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Federalism in India

Since USA is the first federal government in the world, theory of federalism is based on the features of US constitution. The term federalism comes from the Latin word Foedus. Foedus denotes contract. Federalism is described as the government by contract. In USA, 13 colonies came together to form federation. Hence USA is called as ‘coming together model’. According to the theory of federation, the motivations behind formation of a federation can be
1) Security – Units may realize that they may not be able to defend themselves on their own. 
2) Economic – Federalism implies a big market, seamless flow of goods, capital, services and persons. 
3) According to Dicey, federalism is a political contrivance among those who desire unity without uniformity. 
Since federalism is a government by contract, the essential features of federation are
1) Constitution – Set of written rules or contract document. 
2) Independent Judiciary as an arbiter to resolve the conflicts among the contracting parties. 
3) Division of powers. Clear division as to which level of govt. will have  power to make law on which subject.

Though USA is the first model, yet there are many other models of federation. It would be wrong if we take USA as the ideal type. According to Granville Austen, each model is sui-generis it means each model can have its own specific features depending on the circumstances and the requirements. e.g. USA is an example of dual federalism, Canada initiated the idea of cooperative federalism. Indian model is closer to the Canadian model.
In explaining/ understanding federalism, it becomes essential to make the difference between federation, confederation and unitary system.
Daniel J. Elazar argues that federalism as an institutional arrangement is founded on the principle of self rule & shared rule. Self rule in the matters of local importance, and shared rule is exercised through interactive partnership between levels of government on matters of common interests.
A/q to Alfred Stepan federalism is the form of governance suitable to all multi-national & multi-ethnic democracies. This is so because in such countries, federalism reconcile two essential principles of ‘autonomy’ & ‘integration’.

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1] Unitary form of govt.

Sub national governments can exist even in unitary form of govt. however they have only either delegated powers or devolved powers e.g. In UK the powers of provincial governments are based on the act of parliament.

2] Federation

In federation, the subnational governments draw their powers from the constitution itself. It is a decentralization rather than delegation or devolution. Unlike unitary system, sub-national governments are not subordinate to the national government.

3] Confederation

Confederation is opposite of unitary form of govt. In unitary system, powers of sub-national governments are given by center, in confederations like SAARC, EU the power of center is given by the units.

Relationship between federation and confederation

According the US Supreme Court, federation is indestructible union. Thus confederation is destructible. In federation units loose external sovereignty permanently, once for all. It means 1) No right to secede from union.  2) No right to conduct independent foreign policy.  e.g. As per Art 253 the division of powers between center and state would not apply in case of international treaties or agreements.  Former USSR was confederation. Units had power to secede and power to conduct foreign policy. It is for this reason, India had diplomatic relations with central Asian countries like Tajikistan even when they were part of USSR.
We can also say a confederation as a loose federation. 

Indian Model of Federalism.

Comparison between Indian and American model

Prof. K C Wheare compared Indian model with US model and declared India to be quasi-federal. According to him, India is federal in form but unitary in sprit. He calls Indian constitution having subsidiary federal features whereas prominent unitary features.

Limitations of K C Wheare’s approach
1] K C Wheare’s approach is legal constitutional. Hence his approach is static. He ignores the dynamic aspect of federalism.
According to prof. M. P. Singh, federalism is a dynamic concept, it needs to be understood in the socio-cultural context. Indian federalism as well as US federalism has been dynamic.
Even US federation has not remained as it used to be. Roosevelt, who introduced welfare state in USA also described US federation as ‘new federalism’. New federalism denotes centralizing trend. Similarly from 1989 there has been strengthening in the power of state governments because of  a) New economic policy.  b) Coalition politics.
The bargaining power of state governments increased to an extent that scholars like Balvir Arora described that India is moving from quasi-federal to quasi-confederal.
However since 2014, as the ruling party has got absolute majority and a sort of one party dominant system, to quote Suhas Palashikar, ‘BJP system is emerging. We see centralizing trends.’
2] KC Wheare is also ethnocentric. When he calls India ‘quasi-federal’ he takes US constitution as a model. Since Indian federation is not modelled on USA, he concluded India as quasi-federal.
According to Granville Austen, each federation in unique, sui-generis, Indian federation is the product of the unique circumstances which India has faced. Whichever country will face cessationist trend is bound to have a model where center is strong. Be it India or Canada. Granville Austen calls Indian model as example of ‘cooperative federalism’.
According to professor M P Singh, the concept of cooperative federalism entered into the lexicon of the theory of federation from 1930s when USA introduced welfare state. The time at which Indian constitution was written, by that time cooperative federalism was a well established concept.

