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INDIA’S FEDERAL STRUCTURE AND COALITION GOVERNANCE



  Jun 19, 2024

INDIA’S FEDERAL STRUCTURE AND COALITION GOVERNANCE



On June 4, 2024, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell short of the majority mark in the Lok Sabha, necessitating reliance on its regional partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form a government. This shift from a majoritarian approach to coalition governance presents an opportunity to rejuvenate India’s federal structure, which has faced numerous challenges over the past decade.

Challenges to Federalism

Centralization of Power

Since 2014, there has been a persistent effort to curtail the autonomy of States. Despite the rhetoric of cooperative federalism, the central government has adopted a coercive approach, centralizing power at the expense of State autonomy. Examples include:

• Imposition of Hindi: Efforts to impose Hindi on southern States.

• Misuse of Agencies: Use of regulatory and investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation to target political opponents from regional parties.

• Nationwide Lockdown: Imposing a nationwide lockdown using the Disaster Management Act without consulting Chief Ministers.

• PM CARES Fund: Creating the PM CARES Fund, which limited the flow of cash to State-run Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Funds.

• Abrogation of Article 370: Removing Jammu and Kashmir’s Statehood and abrogating Article 370, setting a concerning precedent for other States.

• Fiscal Federalism: Disturbing the balance of fiscal federalism by levying cess, which does not go into the divisible revenue pool and need not be shared with States.

Impending Census and Delimitation

The upcoming lapse of the 91st Amendment in 2026, which bases the share of parliamentary constituencies on the 1971 Census, poses a significant threat. The ruling party has indicated no intention to renew this provision, potentially leading to Hindi-speaking States acquiring a two-thirds majority, disenfranchising southern States and giving the BJP a stranglehold on Parliament.

Fiscal Disparities

The decision to base the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s allocations on the 2011 Census rather than the 1971 Census has exacerbated fiscal disparities. This shift has increased the financial burden on high-performing southern States, which subsidize poorer States with higher rates of illiteracy and population growth.

The Role of Regional Parties

While regional parties in the NDA may seek greater benefits for their States, their influence on strengthening cooperative federalism remains uncertain. The focus has largely been on securing cabinet positions and perquisites rather than advocating for a more balanced federal structure.

Reviving Cooperative Federalism


Inter-State Council

A crucial step towards reinvigorating federalism is the revival of the Inter-State Council. Established under Article 263 of the Constitution, this council can serve as a forum for consultation, decision-making, dispute resolution, and coordination between States and the central government. However, it has been largely inactive and needs to be overhauled and empowered to fulfill its potential.


Coalition Governance

The return to coalition governance provides an opportunity for States to leverage the BJP’s reduced majority to advocate for cooperative federalism. By working together, States can push for a more equitable distribution of resources and representation.

Balancing Development

Ensuring that the financial support does not become a form of persecution for high-performing States is crucial. While richer States must subsidize poorer ones, the allocation should be fair and recognize the contributions and needs of all regions.

Conclusion

The current political landscape presents a chance to strengthen India’s federal structure. By addressing the concerns of regional disparities and fostering cooperative federalism, India can ensure that its diverse States work together towards a more balanced and inclusive governance.




SRIRAM’s



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