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Democratic Power Shift in Federal India


Politics in India have since independence gone through tremendous transformation. Although the most dramatic changes have occurred since the early 1990s, the less glaring earlier discontinuities are often glossed over, such, for example, as those that came to pass in the fourth general election in 1967 presumably due to the short-lived phase of the unstable non-Congress coalition governments in north Indian states. This also goes for the changes that followed between the Nehru and the Indira Gandhi eras due to these being masked by the apparently continuous dominance of the Indian National Congress. The Janata Party interlude of the late 1970s is also often overlooked in long-range shot of Indian politics and its major phases. Again, due to its short spell. These are nonetheless notable and critical.


            In this article our objective is to present an overview of eight more or less parameter-altering power shifts in the Indian political system thematically rather than chronologically. Looking back and looking ahead, these power shifts appear to stand out as critical transitions and redefining moments in Indian politics and their adjustments to changing socio-political, economic, psycho-cultural foundations and external environments. These political realignments and redefinitions appear almost revolutionary if we remind ourselves that India is democratically up against the traditional cumulative inequalities of a country with feudal and colonial history and a strong patriarchy. There are also the contemporary trends of corruption and criminalization of politics and economy.

            We see the democratic power shift in federal India through the prisms of the following eight dimensions of change. They are partly overlapping and partly reinforcing each other, but are sometimes confounding. We will sketch out each in turn.

1. In the initial decades of postcolonial India political scientists like Rajni Kothari (1970), W. H. Morris-Jones (1964, 1978), Myron Weiner (1957, 1962,1967), and Stanley Kochanek (1968) seemed to consider the “Congress system” or the one-party dominant system (hegemonizing the interest group structures as well), and the government and opposition party building and working as the determinative political structures in the newly independent Indian nation-state. Liberals like Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph (1987) and neo-Marxists like Pranab Bardhan (1984) and Anupam Sen (1982) also considered the Indian state as sufficiently autononomous, or at least relatively autonomous, from its social or class base, as none of the major modern classes of workers or capitalists was strong enough to establish its hegemony on the state. Scholars like Donald Eugene Smith (1963), who developed the proposition of India being a secular state, also implied that the Hindus did not control the Indian state as a confessional majority per se. Competent observers of Indian politics today would have serious reservations in accepting these propositions without revisionist qualifications. There are obviously some assumptions of power shifts from the autonomous political structures of party system to civil and military bureaucracies, or to corporate capital, although not to the extent of the erosion of autonomy of democratic and secular politics. The bureaucracy stealthily got the better of the party system when electoral democracy challenged the hegemony of the Congress Party, and Indira Gandhi destroyed the institutional residue of the Congress Party in pursuit of personalized mass charisma through her populist Garibi Hatao to corner her right-wing old guard colleagues dubbed as the Syndicate (M. P. Singh 1981). The corporate capitalist class has been gradually increasing its leverage in governance and party political and electoral processes since neocapitalist reforms were accelerated since 1991 by the Congress minority government.


