Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine
Polity, Constitution and Governance
Restructuring our federal polity, need for fresh perspective
IT is a matter of fact that the Constituent Assembly of India
(dominated by the Congress leadership and with the absence of a lobby seeking
the protection of the rights of the states) created a highly centralised system
to deal with the then uncertain political situation in the country.
The impact of the partition of India and the consequent law
and order problem, the rehabilitation of refugees, the issue of integration of
princely states the need for rebuilding the economy on a planned and balanced
manner, and the need to set up a system for meeting external and internal
threats to the security of the new-born nation — all these factors influenced
the thinking of the founding fathers to create a strong and powerful centre.
The states were assigned limited powers (the State List consists of 47
subjects) and these were totally made dependent on the Centre for financial
The Constitution also talks of the great ideal of an egalitarian society,
socio-economic justice, the dignity of every individual by incorporating a set
of fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.
It also created an apex court (the Supreme Court) for evenly holding the
balance of power between the Centre and the states and for upholding fundamental
freedoms of all citizens.
The working of the federal polity over the past 50 years has,
however, belied these expectations, urges and aspirations of the People. Nearly
40 per cent of the people are living below poverty line. The rich are becoming
richer and the poor poorer. For many poverty, hunger, illiteracy, lack of
drinking water and the basic health care facilities are the reality.
The highly centralised system of government (with control
over 97 subjects in the Union List, including 66 subjects listed in the
Concurrent List) has not been able to achieve the goal of egalitarian society as
promised in the high sounding and pious words of justice, liberty, equality and
fraternity to all solemnly proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution.
The Congress led by Jawahar Lal Nehru (a person of sterling
qualities and the product of western ideas) assumed the reins of administration
and for 17 long years remained at the helm by evolving a system of governance
under its monopoly rule which led to the stranglehold of the Union Government
over the states.
The Constitution became a tool in the hands of the ruling
elite or dynastic rule of the Nehru family. Rule of the Congress both at the
Centre and the states helped this process. Not only this India, indeed came to
be governed from the Prime Minister’s Office. Delhi became a Mecca of worship
for the nominated Congress Chief Ministers who sought the blessings and the
guidance of the Prime Minister for running the affairs of their states.
The fourth General Elections of 1967 ended Congress rule and half of the
Indian states came to be governed by various coalitions of non-Congress parties.
After assumption of power, these non-Congress parties came to realise their
mendicant status. These coalition governments were thus dislodged one by one on
The Congress model of governance maltreated the non-Congress
Opposition governments, discriminating against them in matters of allocation of
financial grants, location of heavy industrial projects and in matters of
centrally sponsored schemes for poverty alleviation etc.
The Central Government failed to work for balanced growth of
the nation and has been responsible for creating regional imbalances responsible
for widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Mounting unemployment
coupled with spiralling prices has added to the miseries of the people.
The partisan role of the Planning Commission (which has come
to achieve the status of a super Cabinet under the chairmanship of the Prime
Minister) and the Finance Commissions have been unsympathetic to the
opposition-ruled states. The price and wage policies of the Union Government are
responsible for causing a drain of the limited resources of the states. The
states have very meagre sources of revenue (approximately 14 items of taxes)
that are incapable even for meeting the salary bill of their employees.
The Central Government has been continuously increasing its
hold over the finances of the states by resorting to measures like bank
nationalisation, imposition of a surcharge on income tax, by acquiring control
over the employees provident fund, general provident fund and through centrally
sponsored national saving schemes.
Besides, the partisan role of the Governors, misuse of
Article 356 for dislodging popularly elected governments, enquiry commissions
against Chief Ministers, deployment of para-military forces without the consent
of the states, discrimination in matters of allocation of discretionary grants —
all have resulted in souring the Centre-State relations.
The power to amend the constitution has been blatantly
misused to increase the hold of the Centre over the states. As a result of the
draconian 42nd Constitution Amendment, the federal balance was further eroded
and some important subjects were transferred to the Concurrent List from the
The theory of “committed judiciary” and the “committed
bureaucracy” and the policy of transferring Judges of the High Court smacked of
manipulative politics seeking to attack the independence of the judiciary and
the autonomous functioning of the bureaucracy in India.
The short-sighted policy of creating linguistic states,
resolving of river water and boundary disputes between states in an unfair
manner, repressive measures like TADA and MISA during the Emergency imposed in
1975 and the violation of human rights of the people — all these are acts aimed
at suppressing the autonomous functioning of the states.
Under the present constitutional set-up, the state
governments are at the mercy of the Centre not only for their economic,
administrative and legislative requirements, but also for their very existence.
The track record of the central governments during the past 50 years (barring
the BJP-led coalition governments at the Centre) has been partisan and have been
responsible in creating and intesifying bitterness between the Centre and the
The pattern of governance set in motion by the Congress party was followed by
the 34-month-long rule (1977-79) of the Janata Party. The Janata conglomerate
(due to its ideological feud) failed to honour the commitments contained in its
election manifesto that it would decentralise powers and would ensure autonomous
functioning of the states.
The Janata Dal minority government headed by V.P. Singh
(December 2, to November 10, 1990) and later by Chandra Shekhar (Novmber 10,
1990, to June, 21, 1991) could do nothing worthwhile in restoring even the
subjects which were transferred to the Concurrent List by Prime Minister, Indira
The Sarkaria Commission (in its report on October 27, 1987) retained the
status quo so far as the division of powers between the Centre and the states
The Commission in its report observed that “it is neither
advisable nor necessary to make any drastic changes in the basic character of
the Constitution. It has, however, made 247 recommendations to improve the
functioning of the Centre-state relations.