Salient features of Indian federation.

Unlike US constitution, which is an example of dual federation, India is an example of cooperative federalism. In dual federalism, the two governments are the two completely independent entities. They are like two water tight compartments.
Cooperative federalism is based on the concept of interdependence rather than independence. The two governments are not two water tight compartments, there is interlocking. It means both are made dependent on the other. If states are dependent on union, financially, union is dependent on state for implementation. They have to depend on state for execution of union laws and policies. Hence India is also seen as an example of ‘Executive federalism’, rather than legislative federation like USA. In India, the importance of state arise in context of administration.

According to Prof. M P Singh, in most of the scenarios, cooperative federalism remains an idea whereas in practice, it becomes bargaining federalism.
Difference in cooperative and bargaining.
Cooperative denotes  the existence of the trust between the two levels of govt. It represent the consultation, cooperation, mutual trust, in the words of Prime Minister Modi, ‘team India’. In cooperative federalism, center acts as a friend, philosopher and guide.
On the other hand, bargaining federalism represents a situation where center acts as a big bullying brother or a patriarch. Since bargaining power of center is more, bargaining federalism show the disadvantaged position of the states. However regionalization of party system has enhanced the bargaining powers of state governments.

The vision of Prime Minister Modi is for ‘competitive, cooperative federalism’. What is competitive federalism? Competitive federalism is a neo-liberal idea based on ‘minimum government, maximum governance’. It denotes rolling back of the state. When the developmental functions of the states are rolled back, the vacuum is filled by private sector. Hence the policy of the state governments should be such that they are able to attract private investments.
According to Prof. Balveer Arora, competitive federalism in Indian context may not be adequate because the situation of different states vary. It will create unfair competition, will lead to the lack of balanced development. According to the political experts, union has abolished the status of special category states, a formula based approach given by planning commission. It has enhanced the discretionary powers of central government to make bargains. According to Prof. M P Singh, present government has introduced spoils system.

Besides above, the basic difference between the two federations are – USA is symmetrical federation, India is asymmetrical. Asymmetrical denotes difference in the status e.g. Unlike USA, all states in India do not have equal representation in Rajya Sabha.
There are special provisions with regard to different states e.g. Art 371 (A) Special provisions related to Nagaland. Similarly some states have 5th schedule, some have 6th schedule.
Alfred Stepan calls India’s asymmetrical model as demos-enabling whereas USA’s symmetrical model as demos-constraining. (demos = people). Indian model is more democratic as representation in Rajya Sabha is given on the basis of population. Hence the idea is no citizen suffer from disadvantage either because of living in larger state or smaller state. According to him, Indian model is a better model for developing countries to follow rather than US model.
US model is called as coming together while Indian is called as holding together. US is called as centrifugal as the force is towards periphery. And India is called as centripetal.

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The dynamics between party system and federal system.

Ideally federal system requires presidential form of government. Parliamentary form of government is based on party system and party system distorts federalism. On the other hand, presidential system does not depend on party system.
It is now an explicit fact that in India, there is no center and state disputes, there are only party to party disputes. Indian model works properly in a frictionless manner when same parties are ruling at the center and the state. However once the combination differs, friction emerges and cooperative federalism becomes bargaining.
According to Prof. M P Singh, there are two axes of Indian political system.
1] Parliamentary axis.  2] Federal axis.
Parliamentary axis denotes strong center, federal axis denotes strong states. When single party has absolute majority at the center, parliamentary axis becomes prominent. e.g. Under Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and now under Modi govt. On the other hand, when there is a coalition politics, which represent regionalization, federal axis becomes dominant.
Thus the nature of federalism has been evolving with the changing nature of party system in India.
Federalism does not operate in a vacuum, it is influenced by multiple factors in environment. Besides party system, economic policy/political economy of the state will also impact. Position of states will be stronger if the developmental model is neo-liberal and that of center will be stronger if the developmental model is based on welfare.

Nature of politics involved in states formation in India (Article 3).