     2. A similar assumption of power shift is discernible in studies of caste/tribe/class and politics and electoral democracy, caste and politics. Sample, for example, the works of Yogendra Yadav (1999) who talks about the “second democratic upsurge” evident in increasing electoral turnouts disproportionately larger in state assembly elections than in the national, of Christophe Jaffrelot (2003) who sees a “silent revolution” in the political rise of lower castes in various regions of India, and of D. L. Sheth (1999) and Leela Fernandes (2007) who see an enlarged new middle class formation with origins in complex caste and other ethnic configurations taking place. They differentiate the emerging  new middle class as differentiated from the rise of the earlier generations of the English-educated middle class in British India and independent India (B. B. Misra 1961). These studies underline the processes of deepening of democracy and extended class formations that shift power from the urban to the rural locations, from upper castes and small middle classes to the lower castes and expanding and more diversified old and new middle classes. In these developments we see the traditional caste and feudal hierarchies being politically, economically, and socially undermined. Increasingly, the benefits of public policies of reservation in legislatures, government jobs, and education are being fought for politically and judicially. Reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), over and above those for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) became particularly contentious and conflictual since the implementation of the recommendations of Mungerilal Commission report in Bihar in 1978, those of the Mandal Commission report in central government jobs in 1990, and of a similar reservation package in Uttar Pradesh in 1993. The political fallout of this politics of reservation has often been called “Mandalization” of Indian politics that in the opinion of some observers produced the reactive response of the rise of Hindutva to counter it, though probably it would be more correct to say that Mandal has only reinforced the Mandir movement of the Hindu Right that was primarily a backlash to what the Hindu right calls “pseudo-secularism” or “minorityism” of the Congress Party (M. P. Singh and Rekha Saxena 1998). In any case, in the opinion of political sociologist Andre Beteille (1981) the politically ascendant OBCs have transformed the crutch of reservation into a stick to beat the system with! The Supreme Court in its Mandal judgement (1993), more or less, sustained the OBC reservations of 1990, agreeing with the government that by and large the constitutional category of “class” may be operationalized by the indicator of birth in one of the OBCs, yet there would be a miscarriage of justice if the “creamy layer” in these castes are not excluded from the benefits of reservation (Sivaramayya 1996). In 2006 the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government unleashed Mandal-II by introducing reservation for SCs/STs/OBCs in admissions to central universities/Indian Institutes of Technology/Indian Institutes of Management that caused a great divide and conflict once again. The matter was again taken to the Supreme Court. In M. Nagaraj & Others v.Union of India & Others the court sustained the policy but with the qualification that the “creamy layers” in all these communities (not only in OBCs) cannot justifiably be granted these benefits (M. P Singh and Rekha Saxena 2008: 25-28).

      3. Studies of judicial behaviour in India at the institutional level have directed attention to a strikingly new kind of power shift among the three classical organs of the government, i.e. the legislature, executive, and judiciary. The superior courts, especially the Supreme Court of India since 1973, particularly since the 1990s, have become the strongest judicial organ of the state. For whereas other constitutional courts in federal political systems have reviewed only laws and executive orders, the Supreme Court of India has invented the power to review constitutional amendments as well (Upendra Baxi 1985: chapter 3) By creating the jurisprudence of the unamendability of the “basic structure of the constitution”, the court has put a limitation to the amending power of the Parliament and wrested the political custody over the constitution from the aggregate legislature (Granville Austin 2000: chapter 1). Since the 1980s the courts changed the rule of locus standi whereby only the affected parties could move the court and introduced what has come to be known as public interest litigation (PIL) or social action litigation (SAL) under which third parties could stand before the court, and even judges suo motu could take cognizance of a miscarriage of justice and start judicial process and order remedies and monitor the implementation. The practice has come to the rescue of the victims of bureaucratic lethargy and highhandedness, the poor, and those whose human rights have been trampled upon with impunity (P. N. Bhagvati/ Upendra Baxi, both 1987). The Indian political system was previously primarily executive-driven until the 1970s during the Nehru era and Indira Gandhi’s rule. It has now come to be predominantly driven by the judiciary in the opinion of competent observers of the superior courts (Rajeev Dhavan 2007).


4. Likewise, there has occurred a federal power shift in Indian politics over the years. The one-party dominant system under the aegis of the Indian National Congress in the initial post-Independence decades tended to overshadow the federal features of the constitution and privileged the parliamentary aspects. The Parliament too was executive-dominated, in fact, there has developed a prime ministerial system that tended to smother the collective cabinet system under both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The cabinet duumvirate of Nehru and his Deputy Prime Minister Ballabhbhai Patel was too short-lived (1946-1950) (Michael Brecher 1966). The tendency towards wider power-sharing and collective cabinet system under Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, and Rajiv Gandhi were interregnums and rather transitional phases all too brief.

            Not that, federal pressures were totally absent in the Nehru era in the 1950s and 1960s and the Indira Gandhi era in the 1970s and 1980s. Both had to contend with powerful and persistent agitations for creation of uni-lingual states as also states based on tribal identities. The federal map of India was largely redrawn during the premierships of these two Congress stalwarts rather reluctantly. The reorganization of states and the turnover of ruling parties in states in the 1960s and 1970s were contributory to successful federal accommodation of some regional movements and parties wedded to Tamil separatism and revolutionary communist political action in some south Indian states and West Bengal. Similar success was not replicated in the North-West and the North-East presumably due to deeper cultural and tribal divides that existed between these peripheral areas and the mainstream Hindu-majority belts in the North and the South.

