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New Delhi: The latest round of defeats in the assembly elections may have eroded the Congress party’s ability to obstruct Parliament, but the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) should brace itself for a new challenge on that front.

Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, back in power for a second consecutive term in the state, is unlikely to support any legislation which infringes upon the state’s autonomy, including the constitution amendment bill for the goods and services tax (GST), if one goes by the tone of the letter she wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).

Within days of taking over, Jayalalithaa wrote to Modi saying the centre should ensure that states can conduct their own tests beyond one year, as proposed in an ordinance enacted by the President last week.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that NEET will be the only test for admission to medical courses across India, turning down an appeal by many states to be allowed to hold separate medical entrance exams.

“The introduction of NEET would be a direct infringement on the rights of the state and would cause grave injustice to the students of Tamil Nadu who have already been covered by a fair and transparent admission policy laid down by the government of Tamil Nadu, which has been working well," she said.

The prospects of losing the state’s autonomy to the centre has also been one of Jayalalithaa’s main arguments for not supporting the GST. Jayalalithaa’s party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has 12 members in Rajya Sabha and, along with the 64 member of Parliament (MPs) of the Congress, is set to play a decisive role in the passage of the constitution amendment bill for GST.

Other parties such as the Left and the Janata Dal (United) are also not supporting the bill.

The NDA has 65 members in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. The bill needs the support of two-thirds of those present and voting.

Given the opposition’s strength in the upper House and the fact that protecting the state’s autonomy still remains the uppermost concern of Jayalalithaa, it may seem that the NDA is being over-optimistic about the passage of the constitution amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said recently that he was “reasonably confident" that the GST bill would be passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.

To be sure, the relationship between the NDA and Jayalalithaa has always been uneasy.

The veteran Tamil Nadu politician has had a number of run-ins with the central government over the past few years, including over the implementation of the food security Act and the power sector bailout scheme, Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana, or UDAY.

Tamil Nadu has so far refused to implement the National Food Security Act, two years after it was enacted by Parliament, arguing that its own free universal public distribution system is far better than the national Act, which gives 5kg of subsidized grains to each member of priority households.

“It is essential to ensure that the public distribution system, which functions most effectively in Tamil Nadu and is the pride of the state, is not allowed to suffer in anyway by imposing unrealistic timelines," Jayalalithaa wrote to Modi in September last year, requesting that the deadline for implementing the Act be pushed by a year.

Tamil Nadu has also not agreed to the UDAY scheme, the power sector bailout package that requires state electricity boards to raise tariffs to prevent losses.

Tamil Nadu’s power distribution arm has about 75,000 crore of accumulated debt on its power distribution arm, as per central government data. Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corp. Ltd is fully owned by the state electricity board.

Despite this, Jayalalithaa had promised 100 units of free power every two months in the AIADMK election manifesto.

The situation led power minister Piyush Goyal to describe Tamil Nadu as “a state within a state".

“It is a part of the country where I cannot reach the chief minister," he told a conference on 25 March, before the May assembly elections. “I made several attempts to reach their leaders. The Tamil Nadu power minister told me he shall speak to Amma (Jayalalithaa) and get back.

“In Parliament, their leaders do not speak unless their statement is vetted by the state leadership. In 22 months, I have been able to reach out to Jayalalithaa only once, that, too, through a lot of back channels. Then she called back saying that she will send a team to discuss the power sector reforms needed.

“UDAY is a win-win for everybody. Even our worst political opponents are agreeing to that. But Tamil Nadu is a place where, unless there is a government change, I do not think I can make any significant impact."

P. Sakthivel, a Tamil Nadu-based political analyst and associate professor at Annamalai University, said it is in the best interests of both the centre and the state to have cordial relationship with each other.

“The AIADMK needs the support of the prime minister and the central government for implementing major schemes in the state and the necessary financial assistance. The centre also needs the support of the state government for the passage of important legislation," he said, adding that the chief minister has to contend with a stronger opposition in the state this time around and, hence, may adopt a more cordial approach in its interaction with both the centre and the opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK.

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