The recent political developments around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have revealed some of the most significant crevices of Indian federalism. Many state governments (ruled by opposition parties) declared that they would not implement the legislation in their respective states.
Constitutional provisions –
- Article 256 of the Constitution obligates the State government to ensure implementation of the laws made by Parliament. If the State government fails to do so, the Government of India is empowered to give “such directions to a State as may appear… to be necessary”.
- The refusal to enforce the law even after the Centre issues directions would empower the President to impose President’s Rule in those States under Articles 356 and 365.
- The Supreme Court of India has also confirmed this reading of the law in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India — arguably the most significant case on Indian federalism.
Challenging the authority of the Union –
- Anti-CAA advertisements – In West Bengal, the State government put anti-CAA advertisements on its websites. In an interim order, the Calcutta High Court directed the State government to remove those advertisements. The question – whether State governments are empowered to use public funds to campaign against a law made by Parliament – is open for final determination. In its final judgement, the High Court could bar the State government from campaigning against a parliamentary law.
- Resolution against CAA – The Legislative Assembly of Kerala went to the extent of passing a resolution, stating that the law “contradicts the basic values and principles of the Constitution”. Indeed, the resolution is only symbolic, and has no legal ramifications. And, though the passage of any such resolution is not constitutionally barred, it may not be in tune with the federal scheme under the Constitution.
Power of brute Central majority –
- With an absolute majority in the Parliament by a single party and the poor understanding of the role of a parliamentary opposition in Indian politics, the Parliament of India has recently been reduced to a site for procedural formalities.
- Time and again, our experiences with single-party dominance have shown that in the face of comfortable majorities, our constitutional structure reveals its tendencies to concentrate power.
- A ‘Centrist bias’ of the Indian Constitution further augments the powers of the brute national majority. In the backdrop of a bloody partition and threats of “fissiparous tendencies”, it was probably justified for the founders of the Indian republic to be hesitant in instituting a stronger federalism. If we wanted to be together, the argument went, we could only have so much federalism.
Electoral federalism –
- Over the last couple of years alone, we have seen repeated examples of huge vote swings between national and State elections, separated by only a few months, in the same constituencies.
- These have offered convincing evidence that Indian voters are not only nuanced in their voting choices, but can also reconcile their seemingly contradictory votes in national and State elections.
- In other words, federalism is not a mere legal division of powers; the democracy and voters, too, are becoming federal. This popular embrace of electoral federalism may be one of the most significant achievements of Indian democracy.
Way forward –
Thanks to electoral federalism, the “losers” of national politics can still win State elections and form legitimately elected governments. The State governments are thus filling the Opposition deficit at the Centre. With this shift of Opposition politics from New Delhi to State capitals, the politics of Opposition is likely to become the politics over federalism.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Discuss the recent trends in Indian federalism. Examine how a centrist bias in the Indian constitution can be productively balanced through a federal approach.