Covid-19 response and the cooperation of sub-national units


Ever since the outbreak of the covid 19 epidemic, there has been a growing consensus, that the role of the state is likely to increase, not just in the short run (the imposition of tough policies like lockdowns is viewed as a reiteration of the same, but also to deal with the economic ramifications of the epidemic. The state will have to provide massive economic relief to businesses, small and big, as well as workers apart from the middle class. Both developed and developing world countries have already announced massive stimulus packages keeping in mind both the short term and long term scenarios.

At the same time, if one were to look at responses of not just the US, but even other countries like India the role of sub-national units in dealing with the crisis has been important. Central/Federal governments have also had to recognize the importance of sub-national units. Apart from this, sub-national units have also been reaching out to other countries for help, in the form of medical assistance/aid where necessary.

If one were to look at the case of the US, Washington and the states have not been on the same page. Trump has been critical of handling of the crisis by US governors.  On April 13, 2020 the US President, stated that had stated that the Federal government’s authority is absolute and would take the final call with regard to whether or not the lockdown will be removed or not. Later on, while commenting on the removal of the lockdown the US President was compelled to say, that he would leave it to the states to decide whether or not they want to remove lockdown (Trump of course could not resist taking a dig at the states of Michigan and Virginia, run by democratic governors, against removal of the lockdown, and spoke about liberation).  In the past too, there have been differences between Trump and US states over issues including the Paris Climate Agreement (states opposed to the US withdrawal set up a group known as US Climate Alliance) as well as the trade wars with China (a number of US states opposed Trump’s aggressive economic policies vis-à-vis China)

It would be pertinent to point out, that while Washington and Beijing have been involved in a slugfest over the corona virus, the state of New York, has thanked China for the assistance it provided. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo thanked China for the ventilators.

While in US, Washington and many states may not have got along. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s success has been attributed to her ability to work with Governors of various landers including those from different parties.

In the Indian case, the central government has received support for it’s lockdown from a number of states including those not ruled by the BJP (in fact certain states had imposed lockdown even before the central government imposed the first lockdown on March 24, 2020). One of the successful states Kerala, run by the Communist Party, has been pro-active, not just in dealing with the virus, but it has extended full support to the central government’s steps. Kerala, which has a large diaspora has also been in touch with Gulf Cooperation Countries GCC to ensure the safety and security of Malayali workers in the Gulf.

There have been some differences between the centre and the states. The first is with regard to financial assistance from the central government. A number of states have been seeking financial assistance from New Delhi to deal with the pandemic (on April 3, 2020 the centre did release Rs. 17, 287 Crore for states to fight the crisis, but states have been demanding more assistance to deal with the unprecedented situation). Apart from financial assistance from the centre, there have been differences between states, like Kerala, Rajasthan and Panjab and New Delhi with regard to the removal of lockdown (while on April 20, 2020 the lockdown was removed in certain states, according to the centre these states had violated the guidelines of the central government.

In conclusion, just as the argument of a strong man has its limitations, the whole emphasis on a strong centre misses out the fact, that cooperation of sub-national units is important. This is evident not just from the case of India, but across the world. While all attention is focused on the central government, the real challenges are at the state level and it requires efficient and pragmatic regional leaders to deal with crises like the current one.

Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India


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