The step-motherly treatment meted out to the opposition-ruled
states by successive central governments has led to the demand for autonomy by
the states. The Akali Dal was indeed the first to raise this demand, during the
fifties it demanded that the centre’s jurisdiction should be limited to foreign
affairs, defence and communication.
The DMK, after dropping its secessionist ideology in the wake of the
enactment of the 16th Constitution Amendment Act in 1963, became the chief
spokesman of state autonomy.
The rise of regional parties in various states added a new
dimension to this demand. These parties wanted an end to the hegemony of the
Union Government and called for restructuring the relations between the Centre
and the states with a view to imparting a true federal character to the
One can discern the nature and extent of autonomy being
demanded from the documents prepared by the non-Congress opposition parties. The
Rajamannar Committee report of 1971, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973, the
West Bengal memorandum of 1977, the proceedings of the Regional Council attended
by the four southern non-Congress Chief Ministers and proceedings of the 17
Opposition party conclaves — all have made a number of proposals for
restructuring the Union-states relations with a view to according greater
autonomy to the states.
The Sarkaria Commission of 1987 has made no worthwhile
suggestions to impart a genuine federal character to the Constitution. The
Amritsar Declaration of 1990 adopted by the Akali Dal (Mann) wants a confederal
system which alone would ensure full autonomy to the states.
The political scene has changed radically after the formation
of BJP-led NDA government under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP-led
government has realised the mood and the rising expectations of the people.
Enlightened statesmen, academicians and media persons are now fully aware of the
present compulsions of having a stable government at the national level.
The regional parties (after giving a fatal blow to the
Congress) are now putting pressure on the BJP-led government to grant more
powers to the states. The BJP is fully aware of the need for the cooperation of
the regional parties not only for remaining in power but also for solving the
problems of the people.
All 23 regional parties are equal partners in the BJP-led NDA government.
These regional parties have come to realise that a strong India can be built
only with their support and cooperation.
The concept of a stronger India can be realised if the states
are allowed to become stronger. Nation-building activities by the states will go
to strengthen the base of the Indian polity. Only stronger states will be able
to build a stronger India.
The tempo of building a stronger India can be initiated by
bestowing more powers to the states. The opposition parties are stressing the
need for more resources as equal partners with the central government, for
creating a stronger India. With the control over only 18 subjects, the USA has
achieved the distinction of being a “super power”.
In the USA, the 50 states enjoy full autonomy without
interference from the federal government. What harm can happen to India if the
Union is empowered to look after only matters of national importance. The
collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union (strongly tied to communist ideology)
failed to retain its original federal character. Three republics went out of its
control and became independent sovereign states by adopting separate
Constitutions of their own. The remaining republics have now come to be united
under a confederal system that assures full autonomy to the constituent
It is pertinent to mention that a Constitution has to be
regarded as a “living document”. The purpose of every Constitution is to be
serve the needs of a growing nation. A dynamic Constitution must adjust to the
changing needs and requirements of society.
India is not what it was during the 1950s. A lot of changes have occurred in
our society, economy and polity. The plural society of India is multi-ethnic,
multi-racial, multi-religious in character.
In the developing countries of the world, including India,
the diverse identities (based on ethnic, religious, linguistic and other
primordial loyalties) have come to be mobilised owing to the process of
modernisation and political development.
All these diverse identities now want a share in the
decision-making process. Because of the capitalist path of development, fruits
of economic development have been grabbed by the affluent sections of Indian
society. Uneven economic development, regional imbalances and exploitation of
the scarce resources to the detriment of regional identities have added to a
feeling of deprivation and exploitation among minority groups.
As a consequence of these facts, social culture, religious
and regional identities now demand autonomy and the creation of separate
homelands. The demand for state autonomy is now being supported by a wide range
of political organisations such as the Akali Dal in Punjab, the CPM in West
Bengal, the DMK (as also the AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, the Telugu Desam in Andhra
Pradesh, the Assom Gana Parishad in Assam, the Janata Dal in Karnataka and the
National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Bodoland movement, the Jharkhand movement, the Gorkha
League Liberation Movement of Darjiling and the separatist movements in Jammu
and Kashmir state and in the north-eastern states, as a matter of fact, are the
outgrowth of ethno-religious revivalism in our country. Punjab also passed
through a militant movement for over a decade on account of the non-acceptance
of the long-pending demands of the Akali Dal. The ruling elite often dubbed them
as posing a threat to national unity and integrity.
On the other hand, these varied identities have been the
victim of deprivation and suffering at the hands of the ruling elite. A way has
to be found to pacify these identities. The foundation of a strong nation can be
laid only if sub-national ties are accorded a due place by ensuring them a
sufficient dose of autonomy.
The con0stitution of the country is to serve the needs of the
society. It is not regarded as a “holy book” which ought to be worshipped by
everybody. The Constitution is a means and the end is the achievement of the
well-being of a growing nation.
A time has come to establish a true federal system which
would strengthen the bonds of mutual cooperation, amity and friendship between
the Centre and the states. We should learn a lesson from the past experience of
a monolith Centre which was responsible for creating fissures among the
different regions and regional identities of our plural society, on the one
hand, and intensified bitterness among the states and with the Union Government,
on the other.
The past policy of divide and rule has to be replaced by laying the
foundation of cooperative federalism.
India will be able to regain its past glory as a nation, if we allow due
autonomy to the states. The delegation of powers to the people will strengthen
the unity and integrity of India.
The Centre, should retain only matters of national importance
and the states should be granted maximum powers (with adequate financial
autonomy). All provisions which encroach upon the autonomous functioning of the
states should be deleted.
(Dalip Singh, The writer is a Professor of Political Science, Punjabi
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