Federalism and state autonomy.

Federalism and state autonomy

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Tamil Nadu

  • On May 7 Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) took charge in Tamil Nadu (TN). Official statements started referring to the Central Government as Union Government, the usual Madhiya Arasu became Ondriya Arasu.
  • The BJP alleged DMK’s intention to start a “process of separation” of Tamil Nadu from India.
  • DMK trying to renew the call for a separate Dravida Nadu by creating such controversies and suppress the position of the Centre. A continuation of DMK’s negative approach towards the Centre.
  • Sub nationalism is the aspiration of a particular community within a nation to express their identity in different forms rather than only being Indian. It allows them to represent the interests of their state or province as separate from the nation’s collective interests.
  • This is not the first time that the DMK has used the word. Both party founder C N Annadurai, and M Karunanidhi were the first to address the Central Government as Ondriya Arasu, but over the years, it became Madhiya Arasu.
  • In India, the relationship between the Centre and States, as per the Constitution, is actually a relationship between the body and its parts.
  • Lok Sabha elections 2019, political outfits with opposite ideologies come together.
  • Their sole aim opposes a rampant BJP. Communists and Congress hug, AAP, TMC, and DMK join hands. Still, they lose monumentally.
  • A strict vigil at the centre continues. Central agencies have started to change by interfering proactively to root out corruption and terrorism. The next option was to push for state autonomy. Separatism, go back in time and become independent states. The perfect tool is federalism where power is divided between state and national levels.
  • Justice (retd) K Chandru, a former judge of the Madras High Court, pointed out that more than 70 years after Independence, there is no authorised Tamil translation of the Constitution of India.
  • The question in the ‘union or centre’ debate is about the nature of the Indian state, Justice Chandru said. “In the Government of India Act, 1935, provinces had more power and the Viceroy had only the minimum. But the Indian constitution changed this equation, and the federal government was made more powerful. The actual power is vested with the Union of India in all respects. In the 70 years of working of the Constitution, every power was taken away, even those conferred by the original Constitution. All this makes the controversy over a word mere shadow boxing,” he said.
  • (a) the Indian federation was not the result of an agreement by the units, and (b) the component units had no freedom to secede from the federation.
  • The main political opposition against the proposal of implementing the all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), came from the states and regional forces. Most of the state governments ruled by Congress or regional parties opposed it.



  • The Central and the State governments do not have equal powers in all aspects and there are differences in the way states are governed. Called asymmetrical federalism both get their respective authority from the Constitution
  • Without absolute power, the Centre might a face issues when handling serious breakdown in law and order in some areas like foreign policy, national security decisions and economic reforms.
  • The parliament has been given unilateral discretion to reconstruct the boundaries of the states.
  • The central list contains more subjects than the State list.
  • In case of a deadlock between the centre and states over subjects in the concurrent list, the Union law prevails.
  • The parliament can also legislate on any state subjects under extraordinary circumstances.
  • The central government also has sweeping economic superiority in terms of resources as well as in its discretion in allocating resources to the states.
  • Central Government’s power of appointing governors in the states and dissolving state governments by proclaiming president rule if the Centre deems fit.
  • Parliament and Assemblies identify their boundaries and do not cross their boundaries when it comes to the subject matter on which laws are made.


The Modi government

  • Extreme or chaotic political centralisation can both lead to the weakening of Indian federalism. The right balance would prevent the Union government from controlling state autonomy unless it threatens national unity.
  • Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat realised the need for empowering the states and ‘cooperative federalism’ was a major electoral promise in his campaign in the 2014 national elections. After coming to power, the BJP government took some major steps to strengthen the states.
  • The centralised Planning Commission was replaced by the Niti Aayog for “active involvement of the states in the spirit of “co-operative” federalism.”
  • The Central Planning Commission used to impose policies on States and State Governments did not have much role to play apart from taking part in the meetings. NITI Aayog is an advisory body that cannot force policies on States and State Governments have to play a more proactive role.
  • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) by which the Centre and states become equal partners in government revenue, especially taxes was implemented. A GST Council was formed to create a consensus amongst the states regarding the decision.
  • The central government accepted the 14th Finance Commission recommendation to give the states a 42% share of the funds from the central pool from the previous 32%.
  • More recently, the Centre gave space and freedom to the states to strengthen their healthcare facilities, manage local lockdowns, and implement social security measures to reduce the impact of the Corona pandemic. State governments played a vital role on the ground in providing healthcare.
  • In 2019 the BJP also made considerable inroads into states where powerful regional parties were in power.
  • The Centre started intervention in state administration by directly monitoring the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).
  • BJP has been successful in creating a dominant consensus amongst most of the opposition parties regarding its major policy decisions in the name of national interest. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Shiv Sena and YSR Congress Party unequivocally extended their support to the scrapping of Article 370 in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Policies like demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370, and changing the political status of Kashmir and the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 met with little resistance from the regional forces in opposition to the BJP, with few exceptions. The trend where the regional actors are largely rallying behind the nationalist policy decisions of the central government



