Will Modi Govt Re-Think COVID Plan After Chief Ministers’ Dissent?

The Centre had hoped to create an atmosphere of bonhomie and consensus this time by allowing all CMs to speak. 

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

The Modi government’s effort to start normalising the economy with the graded resumption of passenger trains may well be derailed by the states.

The rift between the Centre and the states on the issue boiled over in the fourth video conference between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief ministers. There were objections across the board to the Centre’s plan to restart passenger trains, from ruling party CMs like BS Yediyurappa of Karnataka, to NDA CMs like Nitish Kumar of Bihar, and E Palaniswami of Tamil Nadu, to CMs from politically neutral parties like K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana and Jagan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh.

Call it ‘friendly fire’, but what it did was to expose the ill-conceived and hasty nature of the decision, taken without consulting state governments or making arrangements for passengers to travel to and from railway stations (in the absence of public transport), screening facilities at platforms, and provisions for quarantine or whatever other precautions the receiving states may deem fit.

What’s the Point of Meetings With CMs If Centre Takes Unilateral Decisions?

With chief ministers who are on their side of the political fence voicing reservations in unambiguous terms, there are indications that the Centre may be forced to rethink the decision, even as the Indian Railways flagged off the first few trains. Bookings are full for the next five days, but there is a suggestion that railways should not issue tickets for the following week till the imbroglio is sorted out.

There is a growing feeling among CMs that these video conferences are futile, especially when the Centre takes unilateral decisions on the eve of their meeting with the prime minister.

At the last meeting, it was Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan who expressed his resentment by absenting himself. This time, it was West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee who made no bones about her anger. “If you continue to conduct meetings after having taken the decision, then what is the point of the meeting?’’ she demanded in her opening line.

Interestingly, even Nitish Kumar lashed out. He took umbrage to the fact that he was not consulted on the trains decision, especially since he has been railways minister earlier. “My opinion should have been taken,’’ he pointed out. He described the decision to restart passenger trains as “a mistake’’.

Mamata Banerjee ‘Singles Out’ Amit Shah – Voices Concerns Of States

While the trains issue cast a lengthy shadow over the meeting, the CMs had other bones to pick with the Centre as well.

Once again, it was Mamata who did the speaking for some of her colleagues. “We have been working relentlessly, yet some of the central ministers are sitting and doing politics. This is not right for federalism,’’ she declared.

Singling out Amit Shah, Mamata boldly trained her guns at the powerful home minister.

“Don’t do politics, Amit Shah saheb,’’ she told him. But it was on the question of central aid that she struck a note that seemed to resonate with most chief ministers. “In all the meetings which have been held, I have raised requirements. But till now, we have not received an alternative helping hand,’’ Mamata complained.

The issue has figured in all the four video meetings so far, with CMs asking for protective equipment for frontline health workers, financial aid to sustain unemployed migrant workers, payment of dues from GST collections (which the Centre has only partially released), raising the ceiling for borrowings, and so on. The grouse of most CMs is that their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.


Dear PM Modi, What Happened to Previous COVID Roadmaps By the States?

In the absence of financial aid from the Centre, state governments want more autonomy to raise resources. They feel the guidelines imposed by the Centre under the Disaster Management Act are restrictive, and hinder their ability to manage the pandemic and other administrative issues.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh spoke at length on this. He said states should have the right to map green, orange and red zones without interference from Delhi. This would give them the authority to decide what economic and other activities can resume where.

The Centre had hoped to create an atmosphere of bonhomie and consensus this time by allowing all CMs to speak. This was in sharp contrast to previous meetings where handpicked CMs were invited to give their opinions while the others merely listened.

With no consensus emerging, Modi wound up the marathon seven hour-long meeting in the same way as previous conferences have ended. He asked the CMs to send blueprints for an exit plan from the lockdown by 15 May.

PM Modi’s request prompted one observer to wonder what happened to the roadmaps that Modi had asked for at the last meeting.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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