Styles of political functioning, actions, and motivations, much like retro fashion trends, do stage striking comebacks. And so, the recent orders of the Narendra Modi government summoning the director general of police and the chief secretary of West Bengal to explain the alleged attacks on the political convoy of BJP president J.P. Nadda, or the decision to attach three IPS officials to central deputation for their alleged inaction is neither startling nor without antecedents.
Tamil Nadu witnessed similar incidents in 2001 and 2014. In the first case, despite the refusal of the state, the Centre recalled three IPS officials on account of its unhappiness over midnight raids conducted on DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi. In the latter, the Centre appointed a senior IPS official of the Tamil Nadu cadre as the additional director general of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), once again without bothering for the mandatory relieving orders from the state government. Similarly, in 2007, another official of the All India Services was chargesheeted by the Haryana government for carrying out the orders of the Centre. History indeed has been a graveyard of many similar incidents.
States’ loan to Centre
A reading of the office memorandums issued by successive Union governments laying down the service conditions of All India Services doesn’t help much in understanding the reality either. While it is clear that the All India Services is under the Union List and the President being the appointing authority has the final power of dismissing or even forcing compulsory retirement upon errant officials; it remains a fact that the officials of the All India Services are borne on state cadre and are actually loaned to the Centre on the consent of the states.
Given that the service conditions, particularly of the IAS and the IPS, are supposedly analogous to each other, two office memorandums issued within a week in May 1969 by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), further confound the matter. While the order by the MHA said that ‘a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government’, the DoPT order asserted that ‘provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government’.
Interestingly, another office order issued by the DoPT under the Modi government on 18 June 2020 once again reasserts the need of the consent of the states in case of central deputation. Irrespective of the merits of the summons or attachments of the officials in the West Bengal’s case, what is crucial is that the Mamata Banerjee government’s consent is absolutely necessary.
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Federalism at work
One can argue about the merits of such rules and policies, but it would be prudent to look into a speech delivered in this regard by India’s first home minister, Vallabhai Patel. Speaking at a conference in 1946, Patel was unequivocal in his understanding that the members of the All India Services were to be “useful instruments… and [would] also serve as a liaison between the Provinces and the Government of India, playing an immensely significant role in holding together India’s highly divided federal polity”.
Undeniably, the All India Services were put forth as one of the coordinating mechanisms for the operation of a particular type of federalism that is sui generis. It is also a fact that the mechanism itself hasn’t been politically neutral as envisaged and is in dying needs of structural reforms. However, reforming an institution is one thing, lording over is entirely different. Bringing it in the crossfire with state governments for overtly political gains or settling in political scores is certainly uncalled for, particularly from the federal point of governance.
Arguably, the evolved maturity of federalism could be ascribed to many factors of which the flexible nature of our Constitution, along with the strikingly prudent judicial pronouncements (Kesavananda Bharati and S.R. Bommai cases) occupy the top slot. The operation of a parliamentary frame of government as well as the nature and dynamics of a competitively open and accommodative party system have equally shaped the nature and working of India’s federal politics.
Consensus is a must
However, that spirit of accommodation is now shaking a bit. It is not to say that it is something new. One can instantly recall the contemptuous treatment meted to states during former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenure, but the fragmenting repercussions of it must be borne in mind as well. Luckily, the accommodating tones staged a comeback of sorts during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime-ministership, who, despite his brutal legislative majority, remained open to it. Barring a few stray incidences, such attitudes did continue unabated all through the P.V. Narasimha Rao-Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh years. The rise of strong regional patriarchs in the 1990s and the consequent coalition governments at the Centre only strengthened such tendencies.
Prime Minister Modi’s style is, however, different and to be fair, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under his patronage and command has all the right to go all-out in its mobilising endeavours — to expand its appeal zones and further consolidate its winning streaks.
But the Modi government must remain thoughtful about not bringing the mediating institutions in the line of fire. Engendering a fine balance between self-rule and shared-rule or the desire of a strong Union and the constitutional requirement of a consensual federal order governance, would be a desirable step ahead.
Dr Chandrachur Singh teaches Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Views expressed are personal