- 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
Reflections on the ‘quasi-federal’ democracy
Context: The federal structure of India’s Constitution is a democratic need of multi-cultural India, where the constituent units (states) are based on language, against competing identities such as caste, tribe or religion.
- The democratic structure and national integrity are therefore intrinsically interlinked.
- However, operational faults of Democracy are increasingly hurting liberal institutions, undermining the federal democratic structure as recent events have underscored.
Some fault lines
- In Parliament session, the Rajya Sabha Chairperson broke down (in August 2021), unable to conduct proceedings; yet, the House passed a record number of Bills amidst a record number of adjournments.
- Recently, cross-border police firing by one constituent State against another, inflicting fatalities & putting strain on federalism.
- Greater criminalisation in India’s democracy, which includes over 30% legislators with criminal records,
- Democratic federalism presupposes institutions to ensure equality between and among the units and the Centre so that they coordinate with each other, subordinate to the Constitution and their disputes adjudicated by an independent judiciary with impeccable professional and moral credibility. But India’s federal structure is constitutionally impacted by deficits on all these counts.
- There is also issue of popular voting behaviour, institutional preferences are based either on ethnic or kinship network, which emerge as fault lines in India’s Federal Structure.
- With ‘nation-building” as priority, the constitutional division of power and resources remains heavily skewed in favour of the Centre.
- India’s Constitution has nothing about States’ rights, not even their territorial boundaries. This has enabled the Centre to unilaterally alter State boundaries and create new States.
- The judiciary is empowered to adjudicate on the conflicts between Federal Units, however with higher judicial appointments (an estimated 41% lying vacant), promotion and transfers becoming a central right, their operations are becoming increasingly controversial.
- The “all India services” and the role of Governors is distorted – transforming these constitutional authorities of a federal “link” to one of a central “agent” in the States.
- The Rajya Sabha indirectly represents the States whose legislators elect it, but is overpowered by priorities of political parties at the cost of the state’s interests.
- Thus, the critical instruments of national governance have been either assigned or appropriated by the Centre, with the States left with politically controversial subjects such as law and order and land reforms.
- Thus, most of India’s federal conflicts are structural, reinforced by operational abuses.
- India’s national security deserves a functional democratic federal alternative to its dysfunctional “quasi-federal” structure, which is neither federal nor democratic but a constitutional “basic structure”.
Connecting the dots:
- Cooperative & Competitive Federalism
- Upcoming Crisis in Indian Federalism