Tag Archives | Republic

The swinging pendulum of federalism

Austin’s historical context for evolution of federalism in independent India

In the wake of the controversy over the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the issue of federalism has atracted a lot of attention. Most of the chief ministers, who have opposed the NCTC, have opposed it on the grounds that the Centre is trying to encroach upon the powers of the states. This goes against the principle of federalism, a principle although not enshrined explicitly in the Indian constitution, but upheld by the Supreme Court. In the Bommai judgement, the Supreme Court stated that  ‘federalism envisaged in the Constitution is a basic structure’.

The problem of federalism in India is directly related to the rule of the Congress party since independence. Congress party, once Gandhi became its tallest leader in the 1920s, was about running a national movement of common effort to overthrow the British rule. Gandhi did advocate a decentralised government based on village panchayats, but his own charisma and rarely challenged leadership in the party produced a highly centralised campaign. Leaders like Nehru, Patel and Azad were national leaders but even those leaders who drew their power from regional bases — GB Pant, BC Roy, Morarji Desai or C Rajagopalachari — had a national outlook. When Congress ruled eight provinces from 1937 to 1939 after winning the limited elections held under the 1935 Government of India Act, it actually evolved unitary mechanisms such as the Central Parliamentary Board to direct the functioning of the provincial ministries.

Post-independence, Congress party continued to rule most of the states, besides being in power at Delhi. Because its own command structure in the party functioned between the state governments and the union government, the constitutional provisions and mechanisms of centre-state relations were not used. As everything seemed to function smoothly, no one paid much attention to this disuse. The processes and systems of dealings between the states and the Centre, outside Congress party’s internal mechanism, never evolved. This means that while other democratic processes and systems in the Indian Republic have matured over the last 62 years, the centre-state relations have really evolved only during the last 30 years. With the decline in the quality of leadership across the political spectrum, even this evolution has often been hampered by fractious and parochial interests.

Notwithstanding the lag in evolution of centre-state relations in independent India, the problem has been further worsened by a Congress party that is fast losing its dominance in the states. As the Congress party’s dominance in the states has faded, its governments in the Centre have excessively used the centralising features of the constitution to compensate for its waning powers. The constant friction, not only with the states ruled by the opposition but by the Congress party’s own allies, is a direct outcome of that over-compensation.

This, however, doesn’t mean that the states are right in their views. It is always easy to dispute the efficacy of federalism because distribution of resources and power is inherently contentious. If federalism is about decentralisation and devolution of powers to lower levels, most of these states have failed that test. Almost all these state governments are ruled by leaders — from Jayalalitha to Naveen Patnaik to Mamata Banerjee to Narendra Modi — who act like regional satraps and concentrate all power in their own hands. It is easy to point out their hypocrisy but the low credibility of the Congress party has allowed these chief ministers to use federalism as a bumper sticker to bolster their political case.

In the system of bargained federalism that we have in India, there is unlikely to be a perfect state of federalism between the Centre and the states. It will continue to swing like a pendulum between the two extremes: of centralisation better serving national unity, and of federalism better serving the individual citizen. The arc of swing of the pendulum has reduced over a period of time, and while the pendulum will never attain a stationary position, we can hope that the arc of swing gets progressively smaller with each passing year. That is how constitutional republics evolve over time. And India should be no different.

For those who doubt the theory of the reducing arc of swing, the arc has already reduced dramatically over the last 60 years. Here is what the Bharatiya Jana Sangh’s election manifesto for the 1957 Lok Sabha elections had promised at Page 7: The party would declare ‘Bharat to be a unitary state’ because the federal structure had created rivalries between the central and state governments that are an obstacle to national solidarity. On 17 August 1964, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya presented ‘Principles and Polices’ at the Jana Sangh General Council Meeting in Gwalior, where his party offered a plan to abolish the states and legislatures and to replace them with large administrative districts having no legislative functions, which would be reserved for Parliament. No mainstream party can afford to have a similar position today.

When a former Chief Justice of India, Mehr Chand Mahajan wrote an article in 1956 suggesting “doing away with the federal constitution and making it a unitary system of government with abolition of state legislatures  and state ministries, the states to be merely administrative units  to be governed by Governors with the help of advisory bodies”, C Rajagopalachari wrote back to him approvingly. The then President Rajendra Prasad however responded in a letter to Justice Mahajan that it was necessary to safeguard the Constitution as it exists.

Rajendra Prasad’s advice was as valid in 1956 as it is today. Let us safeguard the Constitution as it exists. The political jousting over federalism is a routine process of evolution of a constitutional republic. The pendulum of this debate may be swinging, but the arc of swing is reducing. We should be happy that is the way it is.

