Not surprisingly, Kerala has once again borne the brunt of their blatant assault on cooperative federalism. In an act that has frayed the fabric of federalism, the Modi government held direct talks with ‘Vayalkkilikal’’, a collective which is opposing a national highway alignment at Kizhattur village in Kannur district without taking the state government into confidence.

Understandably, a livid Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has taken strong exception to Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari holding talks with ‘Vayalkkilikal’ without inviting a state government representative to the crucial meeting.

In a strongly-worded statement, the chief minister has accused Gadkari of playing dirty politics, succumbing to the pressure of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders. This makes a mockery of their oft-repeated claim of commitment to the concept of cooperative federalism. This is no way to strengthen cooperative federalism. If anything, the Centre’s provocation amounts to ‘confrontationist federalism’ which bodes ill for healthy Centre-State relations.

What compounded the original offence was the presence at the meeting of Union Minister Alphons Kannamthanam besides a few Kerala BJP leaders and leaders of ‘’Vayalkkilikal’. What is significant is that Gadkari had failed to take up the issue when the Kerala CM had a meeting with him in the Delhi a few days ago.

The ‘Vayalkkilikal are seeking a change in the proposed alignment on the ground that it would take away 12 acres of paddy fields which they have been cultivating for generations, besides destroying water sources in the region.

Incidentally, an expert appointed by the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests had advocated examination of alternative proposals. Gadkari told the Vayalkkilikal that they would be considered if the alternative proposals were economically viable.

There is no denying the fact that the Centre’s provocative move has left a trail of bitterness. The ruling party leaders in Kerala are of the firm view that by refusing to invite government representatives to the meeting, the Centre has again exposed themselves to the charge that their so-called commitment to cooperative federalism is nothing but a hollow claim.

Of course, this is not the first time the Central BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister, have gone against the spirit of cooperative federalism. An all-party delegation led by the Chief Minister was denied a meeting with the Prime Minister at least on three occasions. That hostile act had drawn all-round flak.

When the Prime Minister at long last gave an appointment to the Kerala delegation, he was critical of the exclusion of Union Minister Alphons Kannamthanam from the delegation. It was not as if the Chief Minister had excluded a BJP representative from the delegation. In fact, a general secretary of the Kerala BJP, A N Radhakrishnan, was part of the team that met the PM.

Since Kannamthanam was a member of the Union Council of Ministers, it was for the Prime Minister to ensure that he attended the meeting. Neither the PM nor the PMO invited Kannamthanam to the meeting. Instead, Kannamthanam was summoned by the PM after the delegation returned to Kerala!

That way, both the Prime Minister and the Union Road Transport and Highways Minister have been unfair to Kerala. The least they should have done was to invite a Kerala government representative to the meeting attended by the ‘’Vayalkkilikal’. That they did not do so reflects poorly on the Modi government; and further reinforces the growing perception that the Centre’s commitment to cooperative federalism is nothing but a sham. (IPA Service)