            The initial phase of non-Congress governments in states were mostly heterogeneous inter-party coalitions and mostly unstable. In due course two important exceptions to this generalization may be noted. These were the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam/All India Dravida Munnetra  Kzhagam governments in electoral coalition with the Indian National Congress and governmental coalition with some smaller Tamil parties in the state, and  the Left Front governments in West Bengal. The latter now holds a record of continuous spell in power since 1977 to date (Spring of 2009). In the opinion of Ross Mallick (1993:1), in the realm of development policy implementation, this “this longest ruling democratically elected communist government in world history” has been “the most critical in providing a working example for the rest of India, and in consolidating Communist power.”

            The 1980s witnessed the gradual rise to power at the state level of non-Congress parties even though the Congress continued to enjoy majority in the national Parliament throughout the decade. The conclaves of non-Congress Chief Ministers in the South and non-Congress Chief Ministers all over India began to be convened and a concerted pressure mounted on the Congress government at the Centre. Extra-parliamentary political morchas by the Akali Dal were organized and subsequently overtaken by the Khalistan separatist movement in Punjab in the 1980s.

            An anti-foreigners movement against Bangladeshi illegal migrants also emerged in full swings in the late 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. A regional accord signed between the Government of India and the Assam movement leaders in 1985 defused the movement feeding on the anxiety of the Assamese linguistic ethnic and Hindu ethnics of being reduced into a minority in their home state by the tidal wave of illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and the facilitated the electoral rise to power of the new regional party Asom Gan  Parishad. But the discontent of the Assamese continued to flow into the insurgency led by the terrorist and separatist United Liberation Front of Assam from within the state and sanctuaries in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

            Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appointed a constitutional Commission on Centre-State Relations chaired by Justice R. S. Sarkaria in 1983 to study the problem and make recommendations for reforms. Its report submitted in 1987-1988 suggested a fundamental change in the mindset of the political elites and some federally relevant constitutional amendments.

            Since 1989-90 Jammu and Kashmir slipped into separatist insurgency that kept the state, like Punjab and Assam before hand, under direct rule from New Delhi under the emergency provision of the constitution meant to cover the “breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state. Electoral and legislative processes were restored in the state by the latter half of the decade, but terrorist activities by infiltrators from across the Line of Control dividing the Indian state and the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have continued. So has the separatist politics by the multiple-party Hurriet Conference in the state. Democratic regional parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party owing allegiance to the Indian federation along with the Indian National Congress have alternated in power in coalition governments since then. After the 2008 assembly elections in the state which witnessed remarkable rise in electoral turnout compared to the previously held recent elections despite the militants` call for boycott the political atmospherics in the state have changed for the better. The National Conference- Indian National Congress coalition government of Omar Abdullah is in the saddle at this writing. The separatist like Sajjad Gani Lone, the chairman of the People’s Party Conference, has announced the significant shift from separatism to electoral politics in April 2009. The Mirwaiz-led All-Parties Hurriet Conference too has endorsed electoral politics by following the electorate’s participation in the previous state assembly election defying its boycott call to reverse its position on electoral participation. Other factors that contributed to this outcome are Pakistan’s descent into anarchy due to the Frankenstein of the Jihad and Taliban as well as the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at the hands of the Sri Lankan army after two decades of civil war.

            A durable and so far irreversible phase of greater federalization of Indian politics had to wait until after the 1989 Lok Sabha election. Douglas V. Verney and Balveer Arora (1995), B. D. Dua and M. P. Singh (2003), Rekha Saxena (2006), etc. have variously drawn attention to the accelerated process of “federalization” in the sense of greater regionalization of the party system and of the predominantly parliamentary system. The process of political federalization was soon followed in tandem by business liberalization and gradual globalization of the Indian economy that reinforced federal autonomy of states and paved the way for the sharing of sovereignty in the federal market economy of India. The concomitant economic changes not only transformed India1s Administrative State into a Regulatory State but also opened up the economy for the private sector – national and multinational (Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph 2008; M. P. Singh 2009).

           A. S. Narang (1995) and Akhtar Majeed (2004) have drawn attention to the phenomenon of ethno-nationalism and deep religious and ethnic cleavages underlying the federal politics of the country. Sanjib Barua (2005) has highlighted the complex dialectics of ethnic, tribal, and religious politics in India’s northeast and the “durable disorder” there. 

