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True federalism needs a constitutional overhaul

Kiran Batni http://kiranbatni

Updated: March 11, 2014, 7:46 PM IST
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Haseeb A Drabu's article titled 'Modifying Federalism', published in Livemint on March 02, 2014, carried some very important pointers to what is wrong with federalism in India and how to fix it. However, the problem with Indian federalism is deeper and the solution requires us to completely rewrite the Constitution of India. Tweaks here and there won't do.

First of all, we need to accept without hesitation that the centre will be weakened if state powers increase. That is how it works. There is no infinite supply of power to the political establishment. The separation of powers between the centre and the states is a zero-sum game.

Next, we need to realize that bringing true federalism into India requires us to overcome the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong about weakening the centre. The framers of the constitution were soaked in this belief; they took it for granted that any reduction of central powers is a threat to the unity and integrity of India. If we do not address this fundamental belief, we will only be seeking cosmetic changes to India's political structure and the basic problems with it cannot be addressed.

However, this belief need no longer be held. It is untrue, today, that a reduction of central powers together with an increase of state powers is a threat to the unity and integrity of India. In fact, the status quo, with an all-powerful centre and states with powers that befit municipalities, carries that threat.

If the states, which are closer to the people, are continued to be denied power, and if centralization continues unabated, disaffection for the Indian nation is bound to grow all over India. The signs are already visible. It is this that threatens to destroy India, not empowering the states. To act as if everything is okay, or to suppress disaffection using the strong arm of the law, are not solutions to the problem.

Unfortunately, the two biggest political parties, the Congress and the BJP, do not seem to realize this. The recent bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the stand that both parties take towards 'small states' betrays their utter lack of understanding that India's unity and integrity cannot be built using the bricks of disunity and disintegration. It also betrays an utter lack of respect for India's linguistic diversity and Indian languages as enablers of education and development.

To turn things around and create a true federation of states, we need a new constitution built on the principle of a weak centre and strong linguistic states. There is no need to be apologetic about it. To keep India one, all that needs to be ensured is that these states do not have the right to secede or maintain a military. All other powers can safely be entrusted to them and the centre can have exclusive control over defense and external affairs. Also, the paradigm of an 'indestructible union of destructible states' must be changed to 'indestructible federation of indestructible linguistic states'.

These measures will create a strong and united Indian nation. The status quo has everything in it that threatens to destroy it, much like the USSR. Little tweaks here and there cannot help. The question is: who will take up this enormous task? Will the two largest parties be willing to sacrifice power at the centre? If they are national in spirit, and not just geographically so, they'd be more than willing.

First Published: March 11, 2014, 7:46 PM IST

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