Chennai: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) working president M.K Stalin on Wednesday wrote to chief ministers of non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states, urging them to join him in demanding immediate modifications to the “un-democratic and biased Terms of Reference (ToR)" for the 15th finance commission.

Stating that certain elements of the ToR will affect the “very fabric of equitable and just devolution of central tax revenues to the states," Stalin who had already raised concerns about the ToR in February, said: “It may not be an overstatement to suggest that the fiscal autonomy of many states could be reduced to that of municipalities due to ill-conceived ToR."

He added that announcement of ToR without consultation with states not only contradicts the principles of federalism, but biases any likely outcome in favour of certain states at the expense of others.

Stalin’s views on federalism and state autonomy reflect the concerns of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu who, in the last few days, have criticized the central government for taxing the south to spend in the north.

Highlighting the need for flexible federalism and why the “one-size-fits-all model cannot deliver the desired outcomes for a diverse nation," founder of Lok Satta movement Jayaprakash Narayan in a recent Mint column argued that many of India’s states are larger than 90% of nations on earth and there is a need to allow states to conceive their own models of governance and bureaucracy, but with safeguards to preserve national unity.

Also read: Re-imagining federalism to fulfil India’s potential

In the wake of this assertion for greater autonomy for states, it has become important to revisit Tamil Nadu’s long history of advocating federalism.

Almost half a century ago, the DMK in its conference at Trichy in February 1970, floated one of its most popular slogans “Maanilathile Suyatchi, Mathiyile Kootatchi" (Autonomy for states; federalism at the centre), in an attempt to continue the party founder C.N. Annadurai’s demand to restructure centre-state relations.

Anna, who championed the idea of federalism and staunchly resisted any attempt that infringed the state’s prerogatives and emphasized the need to amend the Constitution, argued that an ideal centre is the one which left sufficient powers to the states and kept just enough power to itself to protect the integrity and sovereignty of the country.

In 1974— about 14 years before the union government’s Sarkaria Commission studied the centre-state relations, the DMK government under Karunanidhi passed a resolution in the Tamil Nadu assembly on state autonomy based on the recommendations of the Rajamannar Committee. It urged the centre to make “immediate changes in the constitution of India to establish a truly federal set-up with full state autonomy."

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which broke away from the DMK also continued to raise voice against anything that breached state’s autonomy.

In her last public address before she died in December 2016, former CM J. Jayaylalithaa who constantly opposed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) claiming it would impact the fiscal autonomy, stressed that the country’s true freedom was in economic freedom, during her independence day speech.

But, why is advocacy for federalism back in vogue?

Said writer-translator Aazhi Senthilnathan, “Over the years, there is a sense that the rights of the states are getting more centralized. Now, under the BJP, centralization is getting converted into unitization. And, that is where the problem arises. Any attempt to tamper the basic identity will be problematic."

Senthilnathan added that the southern states have become “aspirational economies and it is of prime importance to address it."