In the election rallies held in West Bengal for the legislative Assembly election spread over eight phases, leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party continuously harp on a theme that a single party rule both at the Centre and in the state would be better than two different parties ruling, one at the Centre and other in the state. Congress leaders used to argue in a similar vein when the UPA was in power at the Centre.
This argument is questionable as it is violative of the federal order provided under the Constitution and in the context of rapid development. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, the most populous and electorally significant state as it sends 80 Lok Sabha members, has been ruled by the same party that rules at the Centre. But there is no tangible evidence of spectacular development in various indicators of education, health, employment generation and infrastructure facilities. In elementary factors like maintenance of law and order and providing security to women and the lower castes the performance of the state government is grim.
The Hathras, Unnao and Kanpur atrocity cases involving both the law protectors and local administration in committing heinous crimes against women are cruel reminders that in UP nothing has changed at the ground level. There is even no increase in financial assistance, which is a good indicator that even if a different political outfit rules, parity in financial allocation is maintained for all the states. It is the same situation in MP and Tripura.
The more developed Gujarat and Karnataka also have the same tale to tell. In Gujarat, many indices of human development are well below oppositionruled West Bengal. Haryana and Assam have the highest unemployment rates and in both states the party at the Centre rules the state too. Probably the most interesting negation of the argument is Gujarat where Prime Minister Modi’s Gujarat model achieved impressive growth when the UPA was ruling at the Centre.
Historically, Tamil Nadu has been ruled by Opposition parties since 1967 and its parameters ~ be it economic development or social indicators ~ have been better than the national average. Kerala is another example where two parties have alternatively held power without much effect in governance and development. Himachal Pradesh has registered cent percent literacy and made massive strides in bringing environmental safeguards. Here too many a times the state has been ruled by a party different from that at the centre.
To press for single party rule at the Centre and states goes against the grain of cooperative federalism which is referred to as marble cake federalism because of its functional cooperation, partnership and interdependence between the Centre and states. Since its inception the German federation has been based on this principle. Even in the USA ever since the days of New Deal legislations, cooperative federalism has replaced dual federalism. With increasing intervention in states and regulations on issues like a minimum wage mandatorily applicable in the entire nation, the federal government has been playing a pivotal role even in areas traditionally reserved for the states.
Both in the United States and in Germany different political parties have ruled at the centre and the states and that is welcomed democratically and on grounds of citizen participation. In Germany, the representational party system ensures that both at the Centre and in the states only coalitions would rule and that creates a situation of heterogeneity of political formations which the Germans cherish.
The argument of elimination of conflict and emergence of consensus is also doubtful as federalism inherently implies well defined spheres of power between the Centre and the state. This is done to check abuse of power and inefficiency. A major shortcoming of a highly centralized central authority is the possibility of overload and possible misdirection of policies and implementation as there would be little inputs from divergent sources.
This is acknowledged by the BJP itself with different manifestos for the ensuring four states and one union territory. The double engine proposition is a reminder of the days of India’s quasi-federalism which allowed the existence of an overdeveloped state and inefficient administration which allowed, to quote Raj Krishna, only a Hindu rate of growth which meant a paltry growth rate of 3 per cent. The tilt of the Indian Constitution towards the Centre proclaiming a union of states was deliberately included because of the situation after independence to subvert secession, as Ambedkar put it.
Within the ambit of limited powers some of the states have achieved impressive results as the advancements of social sectors in Tamil Nadu and the land reforms in West Bengal show. CPI-M-led government which ruled for continuously 34 years innovated the term of step-motherly treatment by the Centre but its Kerala counterpart did not. The implication of this was that when the CPI-M would share power at the Centre, the imbalance would be corrected.
The Mamata-led Trinamool harps on it but also offered different policies. For instance, instead of Ayushman Bharat, it has Sasta Sethi and opposes direct transfer to farmers as it argues that such transfers have to be done under the state. Modi, when he was the Chief Minister also protested central policies and wanted financial independence. He opposed the Planning Commission and GST and advocated different policies advocating cooperative federalism.
With the proclamation of GST, the scope of states to levy additional taxations have shrunk dramatically and in addition to that there are central policies like Swachch Bharat, Ujjawala and PM Kisan Bharat which are desirable but are violative of federal principles as they deal with areas that are either in the State list or in the Concurrent list. Even in these a larger consensual framework would be welcome as its implementation is by and large within the domain of the state governments The functional differentiation is being circumscribed even in agricultural reforms.
The slogans ‘one nation one tax’, ‘one nation, one market’, ‘one nation, one ration card’ and ‘one nation one vote’, proposal for simultaneous polling for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas are with the idea of deriving advantage for the ruling party/coalition at the Centre. This was established by the IDFC Institute’s study that pointed out that in 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 there was a probability that 77 per cent of voters would vote for the same party. But when it is held differently as in 2013 and 2019 it was different.
The Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath blames West Bengal as being both corrupt and incompetent but forgets that in his own state corruption is rampant and law and order situation is deplorable. He blames West Bengal for infiltration forgetting the borders are patrolled by the BSF which is under the jurisdiction of the Centre. He also refers to cow smuggling but here too the BSF is responsible.
In UP, criminals go scot free and according to the National Crime Record Bureau, in UP, serious crimes numbered 60000 in 2019 which is 14 per cent more than the national average. The great constitutionalist KC Wheare asserted that the division of power in a federation has to be divided in a way that the Central government’s powers are specified and the residue is left to the regional governments. It is not enough that spheres be independent but rather “must be marked out in a particular way”.
Wheare added the residuary powers, as they are called, must be with the regional governments. In this view a government is not federal if the powers of the regional governments are specified and the residue is left to the general government. Federalism like fundamental rights and secularism are in the realm of the basic structure of the Constitution and a violation both in action and spirit is unwarranted.
(The writer is a retired Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi)