A manifesto for federal politics

A manifesto for federal politics

The political ambitions of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are mostly confined to Tamil Nadu. However, it has always seen itself as a flagbearer of India’s federal politics and constitutional provisions that protect the balance of power between the Centre and states. The DMK manifesto released on Wednesday suggests that the party takes its historic legacy seriously and believes its federal stance can also be an electorally attractive position.

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The DMK manifesto promises to restrict the powers of governors, restore statehood and hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir, conduct population, caste and poverty census every five years, and scrap the National Education Policy 2020 and the Army’s Agnipath recruitment scheme. These positions are drawn from the party’s own experience in office and Parliament, of repeated scraps with the Centre over turf. In fact, it defined the DMK’s parliamentary politics in the 1960s and ’70s, especially after the Centre began to weaponise Article 356 to dismiss non-Congress governments. The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-state relations looked at these federal concerns in depth.

They receded into the background in the 1980s with the weakening of the Congress and the rise of regional parties. The Telugu Desam, CPI-M, National Conference, and Asom Gana Parishad among others were allies of the DMK in articulating a federal politics that found its parliamentary voice in the third fronts of the late 1980s and ’90s. That these agendas are back in circulation suggests the re-emergence of old federal faultlines. This is the outcome of BJP’s unitarian political vision, which, despite the talk of cooperative federalism, is perceived to favour centralisation in governance, including in subsidies and taxation. These issues call for a deeper conversation.

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