A conclave of finance ministers of southern states saw a blistering attack on the Modi Government’s economic policies, which seek to stifle the southern states. The conclave, held in the Kerala capital of Thiruvananthapuram, was attended by Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and the Union Territory of Pondicherry, apart from the host state Kerala. Tamil Nadu and Telengana, however, kept away.

The conclave made a strong pitch for reframing the terms of reference (TOR) of the 15th Finance Commission. This was necessary for strengthening federalism and reinforcing the unity and integrity of the country. The current terms of reference denies the states the freedom to initiate major development programmes.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who inaugurated the conclave, accused the Centre of trying to impose its ideological and economic agenda on the southern states. The state, the CM said, has grave concern about the terms of reference, which seeks to penalise states that have made commendable efforts to address backwardness and implement birth control measures.

The “TOR drawn up in an arbitrary manner without taking the state into confidence should be frozen and the suggestions of the states given due weightage,” Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said, adding that the proposal to use the 2011 Census as the basic data for devolving 30 per cent resources to states would amount to penalising states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have effectively curbed population growth and addressed social, educational and economic backwardness. The states share of central resources should also be raised from the 42 per cent recommended by the 14th Finance Commission.

Kerala’s suggestions have received strong support from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry as well.

That the conclave has rattled the Centre is clear from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to come out with a statement allaying the fears of southern states. The conclave also represents a strong initiative by the southern states to forge a broad-based anti-BJP front bent upon foisting its majoritarian agenda.

The Modi Government is understandably unhappy with the states in the South, which have stoutly resisted the BJP’s attempts to expand its space in these states.

Kerala, for instance, is one state where the BJP has dismally failed to firm up its presence. The party-led NDA is fast unraveling with its strongest ally, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena openly voicing its anger over the BJP’s big brother attitude and raw deal meted out to the allies. Such is the BJDS disillusionment with the BJP that the party has decided not to support the BJP candidate in the Chengannur assembly by-election. The BDJS stance will considerably weaken the BJP’s chances of making a fight of it in Chengannur as the former has a sizable presence in the constituency.

In neighbouring Karnataka, the BJP is pitted against a formidable opponent, Siddaramaiah, Karnataka Chief Minister, who is straining every nerve to retain power. The Congress, led by the wily Chief Minister, has already pushed the BJP on the defensive by taking a few steps. First, the CM accorded minority religion status to Lingayats, who form the backbone of the BJP in the state. The political masterstroke has put the Congress in a strong position. The ball is now in the court of the Modi Government, which is damned if it refuses minority religion status to Lingayats. Likewise, Karnataka has also made a strong pitch for a separate flag for the state, an issue which has strong emotive overtones in the state.

The BJP’s position has weakened considerably in Andhra Pradesh as well. With the Telugu Desam Party quitting the NDA, the BJP has suffered a big setback in AP. Naidu’s campaign that the Modi Government has been unfair to Andhra Pradesh’s demands has struck a responsive chord among the people of the state.

Last but not the least, the Centre’s refusal to constitute a Cauvery Management Board has angered the people of Tamil Nadu. The BJP will have to pay a heavy price for this serious lapse as Cauvery is an issue the people of Tamil Nadu feel strongly about. And the BJP is seen as the party which is refusing to concede the demand. And this feeling of resentment will exact a heavy political and electoral price from the BJP.

The emerging picture for the BJP in the South is one of unrelieved gloom. The party will have to put up a good show in the southern states to retain power at the Centre in the 2019 parliamentary polls. But the ground reality being what it is, the BJP’s hopes of giving a good account of itself in the Lok Sabha elections in South are bleak indeed. No wonder, the BJP leaders in the southern states are pulling a long face these days. The mood is unmistakably blue in the BJP camp. (IPA Service)