            Fiscal and economic aspects of federalism have also been subject to significant changes since business liberalization in 1991. Federal transfers to states under the Finance Commission dispensation are based on a multiple criteria but the major objective of the equalization formula is to ensure equal standards of public health, education, and other services at more or less equal levels of taxation throughout the nation. Various Finance Commissions appointed every five years by the President of India to study the finances of the governments in India and recommend the formula for the sharing of the divisible resources for the next five years have typically given the greatest weight to backwardness and population of states. The more populous the state and the greater the extent of its socio-economic backwardness, the larger its share in the federal transfer. Beginning with the Tenth Finance Commission Report (1995-2000) some shift in the weight of various criteria is evident. It recommended an alternative scheme. Instead of the earlier shared pool of the non-corporate income tax and Union excise duties, it recommended that all Central taxes, excepting only surcharges be made a common shareable pool, out of which 29 percent was to devolve to the states (The Report, Government of India, Ministry of Finance, chapter XIII). The Eightieth Constitutional Amendment introduced its recommendation, though it reduced the proposed devolutionary share of 29 percent to 26 percent

            The Eleventh Finance Commission Report (2000-2005) recommended a formula for horizontal distribution of resources among the states based on six criteria applicable to each state with relative percentage weight as follows: (1) population (10.0); (2) income taken to the distance between the highest and the next highest per capita State Domestic Product (62.5); (3) area (7.5); (4) index of infrastructure (7.5); (5) tax raising (5.0); and (6) fiscal discipline (7.5). Computed by this formula, the share of various states ranges between 19.79 percent for Uttar Pradesh and 0.184 percent for Sikkim (The Report, chapter II, para 2.51).

            The Twelfth Finance Commission Report (2005-2010) slightly changed the criteria and weights assigned for inter se determination of shares of states. The index of infrastructure was inexplicably dropped, weight of population and area were increased (25.0 and 10.0 percents respectively), those of income distance and tax effort were reduced (50.0 and 7.5 percents respectively), that that of better fiscal management remained the same (1.5 percent). Inter se shares of states did not significantly change which is evident by the same range among the states with marginal difference in values for U. P. at 19.264 and for Sikkim at 0.227 percentage points (The Report, chapter 7, para 7.34).


5. Political and administrative thought in India have always set a great store by popular sovereignty, or power from the people or to the people. The preamble to the constitution of India proclaims “We, the people of India…” as the source of all political power, even though the Constituent Assembly got the transfer of power by legal means from the British Parliament in the twilight of the British Empire at the end of the Second World War. Be it what it may, it is also true that this transfer of power was preceded by a long, ideologically differentiated, sociologically deep, and culturally diverse freedom struggle on a nationalist political platform put together, by and large, by the Indian National Congress. The Congress leadership initially followed legal methods of demand articulation, but beginning with the Swadeshi movement in Bengal and the advent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the nationalist horizon a decade later, the nationalists took recourse of noncooperation and civil disobedience movements that ended with the Quit India  Movement and Gandhi`s call for “Do or Die” to his countrymen. Moreover, even though the constitution of India does not go beyond representative democracy, the prefatory statement of purpose of the 44th constitutional amendment (1978) states that ‘certain changes in the constitution which would have the effect of impairing its secular or democratic character, abridging or taking away fundamental rights, prejudicing or impeding free and fair elections on the basis of adult suffrage and compromising the independence of judiciary, can be made only if they are approved by the people of India by a majority of votes at a referendum in which at least fifty-one per cent of the electorate participate.” This amendment puzzlingly left article 368, which lays down the process of amendment, untouched! However, the Supreme Court of India gropingly invented its jurisprudence of the unamendability of the “basic structure/features” of the constitution – whatever it may mean - by 1973 that has subsequently survived. The power to amend the constitution that was initially given to the Parliament/state legislatures is now subject to judicial review. The superior courts in India are the only courts in a democratic set-up other than the constitutional court in Germany that review not only laws and executive orders but also constitutional amendments!

