Wednesday, January 9, 2008

“What is federalism?”

“What is federalism?”
By: Yumnam Chaoba Singh

Recently the 4th International Conference On Federalism was held at New Delhi (November 5-7) for unwinding regional disparities in which representatives from abroad - Switzerland, Comoros, Nigeria, Ethopia, Bosnia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Austria, Pakistan, Nepal, Iraq, Sudan, Malaysia, South Africa, Argentina Brazil, Bolivia, Libya, United Arab Emirate as well as representatives of state or Union Territories of India were present.

According to prof. Garner “Federalism is a political system in which all the administrative powers are divided between the central and state governments by the constitution”. In India this statement is only partly true.

First, we may have a glimpse of mind on the federal polity of India. A major characteristics of the Indian polity is that the states are units not of a federation but of a Union aptly styled a quasi-federation. Means Indian polity is federal in structure but unitary in spirit.

Although the term federation has not been used anywhere in the text of Indian constitution yet our constitution provides for a federal government in India. Article - 1, of the constitution describes India as a “union of states”. This expression implies that (i) unlike the USA, the Indian federation is not the result of an agreement between the units; and (ii) the units have no right to secede from the federation. Truly speaking the units of the Indian federation have no independent existence of their own. The parliament can alter their names and Territories even without consulting them.

The Indian constitution is a written document containing at present more than 400 Articles and 12 schedules. All the authorities in India are legally bound to respect it. The Indian constitution is one of the lengthiest documents as compared to the constitutions of most other federations.

The Indian constitution is fairly rigid. Amendments to it cannot be carried out easily. In particular the provisions concerning the relation between the Federal and state governments as well as the judicial organisations can be amended only by the joint action of the Federal and state governments. These provisions require two-third majority of each of two houses of parliament as also approval by the majority of the state Legislatures.

The Supreme Court of India is the highest court in India. It acts as the guardian of the constitution. It can declare any law or order ultra vires of the constitution if it contravenes any of the provisions of the constitution. The Supreme Court also ensures that the Federal and State governments operate within their respective spheres.

In contrast to a unitary state, under the federal system, the federal government as well as the state governments draw their authority from the constitution. The residuary powers are left in the hands of the centre. The Indian constitution divides powers between the centre and the states on the CANADIAN pattern. All powers have been divided into three lists - (i) The Union List, (ii) The State List and (iii) The concurrent List. The states possess exclusive powers to legislate on the items contained in the state List. But both the Central government and State governments can legislate on the subjects contained in the concurrent List. However, in case of clash between the central and state Laws, the Laws framed by the centre prevail.

Constitution of India also provides for a bicameral parliament consisting of Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha Comprises representatives directly elected by the people on the basis of universal adult franchise. The Rajya Sabha mainly consists of representatives of the states including educationists etc. Thus the constitution maintains a balance as between direct representation of people in the Lok Sabha and representation of units/indirectly elected and nominated) in the Rajya Sabha.

The Supremacy of the constitution which is another feature of federalism is also present in India. The constitution is at the top of the hierarchy of all laws - both centre and state. The central as well as the state governments have to operate within perimeters prescribed by the constitution. If they pass any law which does not conform to provisions of the constitution or in any way goes beyond the legislative authority given to them, the same can be declared ultra vires of the constitution by the supreme court.

Second, during the British period, we had provinces and princely states all being totally subordinate to viceroy and Governor General ruling from Delhi. Before the advent of the British, India was badly divided. Successive invaders conquered and ruled India since there was no unity among those who ruled different regions and parts of the sub-continent. Before independence there was bloodshed and upheaval and the country was divided into two - Pakistan and India. According to the Republican constitution of independent India, the nation is union of states. It has not been described as a federation of independent states. However the framers of the constitution wanted to preserve the unity and integrity of the country while affording scope for the development of regional culture, languages etc.

Shri O. Ibobi Singh, chief Minister and the Governor represented Manipur in the federal conference at New Delhi (5-7 Nov) as head of the people and Governor as head of the state as the twin is obligatory and mandatory to the federal polity of India including the commonplace people. Shri Ibobi and the people are quite aware that Manipur’s territory was forcefully annexed to the union of India on 21st October, 1949 under the duress of Maharaja Bodhachandra at Shillong. Metaphorically (it is hypothetical presentation) if a lass without her consent is made house wife of a given family through physical and psychological intimidation, then can she be treated as member of the new family? If so, was the juxtapositional stand towards the centre by Shri O. Ibobi Singh and his participation in the conference in the right direction? Shri. Ibobi knows the insurgency problem in Manipur is from the loss of sovereignty, hence, historical and psychological maladies on the part of insurgents. If it is/was so, what message or missive had he shared in the conference or did he remain taciturnity as silent is a symbol of consent? if so, reciprocally, New Delhi should always have monomaniacal helping hands at times. Whether called or uncalled from the smaller ones especially North-East states as what a patriarch/matriarch does to his/her offspring with fondle, caress, rational admonition and absolution. This is the simplest example for leading to a successful federation in India as well as in the sub-continent and even of global federal polity.

Third, in the aforementioned conference, prime Minister, Manmohon Singh underscored to have reduced regional disparities to lead a compactly federation. If not mistaken, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, pre-eminence of one race/caste over the other, territorial quarrels, linguistic minorities, cantankerousness among the clans or endogamy, autonomy, separatism etc. are the root cause of regional disparities. India got a federal pattern with strong bias. So long we have been able to have a stable government at the centre with a single political party commanding sizeable majority in the parliament, all seemed alright. A coalition government at centre will be weak and unstable. It will be unable to keep the governments in the states under check. We have already seen that in this sub-continent, we have regional interests, cultural aspirations, linguistic affinities and the like. Hence we have to aim at unity in diversity. This is not possible without state autonomy.

**The writer is Retd. Asstt. private Secretary (Edn/S).

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