West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called upon “Opposition parties” to band together to prevent the BJP from “destroying federalism” and playing “dirty politics”. She proposed the formation of a “Union of States” to stop the “BJP from bulldozing State governments run by other parties”.
It is culmination of the cold war between the BJP and the TMC throughout electioneering in West Bengal and thereafter. Strong words have been used, and politically significant terms like federalism and union of States used in this call which seems to have been made with a purpose.
The term federalism does not appear anywhere in the Indian Constitution. India is already declared a Union of States in Article 1 of the Constitution.
The CM seems to have meant united action by political parties and pressure groups opposed to the BJP to remove it from power. States form a joint family for this purpose. The call was made after her meeting with Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait at the Bengal Secretariat who also praised this CM as “a fit candidate for PM”.
After a spectacular victory in West Bengal Assembly election, the TMC has been emboldened with extraordinary confidence to speak of a “union” against the Union government. It is revival of the idea of forming a united front tried many times before General Elections.
The idea has gained vigour ever since the steady loss in the strength of the Congress Party, State after State, removing it from the status of being the main opposition to the BJP. Farmers’ protest, which has some potential to escalate as an all-India movement because of all-India impact of farm laws and due to motivated political party support and calculated propaganda is serving as a uniting factor.
“In a federal structure, there should be a Union of State governments. If any State is harassed, then other States would fight for it. Every Chief Minister (of non-BJP ruled States) should stick together. I would urge every opposition party to unite (against the BJP) to save democracy”, said Mamata.
State and State government are terms used interchangeably, but these are not synonymous. States are immaterial social objects, organisations, whereas government is an apparatus made of groups of people vested with power to control and govern the State at a particular time. Government is the tool with which State power is employed.
In 2017 also, in the preparatory stage of 2019 election, Mamata Banerjee, along with KCR of Telangana, was keen on forming a Third Front. She wanted strong States by transfer of many subjects from Union list to State list. She said that the Centre should keep only four departments under its control – defence, external affairs, currency, and railways – and focus on diplomacy, defence, national security, and national highways.
India is declared in the Constitution as a union of States and not federation of States. It has significant unitary and non-federal features also such as a strong and indestructible centre, single Constitution that is flexible, single citizenship, integrated judiciary, All-India Services, emergency provisions granting power to the Centre to override States, right of President in the case of bills reserved for his consideration by the Governor of a State, and veto power over bills passed by a State legislature that limit the autonomy of States.
In the uneven development of different parts of the nation then and which still continues, to establish freedom, equality, and justice, the authority of the Centre has to prevail.
Ambedkar has stated that there are two crucial provisions that make India a “Union of States”. One is that it was not born out of an agreement among States like the American federation; and another is that States cannot secede from the union. The division of States is made for convenience of administration. Suggestions to declare India as a federal republic of autonomous units were expressly rejected in the Constituent Assembly.
Still, States are not appendages to the Centre. Federalism in the Indian Constitution, in the words of the Supreme Court in S R Bommai case (1994) “is not a matter of administrative convenience, but one of principle – the outcome of our own process and a recognition of ground realities”. Read along with Ambedkar’s elucidation, it becomes clear that the Union of States, which may be deemed Indian model of federation — has been adopted as a basic principle.
It is often described as an indestructible union of destructible States. That is why it has been possible in our country to reorganise States, redraw State boundaries, bifurcate and trifurcate states, and form new States. States cannot secede from the Indian Union while in federal States like USA or Pakistan, States can secede.
Bengal CM’s call is for a Union of States and the appeal is to non-BJP ruled States and not for all States. It brings in political party affiliation as the qualification to join the Union and take part in united action. The target for change is not the Constitution, but the ruling party at the Centre. Such a Union obviously will not be needed once the ruling party at the Centre is changed.
Harold Laski, whose books are prescribed as textbooks in political science, raised doubts over the survival of federalism as an approach to political organisation in the context of the US. But, federalism survives and is going strong at national, sub-national and international levels and demands attention and changes. There are varieties of federal governance in different countries across the world like cooperative federalism, competitive federalism, and coercive federalism.
Regional parties have become vociferous in claiming more say in governance in recent decades as they have become key players in deciding government formation at the Centre and States after many elections. Social diversities are at the base of the multiparty system giving rise literally to hundreds of political parties. Coalition governments at the Centre with no party winning majority of Lok Sabha seats led to increasing influence of regional and even local parties thereby increasing demands of State governments ruled by regional parties.
Demand for more autonomy for States as a practical solution, as a right, as political necessity, and as logical politics in the context of coalition governments are the new factors working in Indian federalism. Strong State leaders have emerged, many of them better known and even more popular nationally than many ministers at the Centre. Such leaders, who cannot aspire for leadership of the entire nation, but able to play a vital role in national politics in coalition governments are keen on claiming more powers for State governments and more say for States in national issues. They tend to come together and form a “Union”.
Union of States are not trade unions to play a politics of demands and threats, strikes and bandh, non-cooperation and boycott and try to undermine laws and regulations. Opportunistic unions will not serve national interests. Unions must assume a high moral stature if they have a genuine cause to come into existence. The country does not need mere protestors to what the Centre does.