The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has triggered a healthy debate by turning the spotlight in his recent public utterances on the impact of regional parties on governance at the Centre and in the States. While prepared to regard them as ‘a fact of life’ and as having come to stay, he has expressed himself strongly in favour of making them develop a ‘national perspective’ and evolving ‘new norms’ for incorporating them in governance to ward off ‘harmful effects’.

In his conception, India was a large common market and regional parties created obstacles through tax barriers and the like to the country attaining its full growth potential. He holds regional parties responsible for several States remaining backward, and ‘growing regionalism’ or ‘States fighting one another’ as a major threat to India.

Expectedly, Dr Singh’s observations have sparked off forceful rejoinders from spokespersons of regional parties. They are irked by Dr Singh denying them due credit for the role they have played as an integral and even indispensable part of alliances forming the backbone of coalitions that have become the staple of governance.

The ugly, and sometimes violent, manifestations of regionalism preceding and following the linguistic reorganisation of States, weighed heavily on the mind of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was deeply perturbed at the prospect of the national fabric being torn asunder by demands (Dravidasthan, Rayalaseema, Telangana, Vidarbha) with secessionist overtones asserting regional and ethnic identities.

So much so, on his suggestion, the very first meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC) held in June 1962, established a Committee under the chairmanship of C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer and with Kamaraj, Jayaprakash Narayan, Biju Patnaik, B. P. Chaliha and Asoka Mehta as members to go into its implications for national integration. I serviced this Committee in my capacity as the Secretary of the NIC.

It was Ramaswamy Iyer who came up with a brilliant masterstroke of incorporating in the Constitution a mandatory provision binding both candidates standing for elections and those elected as members of legislatures to take an oath to uphold the integrity, unity and sovereignty of India, failing which the political parties fielding them would be derecognised and the candidates/members themselves would be subjected to punitive measures. The immediate result was the giving up of the demand for Dravidasthan by the DMK.

Safety valves

The members of the Committee, however, were of the view that in a country of such bewildering diversities and complexities, it was natural for people at the local and regional levels to expect their aspirations and needs to get reflected in the governance at the Centre, and that without such a safety-valve, there was a real danger of Centre-State relations being marked by tension and hostility, posing a threat to the unity and integrity of India.

Regional parties serve as such safety valves. It is undeniable that ignorance of, and disregard for, regional susceptibilities by national parties have, in the past, led to grave consequences.

Hence, a dynamic, harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between national and regional parties in running the governments at the Centre and in the States can be productive in achieving the intended results faster and better.

Indeed, the possession of such an ability to get the best out of such relationship should be made the touchstone of political leadership. A close association forged between national and regional parties and the identity of interests thus developed will automatically infuse the latter with national perspective.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 17, 2009)
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