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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 44 New Delhi October 20, 2018

For a Better Comprehension of the Indian Federation Today

Friday 19 October 2018



by Rajeev Ranjan Sinha

Indian Federalism: Emerging Issues by S.K. Jain (ed.); Kalpaz Publications, New Delhi; 2017; 309 pp.; Price: Rs 900. ISBN: 978-93-5128-263-1

Federalism is best understood as a method of promoting self-rule and shared rule and of balancing the interest of a nation with that of a region. A federal system is the constitutional arrangement that gives federalism its institutional form. India’s federal democracy has developed through successive phases of growth, combining centralism and federalism in varying doses. The political process of Indian federalism signifies that it has accommodated bargaining and co-operative federalism with many challenges from the one-party dominant system to the multi-party coalition phase of Indian politics.

The book under review comprises fourteen chapters of well-researched papers with a fresh look on the emerging issues in Indian Federalism. In the Introduction chapter, Dr Jain says that Indian democracy and federalism in its working of more than six decades, though having suffered from numerous shortcomings, has nevertheless remained the most successful and stable demo-cratic federation among the post-colonial states. With the exception of the Emergency (1975-77) India has been governed by democratic institutions with peaceful electorally mandated transfer of power in a routine manner. This chapter also evolues some terms like adminis-trative federalism, parliamentary federalism, accommodative federalism and electoral federalism in the journey of Indian federalism. Dr Jain traces the development of federalism from the Nehruvian era of the past to the Modi era of the present with their specific characteristics.

Subhash Kashyap highlights the fresh balance of power in Centre-State relations and points out that Indian federalism is passing through a critical time. He focuses on the importance of conflict resolution in Centre-State relations. However, the conflict resolution mechanism is not an easy approach while tackling issues in Indian federalism where the Constitution finally strengthens the Centre over the States.

Prakash Singh, in the second chapter, identifies one of the most important emerging issues in the Indian federal system related to police reforms and its impact on insurgency. Law and order is a State subject but police reforms depends on the Centre’s wishes. Deployments of paramilitary forces like the CRPF, formation of the NCTC and NIA have not fully ensured combating insurgency. However, police reforms and its colonial structure are not easy to replace by another system. Some political leaderships perceive this as a tool to misuse police power in this Indian federal system. Indian democracy is this world’s largest and one of the most successful democracies. In the era of globalisation, democracies are coming closer to each other on the pretext of trade, commerce, cultural cooperation, diplomatic relationships, education and security cooperation. In this context, G. Gopa Kumar raises an important question: whether globalisation facilitates or hinders democracy in India.

Globalisation has both negative and positive impacts on Indian democracy which depends upon the degree of the impact on the Indian people and their expectations. The widening gap between the rich and poor is increasing day by day in India. Rich becomes richer and poor becomes poorer. Poverty and welfare mechanisms are not compatible. India as a federal state is suffering from lack of resources and there is immense pressure from the civil society on the issues of policy formulation and implementation. In Indian federalism, one can see that there is uneven development in States or regions and distribution of fiscal resources are discriminatory. Indian federalism has shifted towards neo-liberal policies and left the idea of socialism. These days socialism seems to be a mirage in Indian democracy. Dr Kumar focuses on the protest of the Left parties against the neo-liberal policies in India but the idea of SEZ in the country escapes his attention.

Dr Bhattacharayya and Dr Sema both represent the anti-Centrist approach of Indian States like West Bengal and the smaller North-Eastern States respectively. The major difference between these two regions is based on the ideological foundation or autonomy perspective. West Bengal has been the stronghold of the Leftist ideology in Indian federalism. Apart from this, Prof Bhattacharaya rightly mentions that West Bengal had its own historical and cultural dominance in pre- and post-independence India. It suffered due to partition and refugee problems. However, it is not as important as the Leftist ideology of the CPI in West Bengal. Ideologically, the Communist Party is against the free market economy and capitalism but the unique federal structure of India overwhelmingly accommodates these in its framework.

Dr Sema tries to focus on how the Indian federal structure places North-Eastern India. Problems related to AFSPA, demand for greater autonomy, discrimination, issues of development, less representation and insurgency have been major factors in this region. Till date, the Indian federal structure is not very successful in problem-solving in this region.

