imaginary is difficult to say) that, as the number of MPs from the north is more, the northern region gets benefited disproportionately. It is the responsibility of people from that region to ensure that such misgivings do not arise in the future.