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22 (May 28, 1988), pp. 1131-1133 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4378558 Accessed: 19/03/2009 02:43
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The Sarkaria C0mmissi0n’s Perspective
While the voluminous report of the Sarkaria Commission covers all areas of centre-state relations, the limited perspective seems to have denied a wider understanding of several critical issues. The recommendations, therefore, are unlikely to provide a firm basis for building a new consensus, reconciling the confliciting views on how India should be governed in her federal setting. THE report of the Sarkaria Commission, which was recently submitted to the union government, consists of 545 pages plus eight appendices. It seems to have cpvered all areas of centre-state relations including mass media. However, structural reforms recommended by it are not many. Only a few constitutional amendments have been recom» mended, the major thrust of which is oriented towards mitigating some of the grave distortions which have arisen within the federal system. In sections 4.16.03 and 6.8.08 of the report, for instance, amendments have been recommended to ensure fective consultation with the state chief minister in the selection of governor and to prevent improper use of Article 356 respectively. Seeing the current state of mind of the rulers of New Delhi, however, it seems unlikely that efforts in this direction will really be made. Indications are that the ruling elites in the national capital have decided to opt for a further centralised and hegemonic system of government. The placement of the persons, who have recently been too much involved in Congress(l) politics, in the gubernatorial position, especially in the opposition-ruled states and the recent 59th constitutional amendment endowing the centre with power to impose a state of emergency to control internal disturbances in Punjab, are instances to the point. The principal aim of this paper is to understand the perspective of the commission. Although chapter 1 is devoted to its basic formulation, it is spread thinly all over the report. The commission rightly says that “for a proper appreciation of the problems and issues that have arisen in the working of union-state arrangements in the past 37 years, it is necessary to examine briefly the historical processes which influenced the framing of the constitution, the union envisaged by it, the subsequent socioeconomic and political developments including the divergence between its principle and practice and its causes.‘ This sort of appraisal is, however, important insofar as this enables us to raise critical issues and to provide appropriate responses. in the context of the recent debate on Indian federalism, the important criticial questions are the following. Firstly, what sort of historical factors shaped the formulation of the normative framework of lndia’s federal constitution, and whether the framework was an appropriate one? Secondly, since then, what changes in lndia’s politics and economy have taken place, and in what manner these have affected the working structure of centre~state relations? And, thirdly what type of change and adjustment in the institutions as well as in the practices of Indian federalism is necessary for mitigating the second-generation strain?2 Incidentallyit may be mentioned that in the 19605 and 19705, questions almost similar to ours, faced the Canadian federal system, and the country had to opt for a comprehensive amendment, christened the Constitution Act, 1982. Chapter 1 of the report, which seeks to provide a perspective, contains four sections. The first section gives a short historical background. The second section analyses the nature of India’s federation. Section 3 seeks to survey the socio-economic and political changes, while section 4 identifies the major issues in centre-state relations. The first provides a Short historical setting for understanding the nature of lndia’s federal system. The principal historical facts, the various attempts at constitution-making in British India, the partition and other contemporary events and the overall approach of the constitutionmakers are presented in a summary and somewhat disjointed fashion. There is no serious attempt to probe why a colonial legislation, the Government of India Act 1935, was the most important frame of reference for constitution-‘making in free India, especialyjn regard to its most important segments centre-state relations. It may be recailed that the federal scheme as provided by this Act, came in for the most trenchant criticism at the hands of the Congress. However, the federal system as it emerged from the constituent assembly deliberation, carried the profound influence of the 1935 Acr.3 My point is that the federal system as laid down by the constitution of India, is the product of two conflicting cultures, one representing the nationalist leaders’ normative concerns for lndia’s unique personality as shaped by the course of history and geography, and rooted in the infinite variety of local situations, and the other reflecting their new concerns for unity, security and administrative efficiency. Whiie the former led to the establishment of basic framework of federalism, the latter resulted in the setting up of several centralised and authoritarian institutional arrangements in the tradition Of the earlier colonial rule.‘ Economic and Political Weekly May 28, 1988
