All Can’t Breathe

Indian Constitution is not about theorising federalism. It is about society as it is. And the sooner leftists realise that, the more relevant and realistic their own positions will become. The recent constitutional crisis resulting from confrontation between the Delhi Lieutenant Governor and the AAP government over the authority to appoint bureaucrats suggests among other things that this Union Territory has actually dual power structure. Whether they like it or not the real authority is always vested with the Centre even in case of full-fledged states, not to speak of half states like Delhi. The Centre can always intervene in a state’s functioning even under flimsy pretext and yet they never get tired to eulogise virtues of Indian federalism. How Bengal’s United Front Government was dismissed during the era of Dharam Vira’s governorship simply by pressurising the Chief Secretary is now history. Ever since the Congress began to lose monopoly control in some states in the sixties unitary nature of the constitution began to manifest itself, in some cases in most vulgar ways. Illusions about federal character of Indian constitution soon began to evaporate because of mounting clash between competing ideologies and vested interests. The Communist Left once tried to interpret the real nature of Indian constitution vis-a-vis centre-state relations in terms of colonial culture but somehow they too got mellowed and allowed the system to run its own course which is, if anything, is against the spirit of federalism. For them states are no longer ‘colonies’ of the Centre though nothing has changed basically despite scores of amendments made to the constitution. Sarkaria Commission Report seeking to redefine centre-state relations in view of states’ demands for more power sharing has been gathering dust while centralisation of power at the centre continues unabated. Political parties, not to speak of ordinary people, seem to have forgotten about recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.

The left, however, has supported the Delhi Chief Minister’s allegation that the Centre is trying to encroach upon the rights of the state government through the Lt Governor. They are against it in principle and there ends their war on attempts to destroy federal structure, if at all it can be called a federal entity. The very constitutional practice as it is in India allows the Centre to utilise its leverage to intervene if it finds the state rulers refuse to kowtow to their diktats. Unless, stake-holders agree not to disagree on revision of centre-state relations by invoking genuine federal principles the tendency towards monopolising powers, both economic and political will be further strengthened with every passing day.

Law and Order being a state subject, states used to enjoy some kind of autonomy in maintaining it. But these days para-military forces under the command of the Centre, are frequently requisitioned even to conduct ‘free and fair’ poll, let alone combating extremist or jihadist violence. And the Centre too looks too willing to oblige by despatching its security forces, including the all powerful CBI, to different troubled spots. In other words a dual-power arrangement seems to be the norm of the day. Indications are that the Centre is trying to arm itself with rules and regulations, that will help it intervene directly anywhere in the country bypassing the state authority.

Not that central agencies are impartial. They do their dirty job or clean job as per directives of the Centre. And yet political parties to protect their own partisan and sectarian interests sometimes request the centre to intervene. How the ruling parties at the centre utilises CBI—the most sought after intelligence agency, to win political mileage, is known to all.

Regional parties that are in power in some states, occasionally raise hue and cry about municipal status of state governments, only to fall in line when they get some doles from the Centre. Their sole purpose is how to maximise the share of booty and there ends their clamour for federalism. After all, for parliamentary outfits, regional or national, running government is all about how efficiently they could loot the exchequer.

The Centre has been centralising powers, somewhat obnoxiously, over the years by systematically curtailing constitutional rights of the states under one plea or another. If Kashmir can enjoy special status without jeopardising Indian federal culture, why other states cannot avail of same opportunities is difficult to understand.

Absence of federalism is one reason why uneven development is so glaring in some regions. The Centre’s policy is discriminatory and it is the main reason for regional imbalance which again is the source of parochialism and provincialism. Some regions are industrially advanced, some regions are industrially backward. Before the creation of Jharkhand, Bihar was one of the most mineral-rich states of India. And yet industrialisation didn’t take place in Bihar. They plundered Bihar’s minerals and ores only to develop some other regions industrially. It’s in reality continuation of colonial policy of the British. The same tradition continues unabated. No matter whether they call it the biggest showpiece of democracy or something else.

Decaying federal structure over the years shows need for new administrative culture. The deep crisis that jolted Congress beginning in the sixties, persisting to this day shapes the political as well as economic situation countrywide. At one stage many thought growth of regionalism, rather regional groupings would curtail central authority and enhance the prospects of real federalism. No, this didn’t happen. Regional parties, like their so-called national counterparts are too opportunistic to get co-opted in the mainstream. Kejriwal’s tirade against the Centre’s dubious move by the backdoor to curb state’s rights would soon subside keeping federalism debate only to be debated in future. The point is to intensify awareness about federalism in its totality and raise voice of dissent continually.

Vol. 47, No. 47, May 31 - June 6, 2015