NEW DELHI: A certain unity in opinion is developing among the politicians of the southern states of the country. On Friday, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah tweeted a simple call to action to the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Puducherry: We need to resist.
The point of concern was the Narendra Modi government's recommendation to the 15th Finance Commission to use the 2011 census to determine how much money the Centre will devolve to different state governments. So far, this has been done on the basis of the 1971 census.
"Center asks 15th FC to use 2011 census data instead of 1971 census used so far to determine devolution of taxes. This will further affect the interests of the south:we need to resist," read a tweet from Siddaramaiah on Friday morning. He had tagged the Twitter handles of the six other Chief Ministers in his post. He also tagged DMK leader MK Stalin and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on it.
Center asks 15th FC to use 2011 census data instead of 1971 census used so far to determine devolution of taxes. This will further affect the interests of the south:we need to resist. @CMOKerala @CMOTamilNadu @ncbn @TelanganaCMO @Dev_Fadnavis @CMPuducherry https://t.co/6EoDp0xClh
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) March 23, 2018
Politicians - both in and out of power - across the southern part of the country are increasingly speaking in one voice against the Centre's recommendation to the Finance Commission. The point of contention is that the southern states have all successfully controlled their populations, while those in the north, especially in the 'cow belt' have not. This means the population of the northern states has grown faster than that of the southern states. If the Centre devolves funds based on the population numbers of 2011, then the percentage of funds that the southern states get would be at odds with their efforts at population control.
This controversy is further trouble, coming as it does when the southern Chief Ministers have already been complaining about the existing mismatch in the devolution of Central funds. Telangana CM Chandrasekhar Rao and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu have both openly complained that the Centre earns much more from their states than it gives back. Siddaramaiah had articulated it differently in a column last week, saying the southern states are in effect subsidising the north.
However, these are instances of them complaining about the present state of affairs. The mismatch would become much wider if the Centre's recommendations to the 15th Finance Commission are accepted.
Just days ago, DMK leader MK Stalin had written two letters - one to PM Modi and the other to the Chief Ministers of 10 states - raising the issue of the proposed change to the basis for the devolution of funds. Just days before that, he had also said that he would support any attempt by the southern states to break away from India.
The use of the 1971 census as the basis for devolution on funds from the Centre was codified by Constitutional amendment in 1976. When that period ran out in 2011, another Constitutional amendment in 2011 retained the 1976 census till 2026. The Modi government's proposal to use the 2011 census is likely to united the southern states, where the BJP is mostly a fringe presence, against the north, on the mandate of which it is in power.