India’s federal system needs a new thrust

3 Min
India’s federal system needs a new thrust

Hari Jaisingh
At the seventh meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the country’s federal structure and cooperative federalism have emerged as a “model for the world” during the pandemic. In this context, he gave credit to state governments, which, he said, focused on grassroots and delivered public services through cooperation across political lines.

Elaborating his political line of thinking, he stated:

“Every State played a crucial role according to its strength and contributed to India’s fight against Covid. This led to India emerging as an example for the developing nations to look up to as a global leader.”

These are indeed reassuring words from the executive head of the country. In fact, despite the centralizing and homogenizing thrusts of today’s modern world, India has emerged as a shining example of a modern democratic state having effective instruments of human freedom and social justice.

The India model of development has been based on the pursuit of four basic goals.

First, national integration of an intricate and diverse social structure.

Second, economic development with due stress on raising standards of living of those who have been left behind in the march forward.

Three, working for social equality.

Four, ensuring a well-functioning political democracy against hierarchically-oriented and inequitable social order. The democratic structure has thus been used to transform the lopsided social structure.

To draw this basic framework does not mean that we have been able to establish the desired nation-building goals. We still have a long way to go to check frustration and bitterness prevailing in different sections of society.

In fact, this underlines the failure of the system to respond adequately to the rising expectations of the masses at different levels. This has been a major tragedy of the country’s democratic operation.

Indeed, the political system has failed to stand the test of performance. Equally noteworthy has been institutional erosion. Consider this to be the failure of the country’s leadership.

Looking beyond, what is needed is a complete overhaul of the system with a view to promoting, as Professor Rajni Kothari once put it, new concepts of “public management and accountability”.

Apart from rational restructuring of ministries and departments, the lower levels of administration, which are vital from the citizens’ point of view, require special attention. It is at these levels that a million points of contact are established every day. What is required is simplification of rules and procedures. No high-powered commission is required for this task. The answers lie in the much-neglected pro-people steps.

We surely do not need a commission for simplifying rules and procedures, eliminating the multiplicity of levels through which an official order or paper has to be passed. However, the problem here is both politicians and bureaucrats are hardly interested in eliminating the hiatus between governmental structure and the public. It is, therefore, for the people to assert themselves and seek a better system of work. However, under the current regime, the ability of the public to assert has been tamed.

True, our society at all levels is undergoing a change. The socio-economic and political structure is in a state of ferment. There are also stimulants fostering change. All the same, we also have ‘no-changers’ in our midst. Infused with their own ‘grab all’ mentality, they have ceased to become the guardians of rationality.

Be that as it may, in a democratic polity such as ours, honest communication with the people can make a difference. In fact, the country’s federal structure at all levels has to be directed towards the uplift of ordinary citizens, beyond the Covid fight. It needs to be kept in mind that those who graduate into a minimum standard of economic and social well-being must make room for the less unfortunate brethren. Social justice and equality demand this.

What is, however, regrettable is that politicians of all shades and hues view issues through the prism of partisan and electoral gains without caring for the marginalised. The main problem here is arrogance of power of leaders and their reluctance to consult major policy decisions, which have a bearing on the country’s federal structure.

In light of these harsh facts, we have to look critically at our development model. In this context, it needs to be stated that the traditional concepts of poverty, democracy and development have to be invested with new meaning so as to make them more and more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the marginalised. For this, we have to explore appropriate institutional expression for new challenges.

—* The author is a vetern journalist and commentator