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Federalism Notes | Class 11 Political Science

The chapter introduces the students to the federal nature of our country's mechanism. The chapter talks about federalism with the strong central government, constitution and the division of powers. We also highlight some interstates conflicts like the revocation of article 370 of Jammu & Kashmir and various river water disputes.

What was the major reason for the breakup of the erstwhile USSR?

One of the primary reasons for its disintegration was Russia's excessive centralisation and concentration of authority, as well as its dominance over other regions with their own unique languages and cultures.

Not just USSR, other countries such as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Pakistan also had to face division. Even Canada faces separatism between the English–speaking and the French-speaking regions of that country.

How has India remained united despite its partition and diversity?

Despite India's cultural and linguistic diversity, it shares a shared history of resistance to the British Raj. This has prompted our national leaders to envision India as a country defined by its diversity yet united by its diversity. At times, it is referred to as unity in diversity.

Apart from establishing a federal constitution, the structure of the federal system and its practice have contributed significantly to India's unity.

Federalism in West Indies

The Federation of the West Indies was founded in 1958. It had a weak central authority and each unit's economy was self-sufficient. These characteristics, combined with political struggle among the units, resulted in the federation's formal disintegration in 1962.

Later, in 1973, under the terms of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the independent islands formed combined powers in the form of a common legislature, supreme court, common currency, and, to a limited extent, a common market known as the Caribbean Community.

The Caribbean Community even has a common executive, which is composed of the heads of government of member countries. Thus, the units cannot coexist as a single country, nor can they coexist independently!

What is Federalism?

The mode of political organisation that unites separate states or other policies within an overarching political system in a way that allows each to maintain its own integrity.

Federalism as a principle of government has evolved differently in different situations.

  • Federalism is an institutional mechanism to accommodate two sets of polities, one at the regional level and the other at the national level.

  • Each government is autonomous in its own sphere. In some federal countries, there is even a system of dual citizenship. India has only single citizenship.

  • The people likewise have two sets of identities and loyalties: they belong to the region as well as the nation, for example, we are ‘Gujaratis’ or ‘Jharkhandis’ as well as Indians.

Each level of the polity has distinct powers and responsibilities and has a separate system of government. The details of this dual system of government are generally spelt out in a written constitution.

There are certain subjects, which concern the nation as a whole like Defence or currency, that are the responsibility of the union or central government. Regional or local matters are the responsibility of the regional or State government. To prevent conflicts between the centre and the State, there is an independent judiciary to settle disputes.

The judiciary has the power to resolve disputes between the central government and the states on legal matters about the division of power.

What factors help in the smooth functioning of Federalism?

The functionality of a federation is determined by its politics, culture, ideology, and history. Federations run more smoothly when they have a culture of trust, cooperation, mutual respect, and constraint.

Additionally, political parties influence how a constitution operates. If a single unit, state, language group, or philosophy begins to dominate the federation as a whole, it may breed significant resentment among the people or units that do not share the dominant voice. These circumstances may result in aggrieved units requesting secession or even in civil wars.

Failure of Federalism in Nigeria

Federalism in Nigeria

Nigeria serves as an instructive case in point where a federal arrangement has failed to produce a stable state.

Northern and Southern Nigeria were two distinct British possessions until 1914. Nigerian leaders decided to create a federal constitution at the 1950 Ibadan Constitutional Conference. The three largest ethnic groups of Nigeria—Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa-Fulani—respectively governed the western, eastern, and northern regions.

Their desire to expand their power into other regions sowed fear and sparked warfare. These events resulted in the establishment of a military administration.

According to the 1960 constitution, the Nigerian police were jointly administered by the federal and regional administrations. No state was permitted to have a civil police force under the 1979 constitution, which was administered by the military.

Though Nigeria regained democracy in 1999, religious divisions and disputes over who will manage revenue from oil resources continue to be a source of contention for the Nigerian federation. Local ethnic groups oppose the centralisation of power over oil resources.

Thus, Nigeria exemplifies the blending of religious, ethnic, and economic divisions among groups.

How does the Indian constitution structure the division of powers between states and centre?

The Constitution of India does not even mention the word federation. But federalism in India refers to the relationship between centres and states as specified in the Indian constitution.

India is described by the following articles in the Indian constitution:

Article 1: (1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

(2) The States and the territories thereof shall be as specified in the First Schedule.

'Part XI' of the Indian Constitution specifies the distribution of legislative, administrative and executive powers between the union government and the states of India.

