Reflections on the ‘Quasi-federal’ Democracy

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October 09, 2021

What is the issue?

Since recent events have underscored the federal democratic structure , Indian federalism needs an institutional amendment despite being a basic structure.

What are the recent faultlines in the federal structure?

K.C. Wheare analyses India’s “centralized state with some federal features” as “quasi-federal”.

  • Legislative disruptions - The Rajya Sabha passed a record number of Bills amidst a number of adjournments.
  • Whenever any party with a massive majority in any state finds itself marginalised in the central legislature, it disrupts proceedings.
  • Colonial legacy - India’s federal structure underpinned on the colonial 1935 Act.
  • Nothing about States’ rights and their territorial boundaries were talked enabling the Centre to unilaterally alter State boundaries and create new States.
  • The Indian Constitution itself has been amended 105 times in 70 years compared with 27 times in over 250 years in the United States.
  • Division of power - The constitutional division of power and resources remains heavily skewed in favour of Centre along with residual, concurrent and implied powers.
  • The higher judicial appointment, promotion and transfer becoming a central prerogative hampers the role of judiciary.
  • All India Services - All India Service personnels are recruited and trained by the Centre which they work under various states affecting the separation of powers.
  • Role of Governor – Governor appointed by the Centre is a constitutional authority which at recent times are transforming federal “link” to one of a central “agent” in the States.
  • Division of subjects -The critical instruments of national governance are assigned or appropriated by the Centre but States are left with politically controversial subjects such as law and order and land reforms.
  • Conflict resolution - There is no federal chamber to politically resolve conflicts.
  • Rajya Sabha cannot veto its legislations unlike the U.S. Senate. It can only delay leading to disruptions.

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala - Federalism to be a part of basic structure of the Constitution

What are the lessons to be learnt?

  • The federal flaws are structural reinforcing conflicts adding threat to national security.
  • We might learn from the mistakes of neighbouring Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
  • India’s national security deserves a functional democratic federal alternative to its dysfunctional “quasi-federal” structure.


Source: The Hindu

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