Saturday, 10 May 2014





What is federalism?


Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various state governments of the country.

A federation has two levels of government. One is the government for the entire country that is usually responsible for a few subjects (departments) of common national interest.

The state governments at the provinces look after much of the day-to-day administering of their state.


The dual objectives federal system:


1.      To safeguard and promote unity of the country.

2.       At the same time accommodate regional diversity.


Two aspects that are crucial for the institutions and practice of federalism (Two qualities of Ideal Federalism).


1.      Governments at different levels should agree to some rules of power-sharing. They should trust each other.

2.      People must have agreement to live together.

(An ideal federal system has both aspects: mutual trust between central government and state governments and agreement between majority and minority to live together).


There are two kinds of routes through which federations are formed.


1.      The first route involves independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit to increase their security. This type of federation is called coming together federation.

2.      In this category of federations, all the States are equally powerful and strong. Examples- the USA, Switzerland and Australia

3.      The second route is where a large country decides to divide its power between the States and the national government. This type of federation is called holding together federation.

4.      In this second category, the central government tends to be more powerful than the States. Examples-India, Spain and Belgium.


What is Unitary system?


Under the unitary system, either there is only one level of government or the sub-units are subordinate to the central government. The central government can pass on orders to the state or the local government.


Explain some of the key features of federalism:


1.      There are two or more levels of government in federalism.

2.      Different levels of government govern the same citizens, but each level has its own jurisdiction for legislation, taxation and administration which are specified in the constitution.

3.      The fundamental provisions of the constitution can be changed only by consulting both the levels of government.

4.      Supreme Court has the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government. The highest court acts as an umpire if disputes arise between different levels of government.

5.      Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.







What makes India a federal country? OR What are the power sharing arrangements done in our country? OR The three (four) fold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments.


1.    Union List includes subjects of national importance such as defense, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency. They are included in this list because we need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country. The Union Government alone can make laws relating to these subjects.

2.     State List contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture and irrigation. The State Governments alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the State List.

3.    Concurrent List includes subjects of common interest to both the Union Government as well as the State Governments, such as education, forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption and succession. Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on these subjects.

4.    Subjects that do not fall in any of the three lists like computer software that came up after the constitution was made are called residuary list. Union Government has the power to legislate on these ‘residuary’ subjects.

5.    Some States of India enjoy a special status. Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. Many provisions of the Indian Constitution are not applicable to this State without the approval of the State Assembly. Indians who are not permanent residents of this State cannot buy land or house here.

How is federalism practiced in India?


1.      Linguistic States

a.       The creation of Linguistic States was the first and a major test for federal practice in our country.

b.      In 1947, the boundaries of several old States of India were changed in order to create new States.

c.       This was done to ensure that people who spoke the same language lived in the same State.

d.      Some States were created not on the basis of language but to recognize differences based on culture, ethnicity or geography.

e.       These include States like Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.

2.      Language policy

a.        Our Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language.

b.      Hindi was identified as the official language. But Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 40 per cent of Indians. Therefore, there were many safeguards to protect other languages.

c.       Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.

d.      A candidate in an examination conducted for the Central Government positions may opt to take the examination in any of these languages.

e.       States too have their own off icial languages. Much of the government work takes place in the official language of the concerned State.

3.      Centre-State relations

a.       Restructuring the Centre-State relations is one more way in which federalism has been strengthened in practice.

b.      For a long time, the same party ruled both at the Centre and in most of the States. This meant that the State governments did not exercise their rights as autonomous federal units.

c.       In those days, the Central Government would often misuse the Constitution to dismiss the State governments that were controlled by rival parties. This undermined the spirit of federalism.

d.      All this changed significantly after 1990. This period saw the rise of regional political parties in many States of the country.

e.       System of coalition government led to a new culture of power sharing and respect for the autonomy of State Governments. This trend was supported by a major judgement of the Supreme Court that made it difficult for the Central Government to dismiss state governments.


Decentralisation in India



What is decentralization? Explain its needs.


1.      When some powers are taken away from Central and State governments and given to local government bodies, it is called decentralisation.

2.      The basic idea behind decentralisation is that there are a large number of problems and issues which are best settled at the local level. People have better knowledge of problems in their localities.

3.      They also have better ideas on where to spend money and how to manage things more efficiently. Besides, at the local level it is possible for the people to directly participate in decision making.

4.      Elections to these local governments were not held regularly.

5.       Local governments did not have any powers or resources of their own.



What were the major steps that taken towards decentralization to make the third-tier of democracy more powerful and effective?

1.     Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies once in five years

2.    Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

3.    At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.

4.    An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.

5.    The State and central governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies.




Explain the working of Local Self Government in India?

1.       Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat. A president or sarpanch is directly elected by all the adult population living in that village.

2.      A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form a panchayat samiti or block samiti. The members of this representative body are elected by all the panchyat members in that block.

3.      All the panchayat samitis or mandals in a district together constitute the zilla (district) parishad. Most members of the zilla parishad are elected. Zilla parishad chairperson is the political head of the zilla parishad.

4.      Similarly, local government bodies exist for urban areas as well. Municipalities are set up in towns and small cities. Municipal chairperson is the political head of the municipality.

5.      Big cities are constituted into municipal corporations. In a municipal corporation such an elected representative is called the mayor.



power sharing

Power sharing

The Ethnic composition of Belgium


1.       59 per cent lives in the Flemish region and speaks Dutch language.

2.      40 per cent people live in the Wallonia region and speak French.

3.      1% of the Belgians speak German.

4.      In the capital city Brussels, 80 per cent people speak French while 20 per cent are Dutch speaking.

5.      The minority French-speaking community was relatively rich and powerful. But the majority Dutch-speaking community was poor and weak.