What led the constituent assembly to turn to federalism for the Indian union?

The majority of our national leaders realised that in order to administer a huge country like ours, the authority would have to be divided between provinces and the central government.

Following India's partition, the Constituent Assembly resolved to create a government based on the concepts of unity and collaboration between the centre and the states, as well as giving the states autonomous powers.

Division of Powers in India

There are two sets of government created by the Indian Constitution:

  • Central government

  • State government.

Both of these have constitutional status and clearly identified areas of activity. If there is any dispute about which powers come under the control of the union and which under the States, this can be resolved by the Judiciary based on the constitutional provisions.

The Constitution clearly demarcates subjects, which are under the exclusive domain of the Union and those under the States. One of the important aspects of this division of powers is that economic and financial powers are centralised in the hands of the central government by the Constitution. The States on the other hand have immense responsibilities but very meagre revenue sources.

How are the areas of jurisdiction divided for Indian federalism?

The Union List consists of 100 subjects (originally 97), the State List 61 subjects (originally 66) and the Concurrent List 52 subjects (originally 47). Both the Centre and the states can make laws on the subjects of the concurrent list, but in case of a conflict, the Central law prevails.

The residuary subjects (ie, which are not mentioned in any of the three lists are given to the Centre.

Why is India considered to have federalism with a strong central government?

The Indian Constitution is widely seen as having established a strong central government. India is a continent-sized country with enormous diversity and socioeconomic issues. The framers of the Constitution also considered that the country's socioeconomic challenges should be addressed by a strong central government working in tandem with the states.

Poverty, illiteracy, and wealth disparities were among the issues that necessitated planning and cooperation. As a result, worries about unity and development pushed the Constitution's authors to establish a strong central authority.

What are the provisions that create a strong central government?

Territorial Integrity

The very existence of a State including its territorial integrity is in the hands of Parliament:

  • The parliament is empowered to form a new state by separation of territory from any existing state or by uniting two or more States.

  • It can also alter the boundary of any State or even its name.

  • The Constitution provides some safeguards by way of securing the view of the concerned State legislature.

Emergency Provisions

The Constitution has certain very powerful emergency provisions, which can turn our federal polity into a highly centralised system once an emergency is declared. During an emergency, power becomes lawfully centralised; the parliament also assumes the power to make laws on subjects within the jurisdiction of the States.

Financial Powers

During normal circumstances, the central government has very effective financial powers and responsibilities. The items generating revenue are under the control of the central government.

  • The central government has many revenue sources and the States are mostly dependent on grants and financial assistance from the centre.

  • Secondly, India adopted planning as the instrument of rapid economic progress and development after independence.

  • Planning led to considerable centralisation of economic decision making.

The Planning commission appointed by the union government is the coordinating machinery that controls and supervises the resources management of the States. This distribution of economic resources is considered lopsided and has led to charges of discrimination against States ruled by an opposition party.

The Office of Governor

The Governor has certain powers to recommend dismissal of the State government and the dissolution of the Assembly. Even in normal circumstances, the Governor has the power to reserve a bill passed by the State legislature, for the assent of the President.

This allows the central government to delay the State legislation and also to examine such bills and veto them completely. The Constitution clearly states that executive powers of the centre are superior to the executive powers of the States.

Greater Executive Powers to Centre

There may be times when the situation requires the central government to legislate on issues from the State list. This is possible if Rajya Sabha approves the move.

The executive powers of the federal government are plainly superior to those of the states, according to the Constitution. Furthermore, the federal government has the authority to issue directives to state governments.

Protection to All India Administration

The All India services also come under the control of the ‘Central Government’. The state government can neither take disciplinary actions nor can they remove these officers from services.

Articles 33 and 34 authorise the Parliament to protect persons in the service of the union or a state in respect of any action taken by them during martial law to maintain or restore order

This provision further strengthens the powers of the union government. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been made based on these provisions.

The Centre-State Relations

The Centre-state relations can be studied under three heads:

  • Legislative relations

  • Administrative relations

  • Financial relations

Legislative Relations between States and Centre

Articles 245 to 255 in Part XI of the Constitution deal with the legislative relations between the Centre and the states

The Indian Constitution also divides the legislative powers between the Centre and the states concerning both the territory and the subjects of legislation.

The Constitution provides for the parliamentary legislation in the state field under five extraordinary situations as well as the centre's control over state legislation in certain cases.