            The evolution of Indian constitutionalism suggests that at various stages the focal points of the dialectics of progression have shifted from theme to theme. M. P. Singh and Ravi Bhatia (2008: 207) have referred in this context to “the inevitable ambivalence between parliamentarism (based on centralization) and federalism (based on decentralization), governmental authority (parliament, executive, and Supreme Court), and popular sovereignty, political democracy and economic development, private enterprise and regulatory state, etc. These ambivalences were engendered by a legal transfer of power from the British to the Indian hands and a freedom struggle in which satyagraha, swaraj, and swadeshi were the main motifs.”  In the words of Sarbani Sen (2007: 198): “The Indian constitutional tradition illustrates that genuine fundamental disagreement on higher law principles will exist in society, and that collective citizen participation in politics can continue to be a valid basis to reach a consensus, and to control and govern their common affairs even in the context of a modern constitutional state.”


6. Scholars at the Institute of Social Sciences (New Delhi) led by George Mathew and others in this field have emphasized the trend of the graduation of Panchayatt Raj from legislation to constitutional entrenchment and, in promise, to a movement. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led left front governments in West Bengal and Kerala have tried to raise the Panchayats from an agency of mere perfunctory local governance to structures of political mobilization for socioeconomic transformation and a concerted state-local strategy of genuine federalization in confronting bourgeois parties in the states and the Centre in New Delhi. Political mobilizational goals and local developmental functions of the state have been forged at the level of panchayats particularly in West Bengal presumably because of the uninterrupted rule of the Left Front since 1977. In Kerala the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front have been alternating in power for quite some time at regular interval in a musical chair. This has prevented the kind of complete identification of the panchayats with the dominant party in the ruling coalition in Kerala that is witnessed in West Bengal. Even the Janata Dal and now its state splinters, despite being predominantly a party of rural farmers and peasants, have failed to develop a consistent strategy of making the panchayats either the hub of peasant political mobilization or an agency of rural development. The Ashok Mehta Committee on Panchayat Raj appointed by the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai had recommended in 1977 the replacement of the three-tier Panchayat Raj structure (set up on the basis of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report, 1957) by a two-tier structure at the village and district levels, presumably to aggregate the rural social forces into a district government. But the Janata Party government fell before completing its five-year mandate and could not implement this reform, The Janata Dal-led coalition governments between in the first half of the nineties were also quite unstable. The Janata Party government led by Ramakrishna Hegde in Karnataka and the Telgu Desam Party government headed by N. T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh did show some interest in reorganizing Panchayat Raj with some fanfare. Both these governments were elected in 1983 unseating the Congress Party for the first time since Independence in these two states.

     The constitution seventy-third and seventy-fourth amendments relating to local councils in rural and urban areas put these institutions of grassroots democracy on the constitutional footing. Although these enabling amendments still need conforming state legislations to implement them as local self-government is a state subject under the seventh schedule of the constitution,   still in the post-amendment phase the positive thing that has happened is that the institution of State Election Commission and State Finance Commission has ensured regularity of the polls and fiscal transfers to the local bodies. Their role in local planning and development is still somewhat constrained by the bureaucracy and parallel organizations of the State. Nevertheless, they are coming out from the sidelines gradually. The capture of these councils by  the socially dominant local elite is also there, but 33 percent reservation for women and proportional representation for backward classes in these councils under the constitutional amendments has freed them relatively from undue domination. 


7. The mass media also may be said to have partaken in the democratic power shift in India we have been talking about. The history of the print media goes back to 1700 and both the English and the vernacular presses have played a pioneering role in creating the Indian Renaissance and indeed the Indian nation itself. The press in British India was, depending on the prevailing political conditions, both free and unfree. A surge in nationalism and agitation would result in repressive measures, followed by periods of relative lull and lifting of controls. The fourth Estate in independent India has been remarkably free except for the resisted censorship during Indira Gandhi’s internal emergency (1975-1977). There are four major Groups of print capitalism in the country, namely, The Indian Express, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, and The Anand Bazar Patrika. The print media experienced a major expansion in growth and popularity in the wake of the internal emergency due to democratic backlash against the authoritarianism of the Congress government of Indira Gandhi that was routed in the 1977 elections. Until the 1980s the electronic media were a central government monopoly and very docile and insipid. The 1990s witnessed a major spurt in private television and radio channels – national and international. Round the clock news and views channels not only in Hindi and English but other scheduled regional languages have become a major medium of political power that significantly influence public awareness and opinion and electoral outcomes.