[All references: Granville Austin's Working a Democratic Constitution]

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Republic Day parade in the 1950s

An image from the past.

Courtesy — Beyond belief: India and the politics of postcolonial nationalism By Srirupa Roy

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Neither good nor bad, only ugly

All Taliban is anti-India. Distinction between Af & Pak Taliban is fanciful.

After the restoration of Sharia law in Swat, there are a few utterances attributed to the US which should raise our antennas.

Spokesman Gordon K. Duguid, asked to comment on enforcement of Sharia-based justice system in Swat said, “as I understand that Islamic law is within the constitutional framework of Pakistan, so I don’t know that is particularly an issue for anyone outside of Pakistan to discuss.”

Pressed if Washington saw the agreement as a good or bad development, he said “We have seen these sorts of actions before,  what is important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism, and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in, in attacking in Afghanistan.”[APP]

Here is another one.

On Tuesday night however, US officials in Islamabad privately backed the deal as an attempt to drive a wedge between Swat’s Taliban, which is focused on its demand for Sharia law, and the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud, the notorious commander who controls much of North and South Waziristan and other tribal areas along the Afghan border.

While they expressed fears that the deal might yet be sabotaged by some Swat Taliban militants who support al-Qaeda, they said that if successful, the deal would break up the alliance between the two groups, which has caused alarm throughout Pakistan and in Washington.[The Telegraph]

There are three major arguments being made for justifying this distinction between the good Taliban and the bad Taliban or Taliban-A and Taliban-P. These are not new arguments, for they have been made in many variations by Musharraf and his apologists since 9-11.

1] Pakistan Taliban is different from Afghanistan Taliban. Pakistan Taliban is only interested in establishing a truly Islamic republic in Pakistan. It is benign towards the US and doesn’t pose any direct threat to the US. It is the Afghanistan Taliban that is directing its ire against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and it was the one that supported the al Qaeda.

2] There is nothing wrong in having an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, run as per the Sharia law. It can still be an ally of the US. After all, Saudi Arabia is a non-democratic, Islamic republic run as per the Sharia, and still friendly to the US. The US should look at a Talibanised Pakistan in the same light as it considers Saudi Arabia.

3] Divide ut imperes — Divide and Conquer as a strategy against the two forms of Taliban. It always appeals to the military strategists, especially to some one like Admiral Mullen, who is so fond of drawing parallels with the Roman empire.

The same arguments were put forward during the Bush administration when selected al Qaeda operatives were arrested and handed over to the US while the Taliban was left untouched by the Musharraf regime. So, there is little likelihood that a chastened US administration would buy the same argument any longer. As David Sanger has noted, the incursion by ground forces started after Kayani was tapped calling Haqqani a strategic asset of the Pakistan army. And the increased frequency, scope and severity of the drone attacks suggests that US is rather indifferent to the arguments put forth by Pakistan.

However, there remains a short-term need for the US to conduct successful presidential polls in Afghanistan later this year. The need for having a conducive security environment to conduct credible elections may force the US to seek cooperation with Pakistan by temporarily agreeing to its groundses. While the violence is contained in the short-term, this window of opportunity will allow Petraeus to finalise alternate supply routes for coalition forces in Afghanistan. If this compromise with Pakistani interests is part of a coherent, long-term strategy, then where the US goes to after the presidential polls in Afghanistan will determine the future of the region.

The other arguments to punch holes in the Pakistani argument are too well known to be repeated. The fountainhead of both, Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban, are the Madrassas of the frontier areas and Taliban-A and Taliban-P have fought together against the US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. Besides this strong ideological connection, there is little distinction between the two Taliban except for the word of their handlers: Pakistan army and the ISI — X is a good Taliban and Y is a bad Taliban. Furthermore, the rise of Taliban inside Pakistan has to be seen in light of the increased radicalisation of Pakistan army, which directly controls the nukes in that country.

As far as India is concerned, there is no good or bad Taliban for it to face; all of them are anti-India and the face of this amorphous jehadi entity is only one — ugly. By now, India has realised that there is no independent course that it can charter in AfPak, except influence US policy in its favour. This is an unfortunate fact and India has to live with that. What India must do is to continously emphasise the jehadi-army-nuke connection inside Pakistan besides actively supporting — diplomatically and militarily — all US endeavours that at worst, contain, and at best, destroy the jehadi radicalism in the region.

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Another Republic day

Something to ponder over as India celebrates another Republic day.  

The Republic was not established by cowards;
and cowards will not preserve it …
This will remain the land of the free
only so long as it is the home of the brave. ~Elmer Davis 

What this nation needs from its citizens is bravery and courage — both moral and physical, in thought and in deed…

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