India’s states and the national government are at growing odds

India’s states and the national government are at growing odds

Money is the main problem

For three weeks farmers in colourful turbans pitched camp atop the train tracks that stitch the paddies and wheat fields of Punjab. Brewing chai, roasting chapatis, playing cards or simply dozing, the protesters froze traffic across the state’s entire 2,000km rail network. Their rail roko ended on October 21st, after the state legislature voted to resist a barrage of controversial farm reforms that India’s national parliament had passed in September. Yet the trains still did not move. The central government’s rail ministry has held back goods traffic, blocking deliveries of coal to Punjab’s power plants, sprockets to its bicycle factories and fertiliser to its farms.

The centre, as Indians commonly call the federal government in Delhi, cites security as the reason for the stoppage, which began to ease on October 28th. But with tension on a range of issues mounting in recent months between the national capital and India’s 28 states and eight “union territories”, it is not just prickly Punjabis who suspect other forces are at play. Their state happens to be governed by the Indian National Congress, the staunchest foe of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), which rules at the centre as well as in 17 states. Just as Mr Modi has brought a new style of hardball politics to Indian elections, complete with sectarian incitement and online trolling, his government has taken a tougher line with disobedient states. In case Punjabis were in doubt that they were being punished for rejecting the farming reforms, the centre announced it would no longer give the state an annual $135m earmarked for rural development.