            The investigative journalism since the 1980s, the National Human Rights Commission Act, 1993, the movement for the right to information that culminated into the parliamentary enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2002, have together produced an unprecedented democratic ferment and fervour in India.


     8. The economic policy regime in India has undergone at least three major shifts since Independence. For over two decades Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of India’s tryst with democratic socialist vision tried to build the foundations of a liberal democratic state under the 1950 constitution, institute the strategy of a state-led industrialization aiming at a planned self-reliant mixed economy animated by the ideology of economic nationalism, and helped build up a pluralist structure of a democratic trade union movement. Growing political mobilization and participatory pressures in the backdrop of the great split in the Congress Party in 1969 prompted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to settle for a populist regime that subsequently mushroomed at the state level led by both Congress and non-Congress Chief Ministers who beat her in her own game. With growing evidence of State failure, the economy was liberalized on neoliberal capitalist line in 1991 and opened up for disinvestment, privatization, and globalization (Niraj Kumar, 2004). This move resulted in not only greater autonomy and space for the private capital but it also reinforced the growing federal and civil society autonomy. Since 1991 a series of parliamentary statutes have set up a dense cluster of independent regulatory authorities in various sectors of national economy replacing direct ministerial and bureaucratic control. Such regulators are now numerous in telecom, electricity and other sources of power, finance, insurance, companies, and so on (M. P. Singh 2003). This power shift is of foundational importance that intricately intersects with the foregoing shifts of democratic power in India.

            Since the new industrial policy of the Union government announced in 1991 state control and capacity in the field of industrial location has considerably diminished, notwithstanding formal powers of the government under the constitution. The advent of federal coalition governments since 1989, in which regional parties and chief ministers have a great deal of say, state governments have been encouraged to interact more or less direct negotiations with national and foreign direct investors and multilateral economic and financial global institutions subject to final endorsement of the Government of India. Private capitals are more inclined to invest in economically and financially buoyant states and regions like Delhi-Gurgaon, Mumbai-Pune, Bangalore-Hyderabad, and Chennai. Other areas of the country that have been industrially less vibrant or economically stagnant are down and out. This will certainly aggravate the already existing regional economic disparities and socio-political tensions and conflicts. The federal and regional states have sponsored statutory programmes of more balanced regional industrial development roping in national and a few multinational corporate concerns in what is called Special Export Processing Zones (SEZs), which is commendable. However, in a few cases notably in West Bengal the scheme has run into serious peasant political protests, e.g. Nandigram and Singur. The Tatas finally pulled out from Nandigram after having sunk considerable money and decided to locate their Nano car plant in Gujarat. The Congress government in Haryana avoided the West Bengal-type strong and violent peasant struggle against land acquisition for SEZ by a liberal compensation and royalty policy to peasants for thirty years.


            How real are these multiple power shifts in Indian politics? What is the extent of the transformations underlined here? How much of these changes go beyond the rhetorical? What are the causes and the consequences of these transformations? It is difficult not to feel that the arguments about each of the four power shifts mentioned above, while valid to a certain extent, are open to uncomfortable questions and cogent critiques.

