New Delhi | Several INDIA bloc constituents Thursday rallied around the Left Democratic Front government of Kerala as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar against the Centre alleging democracy envisaged as a union of states is being "crippled" by its "undemocratic Union over states mentality".
While leaders from the AAP, the DMK and the NC were among those present, no one from the Congress was there.
The Congress-led UDF opposition in Kerala which was invited to join the protest had declined it saying it does not agree with the Left narrative blaming the Centre for all of the state's financial problems.
Attacking the Centre, Vijayan criticised the "Union over states mentality" of the Centre, saying it is not only manifested in financial matters, but was evident in the functioning of governors in opposition-ruled states as well.
"We have all come together to register our strong protest against this and to preserve the federal structure of India. Today we are marking the beginning of a renewed fight that would herald a dawn of ensuring equitable treatment of the states," he said.
He alleged that in opposition-ruled states, governors are acting at the "behest" of the Centre and disrupting the state government's work, with a 'Union over states' mentality.
"We have seen gubernatorial excesses in Punjab, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and so on. In many states, including Kerala, we have seen governors trying to over reach their constitutional mandate by meddling with the autonomy of the legislature," he charged.
At the protest, the opposition leaders also challenged the BJP's accusation of promoting a "north-south divide" and said the demonstration is being held to ensure states get their due share.
Vijayan, as well as other leaders, stressed that the protest was not about any "north-south divide", pointing at the presence of Delhi and Punjab chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann and the National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah.
"It is totally untrue, unfounded and baseless. Ours is a democratic protest against the undoing of federal structure and the sheer discrimination against the states, irrespective of north-south considerations," he said, adding February 8, 2024 will be a "red letter day" in the history of the republic of India.
In an apparent reference to the Congress-led UDF's allegation that the protest is being held with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Vijayan said the agitation is not politically motivated. "This protest is against the denial of what is rightfully ours."
"Isn't it a fact that our borrowings have been limited and that our grants have been denied? How is it politically motivated to point it out?" he asked.
Addressing the gathering, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, "The prime minister said the opposition is trying to create a north-south divide. The prime minister needs to understand India's geography. Mr Kejriwal is not south, Mr Mann is not south, Mr Farooq Abdullah from Kashmir is not south..."
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin also extended his support, and DMK leaders Tiruchi Siva and Palanivel Thiagarajan were present at the protest, as also former Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Kapil Sibal, Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja and other Left leaders.
Kejriwal accused the Centre of waging a war against state governments led by opposition parties.
"The governments led by opposition parties represent 70 crore people in the country. The BJP has waged a war against the opposition-ruled states. They have created a India-Pakistan situation with us. The Centre is using all the tactics to harass the opposition governments," he alleged.
Mann also accused the Centre of using governors in opposition-ruled states to hinder the governments' work.
"The (Punjab) governor said the assembly session was illegal, so we had to go to the Supreme Court... Wherever the BJP is not present, the governors act as the opposition... Those elected will rule in a democracy," he said.
Stalin, in a message supporting the protest, said the Centre was not giving the rights due for states and regarded them as municipalities.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi is regarding states as municipalities. He doesn't seem to like states or chief ministers, though he had been chief minister of Gujarat before becoming prime minister," Stalin said in his video message.
Abdullah meanwhile questioned why assembly polls are not being held in Jammu and Kashmir.
"You have denied us elections, which is our right according to the Constitution. Are we not part of India that you have denied us the basic right to govern ourselves? Give us our constitutional right so that we can move forward," he said.
Sibal claimed the BJP has amassed huge amounts of wealth through electoral bonds, which he alleged was being used in toppling opposition governments.
"The BJP has collected around Rs 5,000 crore through electoral bonds... This fund is used when they have to topple opposition governments," Sibal alleged.
On Wednesday, a similar protest was held at the Jantar Mantar by top Congress leaders from Karnataka led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah against the Centre alleging "injustice" meted out to the state in devolution of taxes.