Indian Federalism and Regionalism

The term regionalism has both negative and positive connotations. In negative sense, it denotes excessive preference to one’s region over nation. In positive sense, it denotes one’s love for his / her region, culture, language, etc. Regionalism in positive sense helps to develop a sense of belonging, brotherhood and commonness. In negative sense, it is a threat to unity and integrity of the nation.

Analysis

In Indian context, regionalism has generally a negative connotation and is seen a divisive force {which it is to a great extent} and a threat to India’s unity.

The relation of Indian Federalism and Regionalism must be analyzed in the light of following questions:

  • To what extent, Indian federalism is responsible for regionalism in India?
  • To what extent, regionalism is responsible for the type of federalism we have?
To what extent, Indian federalism is responsible for regionalism in India?

To answer this question, we may have a look upon various reasons which lead to regionalism. There are two major reasons which lead to rise of regionalism {in negative context}. Firstly, it is the consistent neglect of a particular area or region by ruling authorities, leading to uneven distribution of resources. Secondly, it may also be because of the encouragement given by local leaders to maintain their hold in particular region.

Though the constitution has tried to make provisions for equal distribution of resources and equal development of the country, yet the disparity is so wide that centre’s apathy towards some of the areas has led to strong feeling of regionalism in the country. This led to several movements for demand of separate states; demand of freedom from Indian union; demand of certain UTs for full statehood; demand of favour in inter-state disputes by particular region. These have kept our country on toe for many decades and are expected to keep same for long. It has resulted in rise of so many regional political parties and secessionist movements. The nature of Indian federalism is held responsible for regionalism mainly because provision of strong centre / weak states has led to too much interference from centre in the matters of states.

There are several fallouts of structure with strong centre and independent state government. Firstly, the state governments are not fully accountable. They depend on centre for funds and for support in any adverse situation. Most parts of India are left with virtual absence of local governments. Thus, our federalism has ensured that it hurts most where it touches people most. Our strong centre is too far to provide any real representation or participation with the common people. Secondly, the subject classification in seventh schedule has not been fair, particularly with respect to 11th and 12th schedules (local governments). The third tier of governance is totally dependent on second tier which itself is totally dependent on first tier. Thus closest tier of governance to people is also the weakest tier. This has its own manifestation in fiscal federalism also. The devolution of power has not been just in case of second and third tiers. There have been growing demands for decentralization of power and finance both for the states and to grass root levels under the backdrop of gross inability of the Centre to deliver public services in an efficient manner all through this vast country.

In summary, federal structure has not been able to address the regional disparity and led to development of only certain areas.

The suggested reforms are as follows: firstly, there is a need of proper fiscal federalism in real sense up to grass root level. Secondly, centre-state relations should be such that centre interferes in matters of states only in unavoidable national interests. Thirdly, there should be a system of national education that helps to overcome regional feelings and develop an attachment towards the nation. Obviously, each has its own issues and challenges.

To what extent, regionalism is responsible for the type of federalism we have?

Geographically, socially as well as economically, India is one of the most diverse countries of the world. The Indian federalism has been a proven method to accommodate aspirations of various regions. In words of Granville Austin, Indian federalism is pragmatic and its own type of “cooperative federalism”. He argued that Indian federalism has given out a strong centre but not yet the weak states. Further, the decentralization was not seen by our founding fathers as only an administrative tool to a complex nation with huge ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversities. They tried to create a living social space around constitutional protection blending together the price of citizenship with richness of multicultural diversities. Thus, they tried to accommodate regional aspirations in constitution by providing for special provisions, rights of minorities, separate personal laws and special protections and affirmative action to ensure equity and justice for all.

However, mere constitutional provisions did not and could not address the sudden upsurge of ethnic identities, and their constant struggle for more autonomous spaces as reflected in the demand for separate statehood for themselves, within the federal set-up complicated the task of a centralized governance from any level.

The voice for demand of more states has become more prominent in recent times, especially after the formation of Telangana in 2014. Recent demands like four fold-division of Uttar Pradesh and creation of Gorkhaland from West Bengal are instances of aggressive regionalism that pose a threat to federal structure of India. The agitations for Gorkhaland, Bodoland and Karbi Anglong have been revived. This is apart from the new demands for a separate Vidharbha State in Maharashtra, and Harit Pradesh and Poorvanchal in Uttar Pradesh. The more the number of states the more the centre will be held hostage to state parties on matters of national importance.

For instance, West Bengal threatened India’s Teesta river waters treaty with Bangladesh because of its possible potential costs for West Bengal. Even growing regional powers may affect effective foreign policy as the federal government may bow to the will of an individual state.India had to vote in favour of UNHRC resolution for Sri Lanka in 2012 for a backlash from Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion

Regionalism is one of the significant challenges to federalism in India.  Federalism best thrives as a democratic system when it mitigates the centralization of power sharing between the centre and the states. The pluralist character of India gives rise to many factors including regionalism. People from far north east sometimes feel themselves at a formidable distance from New Delhi and people in southern part of the country with bigger states feel neglected having been within larger states. Regionalism or love for one’s region, despite India’s tradition of successful federal rule over the years since independence, still raises its head in different parts of the country.

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