            Is the party system in India as autonomous as democratic infrastructure linking the civil society and the state as say until the Nehru era (Nehru expired on May 27, 1964)? Since the 1970s the party system has been under great undemocratic pressures from the personalized mass appeal of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi bypassing the intermediary structures of the party under the rightwing old guard of the party called the Syndicate by the journalists and non-Indira Congress and opposition-controlled state governments. In the process the organization wing of the Congress party was destroyed by the parliamentary wing dominated by Indira Gandhi. Opposition state governments were unscrupulously toppled by the Indira Gandhi government in New Delhi by the misuse of article 356 of the constitution permitting takeover of state administration only in case of genuine constitutional emergency in a state marked by breakdown of the constitutional machinery. Internal organizational elections in the Indian National Congress (Indira) were suspended since 1970-72 to be resumed after nearly 20 years in 1992 by Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao who used the occasion to seek to purge the party of the loyalists of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty. The deinstitutionalization of the Congress Party and the assault on the autonomy of state governments provoked the extra-parliamentary mass movement led by Morarji Desai and the 1974 railway trade unions strike led by George Fernandis. This in turn provoked the imposition of internal emergency and the authoritarian 42nd constitutional amendment destructive of democracy and fundamental individual and press freedoms. With the weakening of the party system and authoritarian takeover of the federal and provincial states the threat to autonomy or relative autonomy of the aggregate state from class and mass pressures from the society and the corporate capitalist sector were considerably increased. The aggregate state today appears to be more vulnerable to special corporate business interests, communal, fundamentalist pressures, and extremist class violence than ever before. Except for the major parties on the left and the right, all national and major regional parties in India today have most perfunctory internal organizational elections and democratic functioning. Excepting the CPI (M) and BJP, rare is a party that does not have a flourishing political dynasty or dime-a-dozen political families of a father-son/daughter or husband-wife variety of safe ticketing. While politics-business nexus in Indian politics is something not so new, but the appearance of business houses influencing the parties, especially some regional parties, has never been so widespread and so visible. The numbers of personalized and caste-centric parties have also mushroomed since the 1990s particularly. Revivalistic and nativistic parties are also on the rise to an alarmist extent and a source of much reactionary and regional violence.  Some say even the CPI (M) and the BJP have only formal internal electoral and conference processes; the substantive party democracy is subject to Leninist democratic centralism or Robert Michels` iron law of oligarchic elitist control. What is often called the democratic upsurge or silent revolution or coming of the marginal social and political forces to the mainstream is no more than recourse to crude majoritarian pretensions of not only the Hindutva forces but also the majoritarian pretensions of the OBC noveau riche .The Janata Party OBC reservation implemented in Bihar in 1978 by the Karpuri Thakur government introduced the device of screening out the upper OBCs from the benefit net of reservation by including only the lower OBCs through the regular channels of the party political processes. Since the 1990s this policy rationalization had to be instituted through the device of judicial intervention, i. e. the “creamy layer” formulation of the Supreme Court. The Karpuri formula of OBC reservation had also included a small proportion of jobs for the poor in the upper castes. This feature was undone by the Laloo Yadav government in the state.

            The mass media in India has experienced a great deal of expansion, but this growth is largely quantitative. The quality leaves much to be desired. The government-controlled All India Radio and Doordarshan are yet to be granted a corporate autonomy despite public debate and stalled and unimplemented legislation. These organs have also not been federalized in spite of demand for it by some eminent Chief Ministers. The private print and electronic media operate more in sensational journalism and are guided primarily by profit motive except for rare exceptions. In sum, the media in India are notionally independent but really “colonized” by special private interests and partisan government interest. They are yet to become a public sphere in the sense of communicative interaction theory of Jurgen Habermas.

            Judiciary has relatively remained unscathed from the precipitous decline in functioning and public trust in the profession of politics and governmental institutions. But this is only relatively so. Endemic judicial delays and corruption in lower judiciary have been causes of academic and public concern for long. Even the celebration of judicial activism seems to be already subdued and on the downward slide. This is for at least two reasons. First, some close observers of the courts like Prashant Bhushan (2007) have pointed out that activism of the court, as we knew it the 1980s is on the way out. In more recent judgements of the Supreme Court and some High Courts democratic rights of the workers and employees have been subordinated to the needs of corporate capitalist development or claims of the state sector of the economy. Some sitting judges like Justice Kailash Katju of the Supreme Court have made a plea for judicial restraint in the name of conventional and cozy norm of the Westminster court system in the classical tradition of a judiciary’s subordination to parliamentary sovereignty. In this tradition neither the Crown nor the judges can sit in judgement over the wisdom of the Parliament. It is truly amazing that even Supreme Court judges can overlook that such a concept of judicial power is alien to a parliamentary-federal constitution with a charter of fundamental rights of citizens like ours. Both federal division of powers and a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights inevitably entail the power of judicial review, if not an automatic activism. Secondly, a veritable deluge of exposes of judicial corruption involving even the higher judiciary in the recent months has unnerved the “constituency” of the court system in the civil society and the media. The Chief Justice himself and the judiciary in general has never been so much on the defensive.  The milder voices of critique and demands for judicial accountability have acquired some credibility for the first time in the history of the higher courts in India.

