NEWS There needs to be a federal coalition to preserve the idea of a plural India, in terms of culture and politics.
- Recently an observation has been made by Niti Aayog, regarding the management of Covid epidemic.
- One of its members asserted that it was the lack of centralisation that led to poor management of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive.
- The statement in turn has led to the concern among states as it was seen as imperialising federalism.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS WHICH IMPERILS FEDERALISM
Some of these developments are:
- There are growing incursions of the Union government into sectors where State governments have a primary responsibility to govern such as health, education and agriculture.
- Also there is a growing narrative of Slogans such as “one nation-one tax”, “one market and one ration”, which promotes the narrative of a strong nation state rather than one of governance.
UNION ENCROACHMENT, NOT NEW
- Present erosion of powers of State governments by the Central government is not new.
- Since independence, centre on several occasions have used its powers to dismiss or use the Governor to intimidate democratically elected governments.
- This includes instances such as moving of education from state list to concurrent, during emergency periods.
- However present encroachment is new because it is more systematic.
SYSTEM EROSION IN THE NEW ENCROACHMENT
Following erosion can be observed in the new encroachment:
- There has been increasing centralisation in resource allocations and welfare interventions.
- Post GST, the gap between revenue and expenditure of the state government has increased.
- This year on one side there has been a shortfall in the GST of the state, while on the other expenditure side of the state has gone up because of intensification of centrally sponsored schemes in sectors such as education and health where States are required to spend about 85% and 82% of public expenditure respectively.
- Also, a trend in the centralisation of economic power with political power can be seen. There has been a decline of business groups from southern India over these last few years because of consolidation and expansion of a few big business groups.
- On the one hand, the Centre has sought to insulate Indian big business from global competition by choosing not to enter into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but has eroded the power of small businesses through support for GST and the call for a single national market.
- There has been an attempt to restrict the political financing of regional parties through levelling of corruption allegations and the use of central agencies against local financiers. This weakens the ability of regional parties to compete with the National parties.
Executive and legislative aggression:
- Not only in the field of economics, executive and legislative aggression can be seen by the centre.
- Central institutions such as the IT Department, ED and NIA are being used to increasingly weakening the policy levers of State institutions.
- Even there have been meddling by state in appointment of institutions of state by centre like appointments of vice-chancellors in universities funded and run by State governments.
- There have been attempts to bypass state government for e.g. direct transfers to beneficiaries of welfare schemes, phenomenon of increasingly ignoring elected representatives of State governments by holding meetings with State secretaries and district collectors on issues that are primarily under State control as done by the Minister of Education with State Education Secretaries on implementation of the New Education Policy.
- There have been moves to ensure national uniformity in educational institutions e.g. NEET.
- This uniformity subverts the affirmative action policies developed at the regional level in response to local political demands.
- This effect can be seen in the case of Health policies also like imposing a national lockdown, fixing differential pricing for procuring Covid vaccines for the state without consulting them.
Social cultural foundation of federalism:
- Diversity in the cultural foundation of regions is one of the defining characteristics of Indian federalism.
- Regional identities and cultural traditions have worked against the homogenisation agenda.
- Markers of regional identities and regional socio-cultural practices are now interpreted as belonging to a pan-Indian Hindu tradition.
- Muslims and Christians are shown to become less Malayalee, less Bengali and less Assamese and more under uniform identity. This is problematic.
- Federalism in India is biased towards the centre. The degree of federalism in India has largely depended on two variables namely the nature of political coalitions at the Centre and role of States in such coalitions.
- Hence the need of the hour is a federal coalition that looks beyond the legal-constitutional aspects of federalism to preserve the idea of a plural India in terms of both culture and politics.