- GS-2: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein
The upcoming crisis in Indian federalism
Context: Post 2026, when the freeze on delimitation of constituencies ends, there will be a seismic shift in national power towards India’s poorest and most populated States, which will create resentment amongst developed & small states.
- Since 1976, seats in the Lok Sabha have reflected the 1971 census and have not taken into account changes in population
Contradiction between the Democratic & Federal principles, when federal units are unequal in size, population and economics
- In a democratic set up, all citizens are equal and are thus entitled to equal representation in governance.
- This would imply that bigger States are likely to dominate the national conversation over smaller States (UP has 80 seats in LS where Goa has 2 seats)
- Small States fear that they would get a smaller share of the pie economically, a much reduced say in national issues, and be irrelevant in the political governance of the country (against spirit of Federalism)
How did America, oldest Democracy, deal with such contradictions?
Americans adopted their Constitution, where smaller States are protected in following ways:
- First, national powers over the States were limited.
- Second, each State regardless of size had two seats in the Senate, giving smaller States an outsized role in national governance.
- Third, Presidents are elected by electoral votes, which means they must win States rather than the total national population.
- However, America have been accused of essentially facilitating and entrenching minority rule through the Senate, which favours rural, sparsely populated States that are also predominantly white.
What measures can India take to deal with such contradictions?
- Empowering States: There is no reason to believe that empowering our States would cause national disintegration. Therefore, the powers of States vis-à-vis the Centre contained in the Lists has to be increased.
- Expansion of Council of States: The role and composition of the Rajya Sabha, must be expanded. This would allow smaller States a kind of brake over national majoritarian politics that adversely impact them.
- Constitutional Safeguards: If India is a joint venture between majority and minority shareholders, the minority must be protected by a comprehensive list of “consensus items” that require unanimity — or at least, a super-majority — and not simple majority.
- Reorganising States: Serious thought must be given to breaking up the biggest States into smaller units that will not by themselves dominate the national conversation.
National bonds of affection and patriotism will not be severed by devolution of powers though they will be at least severely strained when one part of the country is empowered over another. Thus, there is need to have a relook at Federalism
Connecting the dots: