Dr. M. K. Teng
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Regionalisation of Federalism

By Dr. M.K. Teng

The regionalisation of the national consensus on a parliamentary majority, which has emerged as the dominant feature of the post-election political scene in India, may in the long run, break up the structure of the division of powers between the Central government and the States and undermine the Indian federal organization. The breakdown of the national consensus on a parliamentary majority is, in itself, a national calamity. Hung parliaments do not necessarily represent any conscious effort of the electorate to pluralise the authority of the government. For, there is hardly any initiative, that any of the political parties, which were in the fray for the elections, took to claim a mandate on the pluralisation of the authority of the Indian state. The Indian federal organization underlines, as do all other federal polities in the world, a division a powers, between the federal government and the governments of the federating units, which is defined and guaranteed by the federal constitution. Any regionalisation of the federal authority would, as a matter of course, dissolve all basis for a division of powers, in which the federal government is entrusted with authority, defined by the constitution as the states are, and which forms the basic groundwork of the Indian federal system.

 The Indian federation grew out of two diametrically divergent processes which underlined the devolution of authority to the provincial governments of the erstwhile British India on the one hand and the integration of the authority of the federating princely states on the other hand. The federal organization of India was, therefore, constituted of the provinces of the British India and the Indian States, which were liberated from the British tutelage after the British colonial empire in India came to its end in 1947. Neither the British Indian provinces nor the federating states represented any coherent regional identities, with ethnic, cultural and linguistic uniformity. The provinces as well as the states were also conglomerates of disparate sub-national diversities and neither of them could claim any regional authority on the basis of sub-national boundaries. The provinces were administrative divisions of a centralized power structure, the British had forged to govern India. The princely states were the peripheral salient of the British colonial organization in India, which had emerged with the expansion of the British power, from the crumbling kingdoms which the British smothered one after the other. They did not possess any coherent personality to claim a division of powers on any form of sub-national diversity. The Princes never possessed any powers, except the ceremonial and the splendor, the British allowed them to exhibit and the authority to collect revenues in order that the coffers of the British empire were amply filled, and they had plenty for themselves to squander.

 The farmers of the Indian constitution did not unite any national or sub-national identities into a federal form, which they named the Republic of India. If they had attempted to do that, the Indian federal organization would have never been envisaged. The Constituent Assembly of India accepted the territorial and political basis of the Indian unity, the British had assiduously fostered. At no stage did the Constituent Assembly seek to identify the Indian federal organization with any subnational diversity. It could not do so, because the subnational diversities in India did not have any social, territorial or political description.

 The Indian federal system was embedded in an environment, which was plural and diverse but its boundaries did not overlap cultural, linguistic or religious pluralities of the Indian society. The Jammu and Kashmir alone represented a variation of the federal principle, the Constitution of India envisaged. However, the recognition of Jammu and Kashmir as a sub-national identity on the basis of the Muslim majority character of its population, led to its exclusion from the federal organisation of India, for the sub-national identity it claimed, could not be reconciled to the basic structure of the political organization and federal division of powers, the Constitution of India embodied. The consequences proved to be disastrous.

 The Vajpayee government should put itself on guard lest the coalition politics, which the National Front has acclaimed as the beginning of the regionalisation of the federal authority in India, leads to the liquidation of the Indian federation. Regionalisation of power on the basis of sub-national pluralism is irreconcillable to federalism, which is an attribute of division of powers on the territorial and administrative basis. Vajpayee government cannot afford to overlook the difference between federal autonomy, to which it is committed and the pluralisation of the authority of the Indian state on the basis of ethnicity, caste, religion and language, which it is committed to resist.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 

 

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