Identity issues have always been dominant in Indian federalism. India is a culturally diverse country and each region is different from the other. In this regard, the arguments of Dr Sukhjit Singh and Dr Gul Wani seem to be more valid in the case of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir respectively. Greater autonomy for the State, political status of a specific community and its role in bargaining federalism signifies the importance of the Sikh minority within the Indian social and cultural milieu. However, the State Reorganisation Committee in-mid 1950s placed language as a the central basis of drawing the State boundary. Issues related to Kashmir are entirely different and have always been complex in Indian federalism. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provides special provisions in the case of Jammu and Kashmir and it has been controversial in Indian politics. Kashmir and Kashmiriyat, greater autonomy and azadi are prominent factors for the people of Kashmir on the one hand and on the other hand the BJP-led NDA always demanded abolition of Article 370. This controversy creates the politics of contestation in Indian federalism. The more important aspect for the Government of India is how to enhance political participation and inclusive developmental role in Jammu and Kashmir. The current situation of Jammu and Kashmir does not allow the country to abolish Article 370, AFSPA and reducing military presence in the Valley.

The socio-economic diversity in India led to the demand for Statehood and it can be seen in the formation of new States like Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telangana. Apart from this, there has been demand for States like Purvanchal, Mithilanchal, Vidarbha, Gorkha-land and Bodoland etc. Regional under-development, inadequate developmental grant from the Centre strengthen the role of regional parties in various States projecting long standing demands for separate Statehood. This brings out the fact that efforts of federal institutions like the NDC and Inter-State Council are not sufficient to satisfy the regional aspirations of the people of different States in India. Dr Pandey and Saravanan outline the role of NITI Aayog in Centre-State relations in the 21st century. Since independence, India has been presenting a deficit Budget with inadequate allocation of resources to States. The BJP-led new NDA Government has a new vision and more expectations from NITI Aayog to transform India and decrease the fiscal imbalances between the Centre and States. However, this federal institution is a new organisation and it will be not be easy to calculate the policy outcomes of this body.

After the 1990s, the role of regional parties has been continuously increasing in the formation of coalition governments, playing as a pressure group and becoming the voice of backward areas. It focuses on the fact that the national parties are not strong enough in recent times in fulfilling the demands of the people and the politics of bargaining among national and regional parties has increased. Dr Subhendu Raj outlines the importance of regional parties when it comes to bargaining or cooperation on the basis of seat- sharing, vote percentage share and value of alliances. These regional parties are not limited in politics but perform as alternatives in electoral decision-making. Formation of Third Fronts or seeking space for Fourth Fronts in Indian politics to counter the BJP-led NDA are the emerging dimensions in Indian federalism. But the post-2014 electoral scenario in India also reflects political charisma and the value of electoral alliances.

Dr Himansu Roy adds a different view in Indian federalism. This is related to the role of business forums and their impact on politics. The various chambers of commerce pressurised the then dominant Congress for federalisation, formation of industrial planning committees that could further help in economic planning at the provincial level. The regional business houses further recommended that the government must support trade and industry, expansion of market and access to technology. In the era of globalisation, the Centre must support the market and market-based economic activities to compete with other players. In this regard, the role of business houses and their pressure on the Centre appear to be important in Indian politics.

Dr Ruchi Tyagi highlights the importance of federal decentralisation and emphasises the role of local bodies and their priorities. In continuation of this, she suggests that local communities must have access to information and their credible participation should be ensured in politics. Globalisation is the era of connectivity and cooperation. This can be ensured through reconciliation among various parties in India.

This book incorporates a valuable dimension related to people’s perception about Indian federalism. Dr Jain tried to capture the view of people regarding the federal political culture in India. This empirical study is a very important tool to know how educated professionals and politically aware rural and urban, university or college-going people respond to the federal system. In this study, Dr Jain finds that the Centre dominates on policy issues at various levels. However, this empirical study is not at the pan-India level but has been conducted only in five States of India. But after going through this chapter one can analyse that the people’s perception and their expectations from the Centre, State or at the local level cannot be ignored.

Nonetheless, the various chapters successfully elaborate the emerging issues and offer us much insight into Centre-State relations. Further, it will help in a better understanding of Indian federalism for the students, researchers, academicians of Indian politics in general.

Dr Rajeev Ranjan Sinha is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colllege, University of Delhi.

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