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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 27, June 22, 2013

Comprehensive Perspective of Contemporary Federal Concerns

Saturday 22 June 2013



by Deepshikha Kumari

Global Times and Federal Concerns: Insights from Indian and American Case by Amna Mirza; price: Rs 400; pages 200, hard bound; publisher: VL Media Solutions, New Delhi.

Dr Amna Mirza’s book titled Global Times and Federal Concerns is an insightful work on a very relevant issue of the present times. The relationship between the ‘national’ and ‘inter-national’ and notions of ‘government’ and ‘gover-nance’ has been an ongoing debate in political science and international relations. Similarly, so has the question of enhancement or erosion of state capacity in an era of globalisation, where scholars have asked whether globalisation enhances the state’s capacity or implies a ‘retreat of the state’. In the prevalent literature on globali-sation and the state, such a sharp distinction between the state’s domestic aspect and the exogenous international environment in which the state finds itself is also referred to as the ‘great divide’ .

The book tries to study federalism, as a paradigm, between two nations—the United States of America and India—having different federal models. The idea of power-sharing between two levels has been taken as a constant factor in the two models. This leads to building assumptions that the two models are not equal; there have been no established generalisations, where the main attempt is not to refute or prove any theory, but lay the foundation of new ideas of debate.

Globalisation has challenged the traditional concept of the nation-state by dis-embedding the traditional legal order by its supranational governance. Dr Mirza points out that the problem becomes peculiar in federal states with a constitutionally defined scheme of power. This calls for a more dynamic view of the domestic reality. The book brings to light that in process of the negotiation of the treaty, the federal state has an intermediary role as it signs the accord with the international institution and on behalf of the State/sub-unit. Once negotiated, it needs to be ratified by the legislature as these agree-ments cannot have legal implications in the domestic arena without their being incorporated in the law of the land. The very nature of federalism is affected when the interest of the States are sidelined.

However, as we witness these times of change, there is a constant attempt to coin new terms to capture the novelty of emergent conditions. Sometimes such an attempt compounds the confusion and at times it is merely pouring old wine in a new bottle. Dr Mirza’s book is neither of the two as it offers a comparative study of the United States and Indian federal models thus making it an interesting study of the state’s capacity in the context of treaty-making power and implementation in the international economic realm. It is an important work as it seeks to bridge that ‘great divide’ between the state and its domestic concerns with global issues and requirements. More so in the context of India being the world’s largest democracy, Dr Mirza’s work will appeal to both students and scholars in the academic realm as well as parliamentarians and leaders in the practice of politics, as it is an important contribution towards understanding the balanced approach to arrive at the kind of federalism that will be appropriate to meet global problems and, as Dr Mirza aptly states, that it is ‘essential to factor-in globali-sation within the federal set-up where there is space for plurality of values and interests’.

Dr Mirza’s findings, that refer to the need for a more flexible and pragmatic approach to solving concerns, further shed light on how the federal structure has been responsive to the various internal dynamics seeking to constantly accommodate domestic imperatives with liberalisation of trade.

While her work addresses the issues in the international economic global governance, it also makes reference to legitimacy concerns and the need for a higher coordination, participation and consultation between the Centre and the States for more acceptable and legitimate decisions in addressing global concerns.

As one who is attracted to the concept of legitimacy in international relations, I intend to learn more about the intersection of the concerns of domestic and international legitimacy, for in some cases it has been seen how an enhancement of domestic legitimacy on an issue might clash with the requirements for international legitimacy. This would be an interesting realm to explore in future. However, overall Dr Mirza’s manuscript on Global Times and Federal Concerns is a noteworthy attempt at understanding the issues of federalism, foreign policy and international relations embedded in the reality of Centre-State dynamics, regionalised and coalition politics in the ever changing and evolving world that is much more inter-connected on questions of economics, polity, public-policy, trade and social relations. Dr Mirza’s work explores the above in a lucid manner making it easily comprehensible to students and scholars keenly observing the impact of globalisation on federalism.

The reviewer is currently a D.Phil (Ph.D) Inter-national Relations candidate at the University of Oxford. She also holds an M.Sc (Global Governance, Oxford, UK), MA (Political Science, Lady Shri Ram College), and BA (St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi).

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