Uddhav Thackeray Calls For “National Debate” On Federalism, And Rightly So

Uddhav Thackeray’s call for national debate on federalism is timely and should not be ignored. Interference by the centre seems to be an issue bothering many other states.

There’s always a sort of excitement in the western state of Maharashtra on the day of Dussehra, not only because the festival is quite popular in the state, but also because it’s the day on which the ruling Shiv Sena in Maharashtra holds the famous Dussehra Melava. Started and immortalised by the party founder Bal Thackeray since 1966, the Dussehra Melava or rally is an opportunity for the Shiv Sena supremo to go all out in his speech against anyone and anything he finds unpleasant.

After the party’s breakup with the BJP in 2019, and the formation of coalition government with NCP and Congress, Shiv Sena supremo and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has capitalised on the famous Dussehra rally to lambast his opponents, who were once his allies.

Though the rally has been held in limited attendance in an auditorium in the last two years in the wake of the pandemic, Uddhav Thackeray has not only successfully managed to hit headlines with his speeches on both the occasions, but also sent a clear message regarding who he considers his friends and foes.

Though the Shiv Sena supremo launched a scathing attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party and its brand of Hindutva, sympathised with the farmers, and lavished praise on his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, the most important part of his speech was when he highlighted the need for national debate on federalism.


Uddhav Thackeray addressing Dusshera rally in Mumbai on Friday.


In this article, let us discuss why the Maharastra CM’s concerns over federalism are not completely unfounded.

What did UT say?

Addressing the Dussehra rally, Uddhav Thackeray called for an honest discussion on Centre-State relations as the country marks the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence.

He said that the Indian Constitution framed by Dr B.R. Ambedkar has laid down clear guidelines on the rights of the Centre and states, with autonomy to the latter, along with sovereign rights like the Centre.

“In the current scenario, the question arises whether the Centre will allow the states to survive… In their thirst for power, they keep harassing the non-BJP-ruled states, try to topple their governments. The Constitution says if the Centre interferes in the state’s affairs, it would be unconstitutional,” CM Thackeray declared.

Further in his speech, hammering the BJP for constantly targeting the Maharashtra government after the Sena joined hands with Nationalist Congress Party-Congress in November 2019, Mr Thackeray said: “They are hounding us and even our families through the probe agencies like IT, ED, CBI. We are not scared. They are trying to break and topple our government. I challenge them to bring us down. They will not succeed.” Several ministers in the Uddhav Thackeray government are being investigated by central agencies, including former home minister Anil Deshmukh.

However, this is not the first time that Uddhav Thackeray has spoken up about federalism and state-centre relationship. In fact, this is also not the first time that a CM of an opposition ruled state had to remind the centre of its responsibilities in the federal structure.

Misuse of central agencies

Not only Maharashtra government, but other state governments ruled by non-BJP parties have also complained about the political use of investigation agencies by the centre.

Mamata Banerjee, during her recent campaign for Bhabanipur bypoll, hit out at the BJP-ruled central government for using central agencies against TMC ministers and leaders. It is more frustrating for Mamata as her own nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife are being grilled by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

“Using the central agencies and muscle power, Trinamool Congress was heckled by the ruling BJP during the Assembly polls. After the by-poll date was announced, the BJP government is again heckling the Trinamool leaders and ministers misusing the agencies. Just because they want to target me, Abhishek Banerjee is being called by the ED. After quizzing him for 9 hours, he is being called again the next day and that shows their intent,” Mamata Banerjee said in her campaign speech.

Mamata Banerjee has had several altercations with central agencies in the past over the arrests of state officials or ministers.


Mamata Banerjee leaving CBI office after she registered protest over arrests of ministers in her government.


Pinarayi Vijayan and his Kerala government was hounded by the central agencies for last one year over the gold smuggling case. One of the accused, after being released from jail, said that Central agencies had compelled him to accuse several top politicians of being involved in the case, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The NIA (National Investigation Agency) and the ED have failed to provide concrete evidence against the accused.

Non-BJP-ruled states like West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala and Jharkhand have already withdrawn the general consent to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate cases in the states.

NEET controversy

Weeks after scrapping NEET examination in Tamil Nadu, chief minister MK Stalin this month had urged the chief ministers of 12 states to put up a united effort to restore the primacy of state governments in administering the education sector as envisaged in the Constitution. He had written a letter to 11 non-BJP chief ministers over the issue.


CM Stalin wrote letter to 11 non-BJP chief ministers to join the fight against the centre over NEET examination.


Mr Stalin said that the Centre’s move to introduce NEET goes against the spirit of federalism and violates the constitutional balance of power by curbing the rights of the state governments to decide on the method of admission in the medical institutions founded, established and run by them.

Punjab BSF controversy

Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi took to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn the Centre’s decision to extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force to a 50 km belt along the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. Earlier, the BSF’s jurisdiction was a 15 km belt along the border.

He called the central government’s move “a direct attack on federalism” and urged Union home minister Amit Shah to roll back the decision.


Deputy CM S Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said: “There are no justifiable reasons for unilaterally changing the existing arrangements by the Government of India, except to weaken the State Government and the spirit of federalism.”

Opposition parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), criticised the Centre’s decision.

Attack on federalism

The issues mentioned above are not only a few where the centre is appearing to dominate the respective state governments thereby attacking the “cooperative federalism” structure, but many other issues like the GST return, distribution of anti-Covid vaccines and nagging governors make the case worst for the Modi government. Several state governments, in the past, have passed laws against the centre’s Citizenship Ammendment Act (CAA) and three farm laws.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.


Uddhav Thackeray’s call for national debate on federalism is timely and should not be ignored. Interference by the centre seems to be an issue bothering many other states. Though there had been allegations against the UPA by non-Congress governments over misuse of central agencies, the scale and frequency of it was not as much as it is now. Moreover, the BJP government has been blamed for being partial to the states ruled by them, and ignoring the opposition ruled states.

Many political opponents see the centre’s attempts to weaken the federal structure as it’s way to enforce one party rule. Even though it sounds more like a conspiracy, the frequent confrontations between states and the centre will not help the Indian democracy and it’s federal structure.


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