Centre and State


Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. ‘‘Some twenty days before he was assassinated, Gandhi called for the dissolution of the Congress Party, which he believed, was in ‘decay and decline’ and a hot bed of corruption and power politics’’. But the words of Gandhi (1869-1948), the self-styled extra-constitutional head of the Congress Party fell on deaf ears. When independence had been won, politics was more about power than ever before. Over the decades after independence Congress really became synonymous with corruption.

The rump Congress is now a dynastic party with ‘‘Raja Rani’’ (King/Queen) either on the thorny throne or grooming in the wings, just waiting to take over as and when the time is right, ‘Prajas’ (subjects) are the spineless shoe-polishers, opportunists without any self-respect, sycophants, cronies and crooks.

Given the ground reality the days of monopoly power of Congress Party are over. India, today, finds itself at a new state of political transition towards a multi-level system of governance from the village upwards to the district, state and national level.

Coalition is the order of the day. There are coalition governments in 87 countries across the globe today. No single party is likely to govern India any more in the future. More or less all big or small parties have been regionalised. People of different regions, through electoral education, have become politically conscious about their rights, responsibilities and privileges. No doubt participatory democracy is on the way in a truncated way of course. Maybe it is a sign of popular strength and not weakness. To govern a vast country like India by a remote control from a distant capital is impossible. Creative regionalism is encouraging. It will initiate a cooperative, mutually tolerant democratic tradition. Centre-state relations should be put on a rational basis. The imposition of anything anywhere against the will of the people concerned is detrimental for national unity.Any review of centre-state relations demands the review of Article 370 that has been a bone of contention among political parties for long.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits non-Kashmiris from buying land in the state, demeans the very spirit and philosophy of the Constitution itself as enshrined in its Preamble, adopted and enacted in the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. It needs to be reviewed and amended because it keeps the Kashmiri Muslims outside the national mainstream, which includes 12O million Muslims in other parts of India. "In point of fact, the article is an extension of a law passed in 192O by the Maharaja to prevent the alienation of Hindu landed property to prospective Muslim buyers from the Punjab." (Ayesha Jalal: Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia : A Comparative and Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 176). In contemporary India, this legal legacy is totally irrelevant.

Besides Kashmir, North East India, particularly Assam, is another trouble spot. It's again a question of centre-state relations. Until the discovery and production of oil in Bombay High during the late 1970’s, Assam was the main reservoir of domestic oil in India; it still supplies 60% of India's crude oil production, but it receives less than 3% of the value of the oil as royalties from the Centre. Assam is a resource-rich state, but is debarred by India's federal framework from enjoying the boons of its natural wealth. Over 50% of the tea production in India takes place in Assam, which is also the largest supplier of plywood and has considerable reserves of coal. (Jyotirindra Das Gupta, "Ethnicity, Democracy and Development in India: Assam in a General Perspective", in Atul Kohli (ed.), India's Democracy: an Analysis of Changing State Society Relations, pp. 157-158, Princeton, 1988.)

Apart from artificial dependency on the Centre, Assam has got other genuine grievances which need to be addressed urgently. Thwarted political and economic aspirations have created an explosive communal dimension and have bred a virulent kind of cultural chauvinism.

The 2014 General Election is not far away. But no party is really interested in reviewing centre-state relations against the backdrop of emerging socio-economic scenario, creating more states like Telengana won't solve the problem of regionalism. It is actually the question of real federalism.

Vol. 46, No. 29, Jan 26 -Feb 1, 2014

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