The Federal Structure of the Indian State
Federalism is the system of government in which the allocation of power is divided into two or more levels of the government. In India, the power is divided amongst the centre and the state level. The word ‘federalism’ is derived from the Latin word called, ‘foedus’ which means treaty and agreement. Federalism is further divided into two categories according to the practice followed by the respective nations-
∙ Holding Together Federalism- In this type of federalism there is a larger tilt towards the promotion of the diversity of the nation, henceforth the powers are shared between various constituents. It is also to be noted that there is more weight towards the powers to the central authority. India follows the structure of Holding Together Federalism
∙ Coming Together Federation — In this type of federalism, the independent states have more power and autonomy and they come together to form a larger unit. The United States of America can be one such example.
India and the Federalism
Part XI of the Indian Constitution lays down the specifications in the distribution of power within the legislative, executive and administrative power among States of India and the Union govern It is also to be noted that India has a major tilt of powers towards the central government. It is, therefore, safe to say that Indian Federalism is more inclined towards the unitary structure of the government rather than the federalist structure. There are certain provisions on the Constitution that affluence the inclination of Unitary features are as: a. Supremacy of the Constitution
b. Division of Powers between the Union and States
c. Independent Supreme Court as a Federal Court
d. Representation of Upper House as the States of Union
e. The written Constitution
Article 1 of the Indian Constitution
Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states that ‘Bharat, shall be the Union of States. The territory of India shall consist of- territories of the State, The Union territories and any territory that may be acquired in future. Dr Ambedkar, while framing the constitution articulated the reasoning to which he describes India as ‘Union of States’ and not, ‘Federation of States’. He points out the agreement between the federating states and that if the Indian states have the right to secede there will be uncertainty in the Unity of India as a nation-state. The Federation of India is therefore indestructible in nature. The Indian constitution has a very distinctive federal structure of the government. The word ‘federal’ is not used in the Indian Constitution; however, Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states that, ‘India shall be a Union of States.’ Therefore it is safe to say that India follows a ‘quasi-federal system of the government.
The Congress System
Rajini Kothari in her essay, ‘Congress System in India’ explains the overachieving role of the Indian National Congress post Independence in 1952. The Indian National Congress rightfully dominated the Centre and the States until the 1967 elections when it faced a major electoral failure. This setback was because of the decline in the regional congress leaders and the death of Nehru in 1964. It is also to be noted that after the decline of the Congress dominance, many regional and anti-congress parties formed coalitions and were more primarily active and henceforth varied in the federal dynamics. The decline in the Congress vote share could be attributed to populist mass-based regional leaders who were loyal to Indira Gandhi which directly affected the party at both grass-root levels as well as in the organizational capabilities.
When the Janta party came into power in 1977, we witnessed an uneasy confrontation relationship between the centre and the States because of the power games and distribution of power in the federal structure between the ruling party and the opposition (Congress was in
the Centre and BJP was ruling the regional states). It is also to be noted that Congress who had more power (because of biased tilt of more power to the Centre as compared to the State) resorted to excessive use of President Rule which questioned the autonomy of the State. This gave rise to the question of the role of the federal government in the Indian State. Notable Political scientists also traced the evidence of Indira Gandhi’s condensing the ability to control the states and how the regional states fought back the same. This created the federal problems within the state for which the Union Government in 1983 appointed Sarkaria Committee to look into the constitutional matters.
The follow up of the same concluded in the Union Government under Rajiv Gandhi who wanted to bring back the confidence of regional forces and within the party. It resulted in greater autonomy and decentralization in the states. This also led to the interaction of regional political forces being more expressive to interact with the dominant Union Government. Later in the 1980s, the number of regional parties also led to the formation of the multi-party system in India.
However, the major defeat of the ‘Congress Party System’ was seen in 1989, when Congress lost the national elections. It is also to be noted that the period was recognized as the political vacuum because of Congress loss at the elections, to BJP’s inadequate ability to form a strong government in the parliament.
Are we shifting towards ‘one-party system rule’?
The return of dominant party federalism is eerily similar to the Congress System that was observed by the political scientist's post Independence. In 2014, the Modi led BJP government gained the parliamentary majority and formed the government at the Centre. It is also to be noticed that the BJP won a majority in 21 states in the 2019 elections through independent elections or via strong regional allies. However, BJP still has strong opposition, i.e. the Congress Party, the opposition which was non-existent when Congress had the dominant power in the Centre and the State in 1952.
The BJP government henceforth has brought about various changes like the Demonetization or revoking Article 370, which received a lot of different targeted reactions from the regional or opposition parties. However, this has also evidently led to a decrease in the number of votes in the Congress vote bank. The non-BJP states also raised their concern about the BJp led party intervention mostly at the State-government specific administrative roles which was affecting the efficiency of the government. BJP enacted a lot of nationalist policy decisions with a strong backing of the local parties led to strong opposition from the regional parties.
It is also to be noted that only a handful of the regional states can give competition to BJP led-government like Orissa, West Bengal, etc.
BJP has brought in many policies which have led to the National rebellion like the CAA-NRC Bills. It is also to be noted that this might have not acted very positively for the party. With the majority at the Union and the State level, the passing of Bills, especially the recent Farm Bills in the Rajya Sabha has become particularly easier. This has also questioned the proper functioning of the democracy of the government at the State as well as at the National level. It is also important for the opposition party to get a grip and work harder to challenge the working of this government. This can also weaken the national integrity of the nation. There is also a need for the empowerment of local governments to act more effectively in the federal structure.
Through the numbers and the vote-bank, it is fair to assume that the charisma of the respectful Prime Minister can shift to a single-party rule where the whole agenda of the Federal Structure of the Government remains flawed. However, even with the inequitable distribution of power, the tussle between the power between State and the Centre remains evident.
∙ Ghosh, A.,2020, The Paradox of ‘Centralised Federalism’: An Analysis of the Challenges to India’s Federal Design. https://www.orfonline.org/research/the paradox-of-centralised-federalism/
∙ Kothari, R. (1964). The Congress ‘System’ in India. Asian Survey, 4(12), 1161–1173. doi:10.2307/2642550
∙ Laxmikant, Indian Polity
∙ P.M. Bakshi, ‘The Constitution of India’, (Universal Law, 14th Edition, 2017).