In the midst of her engagements during her maiden visit to Delhi after she took over as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Jayalalithaa reportedly met 30 IAS/IPS officers of the State cadre who were holding high positions in the various Ministries and agencies of the Central Government.

At this meeting, as per media reports, she requested them to keep at heart the interests of the State to whose cadre they belonged and help her tide over the difficulties and challenges that the State was up against.

It must be remembered, however, that once a State cadre IAS or IPS officer comes to the Centre on deputation, his primary loyalty is to the Centre.

He is expected to keep the scales even among the States, without seeming to give any extra weight to proposals or requests coming from the State to whose cadre he belongs.

Nevertheless, other things being equal, he could help clear the proposal/request with the least delay. He could also, whenever so requested by the State administration, intervene with officials of Ministries/Departments/agencies dealing with a subject of importance to the State to have the processing and communication of the decision speeded up.

Priority to State needs

Sometimes, it is also possible for a State cadre official to invoke the sympathetic understanding of the Central Minister under whom he is working to give priority to the needs of his State, without detriment to other States. This was what I did in a situation which brought me into contact with the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. G. Ramachandran. Here is the story:

The 1980s were years of low stocks of foodgrains and essential commodities. The Food Ministry made State-wise allocations every month taking into account the stocks in hand, the emerging needs, the past consumption pattern and the requirements for any special occasions like festivals, natural disasters, and so on.

Normally State Food Ministers and Chief Ministers would meet the Union Food Minister who would pass their requests to the Secretary for advice.

I was surprised, therefore, to get a call one day from Panrutti Ramachandran, a Minister in the Cabinet of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. G. Ramachandran, asking me whether MGR and himself could come and meet me in my office. I said that it was I who should properly call on them and met them at the Tamil Nadu Guest House. MGR said that the allocation of foodgrains and essential commodities to Tamil Nadu were inadequate and needed to be increased.

I went straight to Food Minister, Rao Birendra Singh, and told him in a light vein that since I had to go back to Tamil Nadu to spend the evening of my life, I must be permitted a measure of discretion in meeting the State Government's requests.

Lack of sensitivity

Being a Haryanavi, he appreciated my bluntness and burst into a guffaw and said “Teek hai! (So be it!) I was thus able to convey to Panrutti in less than half-an-hour the approval of the Government for the extra allotments. I also told him that he could always lift the telephone and talk to me for any help he wanted of me.

I met MGR five or six times both at Madras and at Delhi, and made sure that the State's public distribution system ran smoothly. And, then, I left for Rome to join the FAO.

Within a few months, newspapers splashed the news of MGR undertaking a fast under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the Marina, protesting the callous attitude of the Centre in not meeting the State's essential requirements. He forced the Food Ministry to capitulate by that very evening.

Thus, the fabric of mutual goodwill and harmony so carefully woven into the relations between the Centre and a State was torn asunder by lack of sensitivity and empathy.

This shows how personal equations play a great part in keeping alive the spirit of constructive federalism.