            Federalization process has made considerable headway since the 1980s with the decline in Congress dominance in a more durable way at the state level and the emergence of a differentiated and diversified set of state party systems and more stable and autonomous state governments that undertook strategies of what may be called “province-building”. With this development coming to pass the federal second chamber, the Rajya Sabha has come to be invariably controlled by the opposition that can negotiate on its own with the governing coalition in the Lok Sabha. Since the 1990s even the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the President have had since to be elected occasionally with government-opposition consensus. With no national party being able to win a majority in the Lok Sabha, the federal coalition governments themselves have since been a medley of diminished national parties and powerful regional parties in power in some states who also play decisive balancing role in forming and maintaining or dissolving federal governments. This prompted Douglas Verney (2003) to observe that India had traveled the long path from quasi-federalism – it was K. C. Wheare`s (1964) characterization of the Nehru era – to “confederal” governance. I was the first to argue and continue to argue that we are witness to a rapid process of federalization of what was a predominantly Parliament- or executive-dominated federal regime. However, the federlization it now occurs to me is primarily political and has left the monetary and fiscal domains of federalism largely alone and unchanged except for some minor adjustments. K. N. Kabra has occasionally written in the print media for allowing the state governments some say in the formation of the Planning Commission and the Finance Commission. The Left Front government have demanded due representation of states in the National Development council, Inter-state Council, Planning Commission, Finance Commission, and the boards of the Reserve bank of India (The Hindu, New Delhi, May 8, 2008: 8). The CPI (M) also put in the public domain in 2008 a theme paper on the review of center-state relations making similar demands on behalf of the states. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in its last years also appointed a new constitutional commission chaired by Justice M. N. Punchchi to review the Union-State relations in the period since the Sarkaria Commission Report on Centre-State Relations (1987-88). Its report is awaited.


            The much-talked about constitutional entrenchment of the local self-governing

Institutions by the 73rd and 74th amendments is more rhetorical than real. The long tradition of bureaucratically governing the cities has not really changed even after the challenge of rapidly urbanizing cities and megacity governance of metros have become a nightmare. In the realm of the Panchayat Raj the lndscape is littered with pious intentions of the Community Development and National Extension projects, the Balwantrai Mehta Committee Report (1957), Ashok Mehta Committee Report (1977), etc. The attempts of the Left Front governments in Kerala and West Bengal have made the only attempts to mobilize the Panchayats as instruments of larger popular mass mobilization of the left socioeconomic transformational and province-building political strategies within the bourgeois democratic and federal regime within which they must operate. The aforementioned constitutional amendments have prepared the model legal framework of revitalized local self-governments, but they remain ideals like the directive instruments of state policy that need conforming legislation and action on the part of state governments in this area of their exclusive jurisdiction. All state governments have by now enacted their conforming laws but none has fully followed the 11th and 12th schedules of the constitution enumerating the subjects and taxes supposed to be transferred to the panchayats and municipal councils. The recommended 33 percent reservation of seats for women and reservation for scheduled castes/tribes in proportion of their population in the area, and state election commissions and state finance commissions have been appointed and they have also started functioning. This in itself is not a mean achievement. But they are strictly speaking only the first significant steps in a long journey. The political will at the state level is still lacking. State governments are more zealous for transfer of powers from the center to the states than for devolution, ideally decentralization, of powers to the grassroots political systems of real democracy and federalism. We have yet a long and winding road ahead.


            The privatization and globalization of the Indian economy and the new regulatory regime even after nearly two decades are still not out of the teething troubles of transition and efficient working. The recurrent scams and scandals in practically every sector of the economy bear testimony to this state of affairs. State failure is compounded by market failure. Moreover, market has its own limitations in terms of its propensity towards economic, social, and regional disparities leading to relative and gross deprivations and explosive situations. Democracy and capitalism are strange bedfellows. Their contradictory impulses and motivations need to be harmonized by an all-inclusive and universal institution, which can only be the state. To conclude with G. John Ikenberry (2003: 351),  “…states continue to be critical organizational vehicles for modern political order. General claims that that states are, as such, withering away or turning into simple market agents cannot be sustained. State capacities are not everywhere dwindling. As in the past, state capacities continue to evolve, declining in some areas and rising in others.

There are no rival political formations – local, regional, transnational, or global – that have the full multidimensional capacities of the state. No rival political formations have come close to attracting the loyalties or normative legitimacy of the state.”











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