The situation in the Upper House, according to BJP, has impeded the pace of government legislative work and reforms. Is there, thus, any parliamentary reform India should undertake to ensure governance pace is not constantly obstructed?
Before I answer this question myself, let me repeat what respected President Pranab Mukherjee has said: “Our Parliament reflects the supreme will of the people. Democratic temper calls for debate and discussion, and not disruption or obstruction. Aa No Bhadra Kratvo Yantu Viswataha — let noble thoughts come from all directions, should be the spirit behind debate in this temple of democracy.”
It is true that whether it is our electoral process, or our parliamentary functioning, these have been reformed earlier too, and should be reformed in future as well. One significant issue these days is the influence of money power in elections. The government’s work comes to a standstill during elections. That is why many people are calling for holding the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections simultaneously. If this happens, the character of the Rajya Sabha will also be “in tune”.
What is the prime minister’s, the politician’s, assessment regarding the Congress stance on the issue of the goods and services tax? Do you have any deadlines for GST?
In our history, I do not think there has been any law which has been debated as extensively and as long and at as many levels as the GST Bill. The states and especially the consuming states now understand the benefits of GST. Most of the states have clearly understood that GST will benefit the poor through buoyancy of revenue, enabling better services to them. The poorest states will benefit even more.
The people in these states have also now understood this. So much so, the obstruction of GST is now not a Lok Sabha issue but has become a Gram Sabha issue! The public in states like UP, Bihar and West Bengal will be the biggest beneficiaries. Therefore, I do not think any political party will try to commit suicide by opposing GST. You have asked about the deadline for GST. As an optimist, I believe more in lifelines than in deadlines.
You have been responsible for ushering cooperative federalism. How do you see this concept play out in the days ahead? Essentially, in your vision, how much more would you want to empower states and the kind of decisions they should take in future?
If anyone thinks that this vast and diverse country can stand on one pillar, however strong, they would be mistaken. In a nation like India, the states, Union Territories and the Centre have to act as 37 pillars.
Merely because the constitution prescribes a federal structure, true federalism will not automatically happen. The prime minister and the chief ministers have to join together, and the central cabinet and the state cabinets have to join together, as one big team, as one Team India to take India forward. This spirit has to be fostered.
Cooperative federalism is not just Centre-state cooperation but also state-state cooperation. Today, interstate water disputes are a matter of serious concern. Gas is available in one state while fertiliser plants needing gas remain closed in another state, because some state does not allow pipelines to pass through. This is not fair to the people of India. Hence, cooperative federalism is needed at all levels and must be combined with competitive federalism in the form of strengthening competition to progress faster. It is my good fortune that having been a chief minister for many years, I am acutely aware of the importance of cooperative federalism and the loss that will accrue if it is absent. It is because of this that I have put it into practice.
I can give several examples but I (shall) mention just one or two here. You are aware that following the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations, states get a much higher share of central revenues and the Centre was left with much lower revenue.
The centrally sponsored schemes had to be restructured. In the past, centrally sponsored schemes were designed and the funding pattern decided by the Centre on its own. Instead, this time, the job was entrusted to chief ministers under the NITI Aayog. The chief ministers recommended what should be the new pattern and the Centre accepted that. It is a matter of pride for our country that this report of the chief ministers was unanimous despite the presence of chief ministers from various parties, including several from outside the NDA. Another aspect of our approach is the freedom we have given to states to modify their policies in matters under the concurrent list.