Centre-state relations under federalism
Arguably, federalism or the centre-state relations are at its lowest point in recent decades. The ongoing tussle over the Goods and Services Tax (GST) compensation accentuates a rather worrying trend.
Recent issues between centre and the states –
- GST Compensation – Finance ministers of states like Punjab, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra spoke in terms of ‘betrayal’ and ‘double standards’ over Centre’s decision to delay and omit the compensation which is to be paid to the states under GST regime. Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda has said that idea of one nation, one tax is endangered. Therefore, federalism itself seemed to be in crisis.
- Language issue – DMK leader Kanimozhi brought up the Hindi mindset issue, which has been resurfacing with greater frequency in the last couple of years than the last couple of decades. She was upset when a central security officer at an airport allegedly tried to equate her proficiency in Hindi with her Indianness and nationalism.
- Cultural autonomy – Besides all this, the cultural autonomy of the states have also felt threatened because of an ideological arraignment of oneness. Cultural matters are often reduced to linguistic matters but it is far wider than that.
- Other concerns – The discussion on the National Education Policy, the two and three language formulas, environmental policies, agricultural reforms, fifteenth finance commission, CAA, NRC, etc., have only expanded the kerfuffle, and the growing distrust between the states and the Centre in recent times.
Clarity about federalism –
- Federalism’s survival depends not just on discharge of honourable agreements related to distribution of constitutional powers and financial resources, but on repeated guarantees to nurture the diversity of our oneness. Cultural federalism actually forms the basic frame.
- Interestingly, the two big Commissions we have had since the 1980s on Centre-states relations, the Justice Sarkaria Commission and the Justice Punchhi Commission, go into several material aspects of federalism but are silent on cultural federalism, which is the invisible glue that binds the nation together.
Inter-State Council (ISC) –
- The Sarkaria Commission recommended an Inter State Council (ISC), which was meant to be a forum for dialogue between the Centre and states.
- It was expected to meet three times a year under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, with chief ministers as members. All issues that troubled the conscience of the nation, in any corner, could be brought up there.
- ‘Investigating such subjects, in which some or all the states or the Union and one or more states have a common interest,’ was its mandate. However, the record of the ISC meetings are dismal, and that could be one barometer to explain the overcast conditions.
Performance of ISC –
The ISC met the first time in October 1990 under V P Singh, but P V Narasimha Rao never held a single meeting. Deve Gowda revived the ISC and the United Front government held it thrice in under two years. Vajpayee held it four times in six years. Manmohan Singh only twice in 10 years and Narendra Modi only once in the past six years.
Way forward – Learning from the Sarkaria Commission –
- In Chapter 21 of the Sarkaria Commission report, there are two brilliant paragraphs. The first says: “There is a general tendency towards greater centralisation of powers. There is special need in a country like India for a conscious and purposive effort to counter it all the time. There is considerable truth in the saying that undue centralisation leads to blood pressure at the Centre and anaemia at the periphery. The inevitable result is morbidity and inefficiency. Indeed, centralisation does not solve but aggravates the problems of the people.”
- The second reads: “In view of the relatively communal nature of some ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’ of different hues (of religion, caste, language, race, etc.) at different governmental levels of our country, it is most important that democracy is seen as government by ‘compromise’ between the majority and the minority, and not an authoritarian use by the former of its voting power riding roughshod over the latter… If the power of vote that democracy gives us is used thoughtlessly, or fanatically along communal lines, it may eventually sound the death-knell of secular democracy itself, in our heterogeneous society.”
- These two paras, understood well, can help the Centre and the states to waltz as a truly cooperative federal polity.
Source – The New Indian Express
QUESTION – In the past few years, there has been a considerable decay in centre-state relations. Discuss how the idea of cooperative federalism can be realised through a principle of bargain and compromise in the larger interest of nationhood.