Art 3 is often suggested as a non federal feature. However, it is not. Every federation is unique/sui-generis. It is not correct to take USA as an ideal type. Indian model is cooperative federation, logically driven by the historical situations. Ambedkar has clearly mentioned that India is indestructible union of destructible states. India is holding together model. According to Louise Tillin REMAPPING INDIA, the internal territorial map of India is still not settled. It is to be noted that boundaries in India have been colonial boundaries rather than natural boundaries. Gandhi himself accepted and advocated the reorganization of India on linguistic lines. Even for administrative purposes, some sort of homogenization is required. Hence it was natural that constitution makes flexible provision for formation of states. Had Art 3 not been there, and the process of alteration had been made rigid, India would not have survived its ‘dangerous decades’.

Do you support smaller states?

There has been a consistent demand for creation of new states. There is a lack of consensus among the political scholars.

In favor of smaller states.
Ramchandra Guha, Bibek Debroy, Political leaders like Advani and Mayavati.
Their core argument is logic of good governance. Smaller states are easy to govern and good governance translates into development, inclusive growth. There should be a rationalization between the strength of administration and the population.
According to Bibek Debroy, there should be at least 50 states in India. USA with 1/4th of Indian population has 50 states but India has only 29 states. If we take UP as a country, in terms of population, it will be the 5th largest in terms of population.

2nd school of thought.
 Prof. M. P. Singh and Sudha Pai.
1] There is no relation between size and good governance e.g. Despite being large, Tamil Nadu is well governed and despite being small, neither Jharkhand nor Chhattisgarh can be seen as examples of good governance.
2] No relation between size and development. The growth story of Punjab is over, Chhattisgarh shines on mines (the unsustainable approach.). Maharashtra, despite being large, continues to be more developed.
3] New states means new ministries, new infrastructure for government institutions, unnecessary expenditure.
4] More states means more interstate disputes.
5] Smaller states – politically unstable, defection is easy e.g. Goa.
6] The economic viability of many new states being demanded is questionable. They will depend on grants of union, as good as union territories.
7] The impact on mother state will also have to be taken in consideration.
8] Some demands may create strategic concerns like Gorkhaland in India. It will give weightage to the Nepal’s allegations that India has captured its territories during colonial times.
9] When govt. has introduced 73rd amendment act, the logic for smaller states goes. Good governance and development requires the strengthening of Panchayati Raj.
10] The use of information and communication technology (e governance) can bring government at the doorstep.
11] This does not mean that no demand for smaller states to be accepted. Wherever there is a genuine aspiration of the people, the demand can be considered. However, it should not be purely political.

Factors behind state formation.

Louise Tillin in her recent book REMAPPING INDIA has given the exhaustive analysis of the process of state formation. New states have been formed in different phases with different logic/reasons.
1st phase: 50s and 60s – Reorganization of peninsula. Main concern was linguistic.
2nd phase: 60s and 70s – Reorganization of western and North Eastern part.  As far as North East is concerned, ethnicity was the criteria.
3rd phase: 21st century – Reorganization of Hindi heartland besides Telangana. The logic has been ‘good governance’ and development.
Besides above official narratives, there are academic explanations.
1] Sociological theory – Ramchandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav. The demands represent the assertion by the marginalized sections. To assert their share in power and development. 
2] Political economy approach – Atul Kohli. The economic policies of the state dictated the creation of smaller states e.g. The main consideration behind creation of Chhattisgarh was government’s neo-liberal approach to mining. Once Chhattisgarh becomes state, it will have no option but to open its mines and minerals.
However according to Louis Tillin, the main consideration behind state formations has been political. The timing, the possibility of formation is primarily dictated by the interest of the ruling party at center e.g. Congress kept on postponing the creation of Telangana and made announcement just before elections. Similarly BJP created Uttarakhand to consolidate its position. Laluprasad Yadav agreed for bifurcation of Bihar because it consolidates the position of RJD.
Christophe Jaffrelot also considered state formations in India including linguistic reorganization as purely political phenomenon and primarily based on caste.
1] Pandit Nehru opposed linguistic states because he was concerned about the future of Congress system. However he held that multilingual states are showcases of India’s unity in diversity.
2] Despite SRC (State Reorganization Commission) accepted need to create Telangana, Pandit Nehru rejected, instead of state he offered ‘gentleman’s promise’. The real reason was Telangana was dominated by communists.
Linguistic reorganization was an aspiration of certain castes to consolidate their political power. It led to the emergence of dominant castes in different states who could form their governments.

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Roosevelt’s New Federalism isn’t centralizing, rather it gives more power to federal government

Ritvik Gupta

Harsh, federal govt means central govt only !!