It is unfortunate that the Sarkaria Commission’s report does not focus on the conflictive cultures underlying the formulation of the federal scheme and their implications from the perspective of development of India’s federal polity. Mainly because of this, the'c0mmission seems to believe that the approach of the founding fathers was sound. The report, after reflecting on several important considersations which weighed with the framers in assigning to the uniqn a dominant role, stress that “they have not lost their relevance under the present-day world conditions". It is further emphasised that “any approach to an examination of the unionstate arrangements must, therefore, be informed by the primary considerations”. A point worth stressing here is that what we have been witnessing in the area of centre-state relations for several years now, is a sort of vigorous criticism against the framework of Indian federalism as provided by the founding fathers. In this can be seen, however inclistinctly, a view of federal constitutionalism as an ideology almost analogous to that of the leaders in the Gandhi phase of the national movement. This may be considered to be a strong reaction to the tendency of the recent governments in New Delhi to use the formal majoritarianism (not a majority of popular vote) to assert an authoritarian, centralised and statist behaviour in the name of national unity and integrity. Because of their almost total support to the constitution-makers’ model of federalism, it has not been possible for the commission Lo appropriately understand the nature of the recent debate on centre-state relations and to respond adequately to the critical issues emanating from the debate. What are the chief characteristics of the Indian model of federalism? These, according to the commission, are: indestructibility of the Indian union, supremacy of the union legislative power, control of the union executive over state legislation, emergency provisions, inter-dependence and mutual cooperation, and reviewing and mediating role of the judiciary._ This character of the Indian federal system, in their view, emanated from the constitutiommakers’ option for “a constitution which blends the imperatives of a strong national control with the need for adequate local initiative”. The moot question is whether the constitutional provisions which were finally formulated, really reflected the option as referred to by the com
mission. I have my honest doubt. it is pos~ sible to mention several provisions which emphasise powerful national control at the expense of state initiative. I knew of one chief minister, B C Roy, who almost at the beginning complained against the lack of COnStituIi0nal provision for adequate state enterprise in national development. Actually the debate on centre-state relations was initiated by him as early as 19505. lt is true that in the early years there were some propitious historical factors such as a tradition of elite accommodation and an organisational culture of informal federalism within the one-party dominance system, which prevented the centre-state controversy from developing into a major conflict. With the gradual disappearance of these factors in the secondgeneration, the innate strains between the constitution-makers’ intended objective and the actual structure of Indian federalism came into sharp focus. What I mean to say is that the objective was not adequately reflected in the structure, and moreover, the framers did not perceive the need for ‘auxiliary precautions’ against eventual rise of an overgrown centre. This is the principal reason why much of centralisation during the last 40 years of the working of the uni0n~state relations, occurred not through amendments (excluding, of course, 42nd amendment), but more or less within the framework of the federal constitution as finally drafted by the founding fathers. The commission points out that the role of the union “now extends into the areas in the state field”, and provides several instances to the point. But nowhere it is suggested that this development did not have support in the express constitutional provisions (1.4.08). Actually New Delhi used various articles of the original constitution including residuary ones, to augment its authority. In pages 14-17 of the reporr an analysis of the dynamic interplay of various forces which have affected the working structure of Indian federalism, has been provided‘ However, I do not see it to be eminently perceptive or useful. While many facts have been noted, no attempt has been made to identify and reflect on their linkages. In the description of socio-economic changes, a number of post-Independence developments such as the abolition of zamindary system and rise of an affluent community of gentlemen farmers who now form the rural elite, the pace of urbanisation, free flow of inter-state trade and commerce, etc, have been mentioned. But it seems that the most critical devel0pment—the demands of new rural elites and their conflict with the urban industrial interests— ~has received practically no attention. Furthermore, no critical questions have been raised about the nature of connections between the demands of the rural rich and the platforms of the political parties, especially of the state~based political parties such as Akali Dal of Punjab, Telugu Desam in Andhra Praclesh, etc. 1132 The report is_quicl< to mention that the political scenario “has over the last three decades undergone a major transformation along with other aspects of national life”. The erosion of pre-independence period idealism, the rise of shifting loyalties in politics and widespread defections, the growth of regional parties, the Clectoral malpractices—all are mentioned, but it is difficult to see how these converge in affecting thc working of centre-state relations. If the intention is to bring into focus the overall effect of these changes in the disappearance of the pre-existing national consensus and the rise of sectional loyalties, this does not seem to have been adequately displayed in the report. This is mainly because economic Clevelcpment and political change are treated separately, and nowhere the federal strains are analysed in a linked setting of India’s party politics and economic development. What is more disappointing is that no Organised and systematic attempt has been made by the commission to explain the origin and nature of the strains in federalism in the post-Nehru period.5 The important point which requires to be stressed in this connection, is that in the wake of economic development and the 1969 split in the Congress Party, there has occurred not only an important change in the composition of the nation’s political elite, but also a shift from elite consensus to elite polarisation. In general, three major areas of political change appear to have been involved in producing strains in the federal system: (1) changes within the dominant political party, namely, the Congress party; (2) changes within the overall institutional structure and political culture of Indian federalism; and (3) demands by new rural elites arising from economic