  • Acknowledging the democratic deficit, the Constitution was amended in 1992 introducing a third tier system of governance at the level of Panchayats and Municipalities ( 73rd & 74th Constitution Amendment Acts) which not only revolutionized decentralized governance in the country but also brought in fresh equation in Centre-State relations. In the last six decades since the Constitution has come into force 95 amendments have taken place, with several of these having direct bearing on Centre-State relations.
  • Serious complaints arose even when the Constitution was being adopted that there is too much centralization (the concentration of control of an activity or organization under a single authority, in this case, PM Modi) and that the States have been reduced to municipalities.
  • Ambedkar said that it is not about a wider field than the other adding that there is a division of the legislative and the executive authority between the Centre and the States laid down in the Constitution. It would be wrong to say that the States have been placed under the Centre. This was the essence of federalism.
  • It was only in exceptional circumstances that the Centre could over-ride the States only in times of crisis. Citizens should not be left in any doubt whatsoever as to where their loyalty should lie. This Constitutional arrangement has to be preserved at whatever cost.
  • In a system of multi-level governance, cooperation between the Centre and the States is crucial for the stability, security and economic development of the country. A ‘Union of States’ with a strong Centre was needed to make sure that the country did not have to suffer any challenge to its again.
  • The framers of the Indian Constitution did not create a fully federalised political system in India at the time of the country’s independence, because of their fear of further disunity and separatist tendencies.
  • They knew the importance of a strong central authority that would ensure peace and coordinate vital matters of common concern for the whole country in the international sphere.


How the 1975 Emergency added Federalism

  • Dr B.R.Ambedkar, Chairman, Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India said “Though the country and the people may be divided into different states for convenience of administration, the country is one integral whole, its people a single people living under a single imperium (absolute power) derived from a single source.” The country is one and states were formed only for official purposes.
  • In 1976 during the emergency, the then PM Indira Gandhi used the 42nd Amendment to change the description of India from a “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic”, and also changed the words “unity of the nation” to “unity and integrity of the nation”.
  • During the Constituent Assembly debates on framing the Constitution in 1946, a proposal arose to declare India as a “Secular, Federal, Socialist” nation. B. R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution opposed declaring India’s social and economic structure in the Constitution.
  • In his opposition to the amendment, Ambedkar stated, “In the first place the Constitution is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members or particular parties are installed in the office. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organization of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organization in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority of people to hold that the socialist organization of society is better than the capitalist organization of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.”
  • Ambedkar’s second objection was that the amendment was “purely superfluous” and “unnecessary”, as “enough socialist principles are already embodied in our Constitution” through Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy. Referring to the Directive Principles, he asked, “If these directive principles to which I have drawn attention are not socialistic in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be”
  • Later, the Supreme Court found that the arbitrary use of Article 356 by the centre to topple an opposition-ruled state government cannot be allowed. The court further laid down a detailed guideline to prevent further misuse of the provision regarding president rule in the states.


Brief history of Central power

  • 1950s: In Kerala, the dissolution of the Communist government led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad in 1959, by the Centre under Nehru’s watch.
  • 1960s: The Centre’s proposal to declare Hindi as the national language was met with strong opposition especially from Tamil Nadu. They declared that English, along with Hindi, would continue to be used for all official purposes of state communication in the country
  • 1970s: The centralisation of the Congress party created an impact on India’s federal dynamics in two ways: the erosion of Congress’s political base, and the rise of regional autonomy. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who ruled with an iron fist dissolved state governments led by opposition parties by invoking Article 356 and installed Congress governments in those states. In 1977, when the Janata government came to power at the Centre, it also dissolved the Congress-ruled state governments to install Janata party-led governments in the states. However, the Janata government which otherwise restored the constitutional sanctity that Indira Gandhi attempted to tamper with during the emergency, justified the dissolution of the state governments as a course correction of Gandhi’s undemocratic political legacy. Gandhi’s Congress after returning to power in 1980 returned the favour by once again dissolving the state governments led by Janata Party and its allies.
  • In this period the regional demands led by the Akalis in Punjab and All Assam Students Union (AASU) in Assam emerged. The political ambitions of the non-Congress state actors in Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were also coming to the centrestage of national politics
  • The political crisis in Assam, Kashmir, Mizoram and most importantly Punjab in the late 1970s and early 1980s escalated due to the centralising intentions of the central government at that time.
  • 1990s This paved the way for the coalition of non-Congress parties comprising of some regional parties along with the outside support of the BJP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) to form the National Front Government at the Centre led by Prime Minister V.P. Singh. This marked the beginning of the era of coalition politics in India at the national level. As the coalitions were comprised of various opposition and regional parties with different political ambitions, ideologies and policies, the governments were unstable and were frequently toppled by political maneouvring.
  • The open market economy deregulated the economic interactions which were earlier strongly controlled by the Union government. Benefitted by the reforms, the state governments now got relative autonomy to initiate business endeavours and bring in foreign investments to their respective states. This gave state chief ministers a political opportunity to project themselves as ‘drivers of growth and development’. This has further aggravated disproportionate development of the Indian states as the already resource rich and developed states would be in the better position to attract business opportunities while the poorer states lagged behind

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