August 11, 2020
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Pursestrings Leash

The Centre reins in two satraps by squeezing their finances

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Pursestrings Leash
The Vajpayee government seems to have decided on reining in the two champions of federalism—Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N. Chandrababu Naidu. And what better way than to squeeze their finances. Last week's informal communication of the finance ministry to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (adb) that they should not deal directly with state governments, dmk and tdp insiders believe, is a veiled act of vengeance against the two parties for keeping away from nda rallies organised to defend the government post-Tehelka.

The ostensible reason for this policy shift is to curtail the financial indiscipline of the state governments. But tdp sources say the primary reason is to deny funds to the Andhra Pradesh government, which mops up a sizeable chunk of World Bank loans, and pressure Naidu against the possibility of reviewing his support to the nda government.

Indeed, Naidu has publicly said the bjp's image had taken a beating following the exposé. Yet he has chosen to hedge his bets—simultaneously supporting the nda and keeping away from its public rallies. Says Naidu: "We've never been an nda partner. How can anyone expect us to take part in rallies organised by them?"

Senior dmk leaders, meanwhile, feel the bjp has not learnt from its past mistakes. Says a dmk leader: "The bjp listens only to tantrums. But on crucial issues, when the alliance partners are dignified not to debate the problems through the media, the parivar tries to ride roughshod." The dmk, it appears, is miffed that the bjp is not telling the alliance partners the true story behind the Tehelka tapes.

Senior dmk leaders told Outlook that their party is not enthusiastic about bjp rallies aimed at defending the party against the Tehelka tapes. In fact, dmk ministers Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu were in Delhi but chose to keep away from the first of the nda rallies organised in the national capital. The dmk has asked its cadre not to take up the Tehelka issue and its cadre hasn't defended those from the bjp who've been incriminated. The party feels that this would weaken its strategy of raising the issue of Jayalalitha's corruption. Sensing the adverse outcome of the Tehelka tapes, the dmk has reduced the bjp's share of seats in the forthcoming assembly election from 23 to 21.

In the backdrop of these developments, the communication to funding agencies to not deal directly with state governments and to go through a central monitoring agency is significant. Interestingly, the World Bank had been asking for the reining in of many states including Andhra Pradesh for quite some time. But then the Centre did not wish to upset some of its key coalition partners.

Even now, senior bjp leader and Union minister for rural development M. Venkaiah Naidu says: "The tdp's decision not to take part in the rallies should not be misconstrued as a straining of our relationship. The whole world is aware that the tdp is only extending support from the outside and it's not mandatory for it to take part in the rallies like other nda partners."

In spite of tdp leaders' reiteration of support to Vajpayee post-Tehelka, sources close to Naidu confirm that the party's internal assessment is that the nda government is fragile and shaky. But to reassure the bjp and the nda leaders, Naidu chose to convey the impression that the "worst is over" for the government and its survival now can't be doubted.Sources close to Naidu say he is lying low because the Opposition remains a divided house. Also, the tdp can't reconcile to a combination which includes Sonia Gandhi.

It's also being pointed out that if the nda government reviews some of its financial policies vis-a-vis state governments, then the Andhra Pradesh chief minister might decide on a fresh course of action. After all, with Mamata Banerjee pulling out of the nda, the Vajpayee government is now completely dependent on the tdp for its survival.

And A.S. Panneerselvan
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