There are four aspects in the Centre–states legislative relations, viz., Territorial extent of Central and state legislation;

Distribution of legislative subjects

Parliamentary legislation in the state field and Centre’s control over state legislation

Demands for Autonomy by States

  • First, the division of powers should be changed in favour of the States and more powers and important powers be assigned to the States.

  • Second, the States should have independent sources of revenue and greater control over their sources. This is also known as financial autonomy.

  • Third, the demands related to the administrative powers of the States. States resent the control of the centre over the administrative machinery.

  • Fourth, Autonomy demands may also be related to cultural and linguistic issues. The opposition to the domination of Hindi (in Tamil Nadu) or demand for advancing the Punjabi language and culture are instances of this.

  • Some States also feel that there is a domination of the Hindi-speaking areas over the others.

  • In fact, during the decade of 1960s, there were agitations in some States against the imposition of the Hindi language.

Role of Governors and President’s Rule

The role of Governors has always been a controversial issue between the States and the central government.

  • The Governor is not an elected office-holder.

  • Many Governors have been retired military officers or civil servants or politicians.

  • The Governor is appointed by the central government and therefore, actions of the Governor are often viewed as interference by the Central government in the functioning of the state government.

When two different parties are in power at the centre and the State, the role of the Governor becomes even more controversial. One of the most controversial articles in the Constitution is Article 356, which provides for President‘s rule in any State.

This provision is to be applied when a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on following the provisions of this Constitution.

It results in the takeover of the State government by the Union government. The President‘s proclamation has to be ratified by Parliament. The President's rule can be extended to three years.

The Governor has the power to recommend the dismissal of the State government and suspension or dissolution of the State assembly. This has led to many conflicts.

The State governments were dismissed in some cases even when they had a majority in the legislature, as had happened in Kerala in 1959 or without testing their majority, as happened in several other States after 1967.

Some cases went to the Supreme Court and the Court has ruled that constitutional validity of the decision to impose President‘s rule can be examined by the judiciary.

Interstate Conflicts

While the States keep fighting with the centre over autonomy and other issues like the share in revenue resources, there have been many instances of disputes between two States or among more than two States.

The judiciary indeed acts as the arbitration mechanism on disputes of a legal nature but these disputes are in reality not just legal.

They have political implications and therefore they can best be resolved only through negotiations and mutual understanding.

There are broadly two types of disputes that keeps recurring:

Border Disputes

  • States have certain claims over territories belonging to neighbouring countries. One of the long-standing border disputes is the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over the city of Belgaum.

  • Manipur and Nagaland too, have a long-standing border dispute. The carving out of Haryana from the erstwhile State of Punjab has led to disputes between the two States not only over border areas but over the capital city of Chandigarh.

This city today houses the capital of both these States.

  • In 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reached an understanding with the leadership of Punjab.

  • According to this understanding, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab. But this has not happened yet.

River waters sharing

  • These are even more serious because they are related to problems of drinking water and agriculture in the concerned States. The Cauvery water dispute is a major issue between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

  • Farmers in both States are dependent on Cauvery waters. Though there is a river water tribunal to settle water disputes, this dispute has reached the Supreme Court.

In another similar dispute Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are battling over sharing the waters of the Narmada river. Rivers happen to be the greatest resource and therefore these disputes of the river water test the patience of the cooperative spirits of the states.

Jammu and Kashmir

  • The other State had a special status in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (Art. 370).

  • Jammu and Kashmir were one of the large princely states, which had the option of joining India or Pakistan at the time of Independence.

  • Immediately after Independence Pakistan and India fought a war over Kashmir. Under such circumstances, the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to the Indian union.

The autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir is much less than what the language of article 370 may suggest.

There is a constitutional provision that allows the President, with the concurrence of the State government, to specify which parts of the Union List shall apply to the State.

The President has issued two Constitutional orders in concurrence with the Government of J&K making large parts of the Constitution applicable to the State.

As a result, though J&K had a separate constitution and a flag, the Parliament‘s power to make laws on subjects in the Union List now is fully accepted.

The remaining differences between the other States and the State of J&K are that no emergency due to internal disturbances can be declared in J&K without the concurrence of the State.

The union government cannot impose a financial emergency in the State and the Directive Principles do not apply in J&K.

Amendments to the Indian Constitution (under Art. 368) can only apply in concurrence with the government of J&K.

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government revoked special status and limited autonomy under article 370.


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