The Ethnic composition of Sri Lanka


1.      Sri Lanka is an island nation, and has about two crore people.

2.      The major social groups are the Sinhala-speakers (74 per cent) and the Tamil-speakers (18 per cent).

3.      Among Tamils there are two subgroups. Tamil natives of the country are called ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’. The rest, whose forefathers came from India as plantation workers during colonial period, are called ‘Indian Tamils’.

4.      Most of the Sinhala speaking people are Buddhist, while most of the Tamils are Hindus or Muslims.

5.      There are about 7 per cent Christians, who are both Tamil and Sinhala.


What is Majoritarianism? How was it practiced in Sri Lanka?


1.      Majoritarianism is a belief in which the majority community should be able to rule a country in whichever way it wants, by disregarding the wishes and needs of the minority.

2.      In 1956, an Act was passed to recognise Sinhala as the only official language.

3.       The governments followed preferential policies that favoured Sinhala applicants for university positions and government jobs.

4.       A new constitution recognised Buddhism as the national religion.

5.     Sri Lankan Tamils felt that none of the major political parties led by the Buddhist Sinhala leaders were sensitive to their language and culture. They felt that the constitution and government policies denied them equal political rights and freedoms.



Accommodation arrangements in Belgium


1.      Belgium amended its constitution four times so as to work out an arrangement that would enable everyone to live together within the same country.

2.      Constitution prescribes that the number of Dutch and French-speaking ministers shall be equal in the central government. Some special laws require the support of majority of members from each linguistic group.

3.      Many powers of the central government have been given to state governments of the two regions of the country. The state governments are not subordinate to the Central Government.

4.      Brussels has a separate government in which both the communities have equal representation.

5.      Apart from the Central and the State Government, there is a third kind of government called community government. This ‘community government’ is elected by people belonging to one language community. This government has the power regarding cultural, educational and language-related issues.


What do we learn from these two stories of Belgium and Sri Lanka?


1.      In Belgium, the leaders have realized that the unity of the country is possible only by respecting the feelings and interests of different communities and regions.

2.      This realisation resulted in mutually acceptable arrangements for sharing power.

3.      In Sri Lanka the majority community wants to force its dominance over others and refuses to share power.

4.       This resulted in long civil war and heavy loss of men and material.


Why is power sharing desirable?


1.      Prudential Reason: Power sharing is good because it helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups.

2.      Since social conflict often leads to violence and political instability. Power sharing is a good way to ensure the stability of political order.

3.      Moral Reason: Power sharing is the very spirit of democracy. A democratic rule involves sharing power with those who live with its effects.

4.      In a democracy people have a right to be consulted on how they are to be governed. A legitimate government is one where citizens participate in the system.


Forms of power sharing



1.      Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary. This is called horizontal distribution of power. It allows different organs of government to exercise different powers. This arrangement is called a system of checks and balances.

2.      Power can be shared among governments at different levelsa central government for the entire country and state governments at the regional level. Division of powers involving higher and lower levels of government is called vertical division of power.

3.      Power can also be shared among different social groups such as the religious and linguistic groups.

4.      Power can also be shared by different political parties such as national parties share power with regional parties in coalition government.

5.      Power can also be shared by different pressure groups and movements such as associations of traders, businessmen, industrialists, farmers and industrial workers either through participation in governmental committees or bringing influence on the decision-making process.




Explain horizontal distribution of power from the Indian context


1.      Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary. This is called horizontal distribution of power.

2.      It allows different organs of government placed at the same level to exercise different powers and separation ensures that none of the organs can exercise unlimited power.

3.      In India ministers and government officials exercise power and they are responsible to the Parliament or State Assemblies.

4.      Similarly the judges are appointed by the executive, they can check the functioning of executive or laws made by the legislatures.

5.      Each organ checks the other. This results in a balance of power among various institutions. This arrangement is called a system of checks and balances.


Explain Vertical Division of power OR Federal division of power from the Indian context.


1.      Power can be shared among governments at different levels – a central government for the entire country and state governments at the regional level. Such a central government for the entire country is usually called federal government.

2.       In India, we refer to it as the Central or Union Government. The governments at the regional level are called State Governments.

3.      In India the constitution clearly lays down the powers of different levels of government. This is called federal division of power.

4.      The same principle is extended to levels of government lower than the State government, such as the municipality and panchayat.

5.       This type of division of powers involving higher and lower levels of government is called vertical division of power.




Explain power sharing between different social groups from the Indian context


1.      Power can be shared among different social groups such as the religious and linguistic groups.

2.      In India there are constitutional and legal arrangements whereby socially weaker sections are represented in the legislatures and administration.

3.      The system of ‘reserved constituencies’ in assemblies and the parliament of our country is meant to give space in the government and administration to diverse social groups.

4.      This method is used to give minority communities a fair share in power and  a way of accommodating social diversities.




Explain power sharing between different Political parties and pressure groups from the Indian context


1.      Power can also be shared by different political parties, pressure groups and movements.

2.      In India the citizens have freedom to choose among various contenders for power.  This takes the form of competition among different parties. Such competition ensures that power does not remain in one hand.

3.      Power is shared among different political parties that represent different ideologies and social groups. Sometimes this kind of sharing can be direct, when two or more parties form an alliance to contest elections and form a coalition government.

4.      In a democracy, Power can also be shared by different pressure groups and movements such as associations of traders, businessmen, industrialists, farmers and industrial workers etc.

5.      These pressure groups share power either through participation in governmental committees or bringing influence on the decision-making process of the government.