MP Dr. Dharam Vira Gandhi’s Punjab Manch to hold National Convention on Nov 1

According to Punjab Manch, the convention is focussed on gathering perspectives towards building a ‘Federal India’ and realise the ‘autonomy of states’ in pursuance to the forum’s twin goals of building a Federal India and a Democratic Punjab.

0 1,100
Dr. Gandhi with Punjab Manch activists
Dr. Gandhi with Punjab Manch activists

Alarmed at the “state of despondency” and the “miserable condition” of Punjab and expressing concern that the state of five rivers has been hit with multiple crises, suspended Aam Aadmi Party Member of Parliament Dr. Dharam Vira Gandhi’s recently formed forum Punjab Manch is all set to hold a National Convention on November 1, 2018.

In the backdrop of rising number of farmer suicides in the state, the untimely death of drug users, rising unemployment and increasing criminal activities as well as the degradation of the environment, the convention would discuss “What kind of ‘Federal India’ should we be, What kind of ‘autonomy’ states should enjoy”.

“The Punjab Manch firmly believes that Punjab has been a victim of unconstitutional and coercive agreements on its natural resources – especially its water and hydroelectric resources—since Independence. Added to it were cultural, political, religious, racial and all kinds of diversities being throttled,” Dr. Gandhi who represents Patiala as an MP tells Delhi Post.

Dr. Gandhi says the need for the convention is because “the Centre is both economically and politically powerful such that States have been reduced to beggars when it comes to implementation of the state and concurrent list”.    

The convention is scheduled to be held at Chandigarh’s Bhakna Bhawan where the keynote address would be delivered by Prof. Pritam Singh from Oxford University who is known for his critically-acclaimed book ‘Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy’ (2008).

Also read: Kejriwal didn’t lose anything, but people did: Dharam Vira Gandhi 

The other notable speakers on the occasion are Prof. Deepak Pawar of Mumbai University who is also the founding member of CLEAR (Campaign for Language Equality and Rights), political columnist Dr. Garga Chatterjee from Bangla Pokkho – a Bengali Rights Organisation, and professional journalist Aazhi Senthilnathan who would represent forum Thannatchi Thamizhagam as well as CLEAR.

“Punjab Manch is federal in structure and we want federalism in spirit as well when it comes to autonomy of states within the Indian Union,” states Dr. Gandhi.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan lent his support to the initiative and said, “It is essential that decentralisation of power also gives more financial powers to the states and local bodies to implement the policies relating to the state subjects like education in a comprehensive manner. I am happy that Punjab Manch is doing a convention on such an important subject that needs due consideration.”

Punjab Manch
Punjab Manch

So, what kind of federalism is being talked about? Former professor of Political Science and Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University Prof. Balveer Arora in a video message for the convention, says that while the original idea of federalism for India was a “generous and expansive idea which was accommodative and open to different arrangements and flexibilities”, the mood changed after the Partition of India.

“Instead of seeing federalism as an open idea and accommodative of different kinds of diversities, the mind of the founding fathers closed and became fearful and concerned about keeping a strong centre which would be able to dominate the states. That was the starting point and I think it was in that sense that many constitutional scholars called this a quasi-federal system. Today, India is a fully federal system after 70 years. The constitution has regained some of its original flavours but there remains a lot to be done,” says Prof. Arora, who is Chairman, Centre for Multilevel Federalism, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

Punjab Manch was formed as a forum in March 2018 to re-affirm ‘Punjabiyat’ – a call for preservation of Punjabi Language, literature and culture.

Also read: Punjab’s abandoned brides 

“Punjabiyat is the reconstruction of an overarching Punjabi identity where, while according all due respect to religious beliefs, the true identity of a Punjabi is shaped by common culture and who share common future. Only this (Punjabiyat) can free Punjab from the politics of opportunism and vote-banks which is the prevailing orthodoxy,” notes Dr. Gandhi.

“The Manch is expected to take shape as a political party and contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.”

On the same, Dr. Gandhi tells Delhi Post, “Yes, political party is on the anvil. We would like to join hands with regional outfits who share such thoughts on federalism and powers of the state. The picture will be clearer in the next 15-20 days.”