State bills versus centre’s farm laws: ‘Politics by federalism’

Ahmed Raza

The recently passed farm bills of the Punjab, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan governments, (congress-ruled states) against the centre's newly enacted farm laws 2020 appears to be politically motivated rather than for farmers’ interest as Congress acted hastily and politically to pass the bills without proper consultation of various stakeholders including farmers. Considering the farmers’ interest on priority, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government proposed to bring reforms in the agricultural marketing system by passing three farm acts which outrages a huge controversy between the centre and states on account of legislative jurisprudence. Although, issues of centre-state relations and federalism would be inherent after the commencement of the union farms acts 2020 as matters of trade and agriculture are categorically listed in the state list, whereas, NDA government brought the acts exercising its own legislative jurisdictions leaving a broader scope for dispute between centre and state governments. On the other hand, farmers from few pockets of agriculture state, namely Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also disapproved free market philosophy as the central farm acts could undermine the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system and make farmers vulnerable to market forces.

Applying political approach towards farmers’ sentiment, opposition parties begin to condemn the centre's newly enacted farm laws by the way of protesting and approaching the supreme court for immediate withdrawal of the act so as to continue the Minimum Support Price (MSP) as the only way out of farmer’s concern. At the same time, congress floated an idea of politicizing the issues by passing state own farm laws with the purpose of negating the centre farm acts so as to portray the BJP as anti farmers, pro-capitalist and habitual of ignoring federalism. Such pro-activism of the congress by way of challenging the centre acts points out to ‘politics of federalism’ as a dispute between centre-state legislative relations may be easily resolved if the congress waits till the supreme court verdict on centre farms acts. This paper tries to explore the new paradigm of the Indian political system as ‘politics by federalism’ which always poses to a greater risk to democracy if not countered.

‘Politics by federalism’: a new paradigm in Indian politics
‘Politics by federalism’ in India evolved as an offshoot of the emergence of regional political parties after 1967 when Congress as one party system lost its existence. ‘Politics by federalism’ refers to the strategies, plans and line of attacks made by state governments in order to counter the central policies and acts if legislative jurisdiction between the centre and states appears to be vague, ambiguity and scope for constitutional interpretation, and, centre and state government must be ruled by different political parties. The period between the introductions of the central bills in parliament till the Supreme Court’s verdict on the acts happens to be a golden time for politicizing the issues on account of violation of federal provisions if the central policies are challenged before the apex court due to ambiguities of legal jurisdictions between the Centre and the states. Therefore, ‘politics by federalism’ begins by condemning, protesting against the centre acts. At the same time, passing of the acts and resolutions by the state legislative assemblies against the central acts evolved over the period. The examples of state assemblies resolutions of congress ruled states against the Constitutional Amendment Act 2019 and, now, passing of separate farms act by the Punjab and Rajasthan government appears to be ‘politics by federalism’ as prior to the supreme court verdict on the acts clearly points towards ‘politics by federalism ‘rather than concerns for the constitutional values. Seeking political advantages by setting a narrative against the central government as autocratic, dictators, anti constitutional, disrespect to the federal values has become for state governments if the central acts are challenged before the Supreme Court.  Though, the predominance has already been given to the union parliament over the state legislatures in spite of the clear-cut distribution of legislative powers under the three lists.

‘Politics by federalism’ also begin with the denial and non-prioritization of implementation of central schemes by the state governments on account of financial implications or other associated issues like already existing of the same kind of welfare schemes at the state level. In 2018, the refusal by many state governments to be a part of the Ayushman Bharat scheme of central government on account of implementing their own health insurance scheme in the states instead, further led to politics by federalism. The undermining and non-prioritizations of the instructions of the union home minister during nationwide lockdown by the non-NDA state governments namely West Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Telangana etc kept on surfacing the new headlines of ‘politics by federalism’ as there has been lack of co-ordination between the central government and other non-NDA ruled states while fighting against Covid-19.  The changing tone of BJP on Goods and Services Tax (GST) before 2014 and after the acquiring the power at the centre would be easy to understand the new trends of ‘politics of federalism’ existing in India. Challenging the three language formula of National Education Policy 2020 by various state governments by way of disapproving through media or requesting to Prime Minister of India rather than seeking a constitutional amendment act or approaching the apex court for legalities, appears to be ‘politics by federalism’ of the state governments as the three-language formula has always been a bone of contention between the centre and southern states, which has witnessed multiple anti Hindi agitations in the last 80 years, but the matter is still unresolved. Other incidences of denial and non-cooperation of central agencies such as CBI, ED, CVC etc by the state governments particularly West Bengal, Maharastra, Rajasthan hit the news headlines after NDA-II acquired power at centre as state governments do not deny legally rather than win the local sentiments by way of propaganda as seen in the last couple of years in West Bengal. Such non-cooperation attitudes by the state governments on functioning of central agencies as independent inquiry, could be treated ‘politics of federalism’. The recent ongoing tussle between the CBI and the Maharashtra govt over probe into the Sushant Singh Rajput case and TRP scam cases also points towards nothing but only politics.

Although, ‘politics by federalism’ always derives its sources from constitutional jurisprudence which is a dynamic field and continues to evolve to deal with emerging situations. But, examples of arbitrary exercise of power by the union executive are aplenty while making laws in violation of the basic structure of federalism led to evolve the notion of politics by federalism. The vibrant role played by the Maharastra governor in 2019 in order to administer the oath to the chief minister of BJP amounted to be the basis of ‘politics by federalism’. Likewise, the newly enacted centre farms acts 2020 also evolved as a source of politics of federalism by the congress and other parties due to ordinance route followed by the hastily attempt to pass the bills without proper consultation of the state governments despite of matters of trade and agriculture being the part of subjects on the State list under the Indian constitution. Therefore, the ‘doctrine of basic structure’ and interpretations by the apex court need to be applied effectively while legislating the parliamentary laws, if the central government is genuinely concerned with the issues of ‘politics by federalism’ existing in Indian political system.

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Nov 14, 2020

Dr. Ahmed Raza

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