development. By and large, the development of lndia’s federal polity has been shaped by the Congress Party. Except for a brief period of Janata Party rule in 1977-79, the Congress Party has been continuously in power since independence. As a result, the operation and structure of Indian federalism have been significantly influenced by the operation and structure of the Congress, which itself has manifested varying degrees of federalism in its operational style. The delicate balance between the Congress as a party and the Congress as a movement could not be maintained during the posv Nehru peri0d.6 The Congress had developed into an extremely centralised and regimented party‘ Both the culture and institutions of informal federalism within the Congress had virtually collapsed, and state units became increasingly dependent upon the part‘-,’s political centre. What emerged during the second generation was an altogether new Congress. In its role, perception and organisational design, the Congress shifted from being a dominant party IO being an almost hegemonic partyi In due time, changes in the role and organisational culture of the Congress were Economic and Political Weekly May 28, 1988
reflected in inter-party relations and in the operation of federal institutions. Generally, the firsvgeneration leaders had manifested a commitment to India's democratic federal institutions and had displayed a liberal view of the place of opposition parties in the political system. The only notable exception was New Delhi’s controversial intervention into Kerala in 1959. However, this intervention was pressed mainly by a sec0nd~ generation leader, Indira Gandhi, who was then the president of the Congress Party and who later became the prime minister of India (1966-1977 and 1980-l984).”’ In the new Congress fashioned by Indira Gandhi there occurred a vast erosion of liberal values and of the willingness of the new leaders to work within old institutional restraints. Once these restraints were removed, there grew an intolerant view of opposition parties and of dissent within the party. Systematic efforts were made to destabilise duly elected non-Congress(l)-state governments. Prime minister Indira Gandhi, deeply suspicious even Of chief ministers of hm own party in thc states, somemimes replaced them with pérsons Of her own Several state governments COnt1'011€d by C0ngress(I) and non-Congressfl) parties, were virtually toppled by Indira Gandhi, thus severely undermining important federal institutions in India. The political culture evolved during the Indira Gandhi regime does not seem to have changed. Rajiv Gandhi’s initial promise of‘ a new, more conciliatory and co-operative political order faltercd rather quickly in the face of mounting political conflict. His in‘ creasing intolerance for dissent and his desire for personal dominance in the party organisation have led to a revival of the" earlier practice of running the party through nominations from the top. This again has led to a rise in mistrust on the part of the opposition parties. As Rajiv Gandhi faced more election reverses, and as more inf0r> mation was revealed about his government’s involvement in questionable defence deals, he tried to revive his m0ther’s centralised and authoritarian mode of political decisionmaking. Centre-state relations have deteriorated further. The prime minister’s recent threat that if any state government took an “antinational direction”, he would dismiss it regardless of whatever majority it enjoyed, and the 59th amendment to the constitution, are high water-marks in the confrontation between New Delhi and the n0n~C0ngress(I) state governments. An equally important factor contributing to further intensification of the secondgeneration strain, which the commission has virtually overlooked, has been the change in the composition of the political elite. The dominance of the rural elites, replacing the earlier professionals, especially the lawyers, can be seen in the way in which the composition of the legislatures has changed over the years. For instance, while for the lawyers there has been a fall in their membership of
the Lok Sabha from 35.6 to 22.2 per cent, the agriculturists have registered again from 22.5 to 38.3 per cent in the eighth Lok Sabha. By and large the latter are wealthy farmers who make up a powerful lobby that espouse policies to advance agricultural interests, lead green uprisings, mobilise regional demands, and advocate state autonomy. Furthermore, they are generally members of dominant local castes. The interlacing of dominant caste and class interests, in the wake of the green revolution, has led to the rise of extensively mobilised rural demands impinging on the political boundaries of the federal system. The persistently unequal exchange between industry and agriculture since the middle of 19705 has given rise to open conflicts between industrial and agricultural interests. The farmers havelong had a powerful influence on policy-making in many state governments. In the beginning, however, they made major efforts to influence nationai policy-making through their enhanced strength in parliament in key sectors of economic development. Their efforts have not been very successful, however, because the industrial interests with their huge mony power and better rapport with Civil servants in New Delhi have generally out-manoettvred them. This has recently made them generally support the demands for regional autonomy. It is unfortunate that the commission has not looked into this development and its connection with lndia’s political party system. Hence, it has not occurred to them that an important reason for the recent spurt of sub-nationalism, no which they have made a pointed reference, lies in the linkage between the demands of the farm lobby and the platforms of the political parties, especially of the state-based parties. A part of the section of the report on perspective is devoted to an analysis in brief of major trends in three mature federations, the US, Canada and Australia. While discussing the impact of environmental changes upon the traditional mould of federalism, the commission make the following com~ ment: “The centralising trends whieh were just discernible when the Indian constitution was on the anvil are now manifest realitieg of gigantic proportions in most federations?’ This does not seem to be a correct appraisal. In Canada, for example, in 19605 and 19705 there had arisen enormous centrifugal pressures with the result that the whole of the federal constitution had to undergo a comprehensive change in the early 19805. As two celebrated authors on Canadian federalism observe, “two great questions have underpinned the constitutional controversy of the last 20 years, each growing out of the primary cleavages and conflicts that have dominated Canadian po1itics...”*. They further say that “one is dualism, the political relationship between French and Englishspeaking Canadians, and the second is regionalism, the enduring tension between Economic and Political Weekly May 28, the national political community and the provincial or regional communities”. Because of this the cooperative structure of Canadian federalism which was emerging in the earlier years has recently come under severe strain. Actually in recém years the federal has assumed the character of conceptual polarisation between the provincialists and the cczntralists. It is, therefore, not right for the commission to say that in Canada “the system has assumed on the basis of practical arrangemems, a de facro form of co-operative federalism transcending the boundaries formally designated in its constitution”. It is true that the federal system in the United States of America has had a centralised direction. Apart from the technical and economic factors which have substantially bridged the inter-regional gaps and have stimulated the development of the bonds of national across the regional diversities, the important factors have been the two-party system and the increasingly important role of the presidency in recent years. William Riker, the foremost living authority on federalism, recently told me that there is practically no centrifugal pressure in American federal system. However, the system would have faced the highly explosive federal situations which Canada, India and Nigeria have been experiencing in recent years, had the blacks been confined to the southern states as in the early years and not moved to all other states as in the later years. In short, the regional communities and identities based on ethnic or other considerations do not obtain in the US." There is, therefore, a vital distinction between federalising experiences of Canada and the US. Since this has escaped the attention of the commission, it has not been possible for them to collect the threads of experience in Canadian federation where questions similar to ours have recently been faced.” Both the questions of dualism and regionalism are relevant in the context of India’s federalising experience Punjab seems to be the Indian counterpart of Canada’s Quebec. Punjab has its own distinctive personality based on its ethnolinguistic and religious identity. This has made this state often assert in recent years a wide measure of autonomy and pull against national power. Similarly, New Delhi and the opposition-dominazed states such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, etc, have very different conceptions of how India should be governed. It is forcefully argued by the latter that the federal government as con~ structed and operative now cannot hope to respond to the needs and aspirations of the regional communities in a country as diversified and expansive as India. It is asserted that regional needs and identities are as important as national ones, and hence, strong states are as necessary as a strong centre. Because of limited perspective, the major issues in centre-state relations formulated by 1988
the commission, do not reflect their concern for a new option that would accommodate the needs and aspirations of the regional communities including those of Punjab within a genuinely reformed federal system. As the report shows, many of these issues actually emanate from criticisms of the structure of centre-state relations recently made by the opposition parties. These include ihe role of the governor, the resource position of the states, the status of the pianning commission, etc. Since, however, ihese are not viewed as conjoint aspects of a certain type of federalising process in India which does not reflect a perennial process of mututal adaptation in a spirit of ‘give and take‘, the report of the Sarkaria Commission is not likely to provide a new consensus of balance between unity and diversity, that is, between nation and region. At best their recommendations may be treated as some sort of a temporary compromise intended to ease the current strain between New Delhi and the non-C0ngress(I) state governments. Notes Commission on Centre-State Relations, Report, New Delhi, 1988, Chapter 1: Perspective, p 5. Citations in the following pages are from chapter 1. 2 By second-generation strain I mean post Nehru period strain. In determining when one generation ends and another begins, the focus is on the behaviour of a political regnme. 3 Amal Ray, Inter-Government Relations in India, New York, 1966, pp 12-13. For a full-length diSCUSbiQfl on this theme, see Amal Ray, ‘From a Constitutional 10 an Auxhoritarian System of Government: Interactions between Politics and the Constitution in India’, The Journal of Common wealth and Comparative Politics, London, November 1987. 5 For a comprehensive analysis on this subject, see Amal Ray and John Kincaid, ‘Politics, Economic Development, and SecondGeneration Strain in lndia’s Federal System‘, Pub/ius: The Journal of Federalism, Philadelphia, Forthcoming, May 1988. Amal Ray, ‘From Consensus to Confrontation: Federal Politics in India‘, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, October 2, 1982. 7 Uma Vasudev, Indira Gandhi: Revolution in Restraint, Delhi, 1974, pp 273-78. Keith Banting and Richard Simeon (eds), And N0 One Cheered: Federalism, Democracy and the Constitution Act, Toronto, 1983, p ll. Even in the US there is a lingering contro» versy on inter-governmcntal relations. For instance, heightened conflicts over direct federal-local relations characterised I986. See Pub/ius, May 1987. 10 When the Sarkaria Commission interviewed me sometime in 1985, I emphasised the need for a better understanding of Canadian federal experience. ON 1133
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