NEW DELHI: The battle lines for a states versus Centre faceoff got sharply drawn on Monday when non-UPA chief ministers – including Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, Gujarat’s Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu’s J Jayalalithaa – got together for an unsched
uled meeting here to work out a common line on contentious issues. While this was the main purpose of the meeting, there was talk of this coordination developing into a common strategy for the coming presidential election.
On Centre-state issues, the three chief ministers are likely to find common grounds with Bihar’s Nitish Kumar, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Punjab’s Parkash Singh Badal. These CMs launched a blistering attack on the Congress-led UPA government at a meeting on internal security, accusing the Centre of meddling in states’ affairs by seeking to arm the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) with police powers and proposing intrusive changes in the Border Security Force Act.
Ironically, the attack came on a day when both PM Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram sought to avoid stepping on corns by emphasizing and accepting the need for the Centre to work with the states. But the diplomatic approach did not prevent non-UPA CMs from hitting out at the Centre.
The three CMs were not together for long, but the deliberate media exposure of the interaction at Tamil Nadu House pointed to a political subtext beyond a meeting of minds on opposing the Centre over initiatives seen to be an intrusion on state turf.
Sources said while the discussions on Monday centred on the need to prevent the Centre from pushing through proposals giving intelligence outfits nationwide search and seizure powers and oppose “misuse” of central agencies, the likelihood of cooperation for the forthcoming presidential election is on the cards.
The leaders agreed to continue their cooperation on federal issues and this could grow into a shared strategy on a presidential nominee although much will depend on Congress’s choice for Rashtrapati Bhawan. Congress is aware that it will need the support of parties like the SP, BSP and Trinamool and could opt for a nominee who is hard to oppose.
Opposing UPA over federal issues provides a ground for regional parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD to interact with BJP while state satraps like Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar are in touch over the past few months, beginning with the chorus against the Lokpal bill’s lokayukta provisions during last year’s winter session of Parliament.
The Tamil Nadu CM enjoys a good equation with Modi and Jayalalithaa’s recent meeting with leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley is also seen in the context of an anti-Congress grouping. Patnaik was careful in maintaining his meeting was in the nature of a courtesy call and Modi offered no comment, but AIADMK sources said the Centre’s “attack on federalism” was discussed.
Earlier in the day, Modi delivered a hard-hitting speech at the conference on internal security, saying the NCTC controversy was part of a “series of unsavuory episodes” and the Centre was “meddling with subjects under the state list”.
Jayalalithaa went a step further to say that states were “glorified municipal corporations” in the Centre’s view. The tough talk saw Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot criticize the opposition CMs for trying to gain “cheap popularity” during a serious discussion on internal security. The Congress spokesperson dismissed questions on a “fourth front” as a mirage.
The three CMs received support from their counterparts from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. Jayalalithaa warned against an “emerging pattern” wherein the state’s powers were “abrogated” by the Centre through passage of bills and accused it of showing “scant respect” for state governments. She added that the lack of consultation with states and failure to take states in to confidence was a “cogent commentary” on the system of governance in the Centre.
Modi took exception to the Centre’s claim that 97% of intelligence had been generated by the Multi-Agency Centre and only 3% had been contributed by states, sarcastically asking whether the responsibility for the inputs would be accepted in a similar proportion. He ran down central inputs that sent state agencies on wild goose chases.
In his address, Patnaik sought urgent consultations between the Centre and the states over issues like the NCTC, saying any delay would affect handling of law and order. He referred to the ongoing hostage crisis in the state saying that the delay in discussing NCTC had been dangerous.