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Naveen offers a silver lining in cooperative federalism

Author: Sabyasachee Dash

Amid the raging pandemic, cyclones hitting our west coast followed by the east coast almost denying any space in between the duo, have had a severely adverse impact. This has prohibitively added to the stress level for the respective administration in terms of mobilizing resources because it’s no joke to engage with the mighty nature’s fury. However, at the same time, the post cyclonic circumstantial developments offer a decent opportunity to assess the spirit of cooperative federalism being genuinely practiced by affected states vis-a-vis the Union of India. Without intending to experiment a debate wherein one state is pitted against the other, yet the issue in hand assumes paramount relevance more so in the overriding background of COVID management in terms of strained chemistry between Centre and States. By any measure, center-state relation is a complex discussion but lately, this topic has been trending in various circuits predominantly mass media where most of the intellectual nurturing is being brewed.

Naveen Patnaik receiving PM and the Central Team at Bhubaneswar

Sans optics, if any, PM Modi has shown the highest possible level of statesmanship by making himself immediately available in person before the CM of both the states which were unfortunate host to the devastating cyclone on the east coast. The purpose of PM’s visit was to stand in solidarity with the aggrieved states and offer help to rebuild & rehabilitate. This may sound very customary and rightfully so but there are nuances around it which demand familiarity with a certain level of circumstantial references.

PM Reviewing with CM (Odisha)

PM with Empty Chair (West Bengal)

These two images convey almost everything one may need to know in this context. Interestingly we come across sermons on how to run our democracy from several individuals affiliated to different camps particularly those who share a common philosophy of brutally demonizing the current central regime by ventilating spurious disinformation as part of a determined PR overdrive. Some have even resorted to the foreign press for targeting the home dispensation under their public intellectual mask. They often passionately invoke so-called free-thinking liberalism celebrated in some other geographies. But because of their preference for setting up selective agenda-driven narratives, they remain purposefully undisturbed on certain unpleasant comments and conducts otherwise representing blatant violation (non-compliance) of constitutional niceties. Instances are many:  In Kolkata, the PM and the Governor had to wait for the CM and team of bureaucrats in a review meeting to realize she had no time for the cyclone impact briefing or the overt criticism of PM’s Maan Ki Baat by the CM of Jharkhand relying on expressions not only uncanny but unbecoming of a constitutionally elected provincial head communicating with the executive head of the nation. Turning a little back in the time, even C.B. Naidu then CM, Andhra Pradesh tried political stunts to provoke the Union. While all these may be attributed to their personal style of orientation in course of their evolution as leaders, but they fail sadly to figure out their blind spots would one day become their heaviest liabilities. In plain words, these behaviors are not only appalling also do amount to manufacturing confrontations with the Centre which in the end inhibits the state’s prospects in more than one way. The political landscape is dynamic and those in the playground necessarily submit themselves before various circumstances often they are not in control of. More importantly, the interest of the state they represent gets a beating because of their behavioral disorder. Further, those self-certified authorities of democratic principles enjoy such events by advancing tacit justification also incur a loss of credibility in due course. Unfortunately, they seem not to care about much with a false feeling that they are speaking truth to the power by encouraging such ill manners and humiliating treatment by political opponents. It’s no one’s cause to advocate for veneration or idolatry of any kind, but the constitutional decorum ought to be respected in a democracy. Be that as it may; as each of us is taught the right things at right time, one just needs to wait for his/her turn.

On the contrary, here is a gentleman called Naveen Patnaik the incumbent CM, and serving the state of Odisha for the last two decades, famous for his consistent pleasant demeanor, has never been dragged into a controversy of this kind. His ideological commitments are not the same as espoused by the BJP, yet he has not lent himself to slip into a self-laid trap. This is solid proof of his profound upbringing and understanding of comportments as envisaged in our system. Besides he leads a party that certainly promises to further the regional aspiration but that he has seldom confused with his obligations towards others regardless of their political affiliations and ideological subscriptions. It is natural he has differences with the Centre over many issues, for example, Ayushman Bharat he declined to roll out. Similarly, the BJP is the challenger to the BJD (his party) in the state after Congress became almost non-existent. So, he takes head-on the BJP but at the same time, he does not play to the gallery to please his core constituents nor get inspired by a few of his counterparts who are often manners-compromised and dependent on arm twisting for political expediency. On many occasions it’s a validated experience that a “personal connect nurtured and matured over the time is a better enabler in evolving one as a more acceptable leader” and that’s evident in his case. Today, people across political lines come forward to endorse his consistent good conduct with the Center and other states. And that he has earned by not relying on gimmicks chosen by some of his counterparts instead represents the outcome of his values and ethical convictions.

Naveen Pattanayak at his residence graciously hosting senior leaders from different parties with a traditional Odia meal

By the way, he is the son of a legend from Odisha a national hero Biju Babu and whose contributions to pre-and post-independence are well documented and widely appreciated as such. He too had political differences with leaders then but barely there was an incident that would have ever caught him on the wrong side when it came to dealings as a responsible public figure. So, one can safely say Naveen Patnaik as the son of Biju Patnaik has the innate art of engaging stakeholders in the utmost desirable manner. When the current wave of Pandemic turned acute in Maharashtra and Delhi, Naveen Patnaik immediately offered his help for the supply of medical oxygen to those states without even waiting for the quota allocation mechanism to be in place. In the fitness of things, it is relevant to remember in the 1930s when the Utkal Pradesh movement was at its peak, the leaders from the region led by Pt. Gapabandhu Das merged the movement with the Congress on the invitation from Mahatma Gandhi which goes on to prove historically Odisha as a state which has pursued its own provincial commitment within the broader perimeters of national interest,  perpetually preferring county’s priority and concerns to its regional aspiration.

Importantly cooperative federalism can never be imagined when personal animosity takes precedence over constitutional decorum and conventions. Besides it’s a two-way phenomenon i.e. both Centre and State have respective role play and must commit to due reciprocation. In a democracy the rules, traditions followed in adherence to and in course of enforcing laws need to be respected which anarchists refuse to accept. For someone holding constitutional office to behave, it’s important how well he or she is aligned to the national interest. The glorious past including the financial fortunes of Kalinga ( Odisha’s previous name) may have been archived in the pages of history but in spite of its current overwhelming financial weakness which may be the narrative for another day, has never prompted its leader to defy the canon of  Cooperative Federalism and as a person with Odia language identity, I take pride in my CM’s conduct as a public servant. It is immaterial what my ideological subscription is.

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