The Republic Day is a reminder of the spirit of federalism and why it is under strain – The Indian Express

Posted: January 21, 2022 at 11:52 pm

On January 26, 1950 when the Indian Constitution came into force, it was a big step for the nation that had longed to achieve the ideals of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity. Our Constitution tried to give a definite shape to the aspirations of the people for a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic through provisions like fundamental rights of all citizens. In a country of subcontinental proportions, it is necessary that the ideals mentioned in the Preamble to the Constitution should extend to all levels of governance. The overall emphasis on equality in the Constitution is visible in all arrangements made around the federal spirit and ideas.

Conscious of the differential needs of the populations of different states, the drafters of the Constitution made provisions for an equitable share of powers and responsibilities among different levels of governments. The lists in the 7th Schedule of the Constitution Union, state and concurrent are an example of this division, wherein each level of government has its own sphere, enabling context-sensitive decision-making. Later, institutions for local self government were added through the 73rd and 74th amendments, which strengthened grass roots democracy.

Article 246 and Article 243 G provide for this division of responsibilities. Article 280 provided for the constitution of Finance Commission to define the financial relationship and terms between the Union and states. Apart from these institutions and the Rajya Sabha, the Constitution makers also left much scope for consultative and deliberative bodies so as to strengthen the spirit of cooperation and federalism. Article 263 provided for the establishment of an Inter-State Council for smooth transition of business between the Union and states and resolution of disputes.

The Planning Commission always had space for discussion on issues concerning the federal nature of the polity and was sensitive to the different developmental requirements of states. The inter-state tribunals, the National Development Council and other informal bodies have served as vehicles of consultations between the Union, states and UTs. These bodies have been instrumental in tackling difficult issues democratically through deliberations while upholding the cooperative spirit between the Union and states. Unfortunately, we are now witnessing the worst assault on the federal system and on institutions.

The Planning Commission has been scrapped. The Inter-State Council has met only once in the last seven years while the National Development Council has not met at all. The tenure of the 15th Finance Commission was mired in controversy and many states expressed apprehensions about devolution. The misconceived GST has already taken away much of the autonomy available to states and has made the countrys indirect tax regime unitary in nature. Many important and politically sensitive decisions are taken without reference to, and consultation with, the concerned states. Article 370 was removed without consulting the state legislature.

Parliament legislated on agriculture, entry no. 14 in the state list, to enact the three contentious farm laws, overstepping its jurisdiction and imposing a law on the states. Students in Tamil Nadu have committed suicide over the discriminatory nature of the NEET examination. Other centralised examinations are also indifferent to languages spoken in different parts of India and education boards of different states. The New Education Policy has been flagged as encroaching on the federal nature of the polity. The BSFs jurisdiction was extended in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab without any consultation with the concerned states. The constitutional office of governor has come under scrutiny several times for encroaching on the powers of state executive and legislature. Recently, the rejection of the Republic Day tableaux of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal by the Centre prompted protests by the respective states.

These developments stem from an ideology that has disregard for the diversity of the country and a contempt for constitutional values. These are rooted in a monolithic conception of the country, which is the hallmark of the RSS and the BJP. Their obsession with homogeneity and the idea of Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan is blinding. The philosophy of uniformity and flattening out diversity has disastrous consequences for our republic, society and ways of life. The obsession with homogeneity can escalate and destroy the progressive ideals of secularism, tolerance and mutual respect. It should be underlined that Article 1 of our Constitution declares that India that is Bharat is a union of states, and that devolution of powers is necessary in such a setting. A conscious recognition of the federal character of our polity is essential to protect our national character. A struggle at all levels against the Union governments moves to usurp federal rights has to be waged.

This column first appeared in the print edition on January 21, 2022 under the title The missing federal spirit. The writer is General Secretary, CPI

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The Republic Day is a reminder of the spirit of federalism and why it is under strain - The Indian Express

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