Towards the Fourth Phase of Indian Federalism: ‘Modi’fication of Centre-State Relations from 2014 to the Present

“We require a strong and united Centre, much stronger than the Centre we had created under the Government of India Act of 1935”

-Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Devised from the principles scooped out from the Government of India Act of 1935, the Indian Federalism attempted a successful translocation from a tax and law-and-order based governance to governance committed to the welfare ideas of planning and development. However, one may witness three phases of this system, prima facie viz. benign centralism of Nehru (1950-’64) and excessive centralization of Indira Gandhi (1965-’89) followed by co-operative federalism of the era of coalitions (1989-2014). However, on a brief analysis of the contemporary political ecosystem, on the face of it, one may put the finger on the fourth phase of the Indian federal exercise of Modi from 2014 to the present characterized by a series of attempt towards centripetal governance.

The General Elections of 2014 and 2019 has paved the way for the restoration of the de facto one-party dominance at the centre. Being a landmark in the history of Indian Politics, these twin electoral events conferred a hegemonic position to the BJP at the centre. Albeit the fact that the election manifesto of the BJP (2014) attempts to constitute a ‘Team India’ stressing on more sophisticated centre-state relationship supplemented by the creation of regional councils of states that aid the Centre in planning and development, nonetheless, can be despised as BJP’s cock-a-doodle-doo of competitive, co-operative federalism. There can be two possible grounds for the same. Firstly, the party in the majority no longer relied on the endorsement from regional parties. Secondly, intra-party centralization is strengthened with its say in the nomination of candidates to pivotal positions complemented by the participation of Central leaders in regional election campaigns. 

To begin with, the office of the Governors who’re being criticized as the political agent of the centre in the guise of the formal head of the State; is accorded a political dimension with the appointment of partisan Governors. In 2014, the BJP Government dismissed nine Governors who were appointed by the previous Government. One of the consequential nitpick of Indian federalism is Art.156 owing to which the office of the Governor is made immensely insecure as she shall be in harness during the pleasure of the President and can be removed from office anytime with the ease of knocking a chesspiece out. 

The celebrated Bommai Judgement (1994) serves as a lodestar of the principles of Indian Federalism that brings the cold-blooded use of Art.356 under the purview of Judicial Review. The provision was invoked twice in 2016 over the Congress ministries of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. As far as the former is concerned, the partisan Governor advanced the session of the legislative assembly by a month (Art.174) owing to a factional warfare within the Congress, paving the way for BJP-led Government in Arunachal Pradesh. Concerning the latter, nine Congress MLA’s broke-out from the party and consequently, the Congress ministry was asked to prove their majority. However, the President of India was advised to suspend the Government a day before the floor test was conducted, inviting colossal political outrage. In both cases, the Supreme Court restored the former Governments in her capacity of the Guardian of Indian Federalism or an institutional veto player

Moreover, the Demonetization melee of 2016 has attracted large-scale opprobrium. Then Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh pummeled this act as being politically motivated, aiming to destroy political rivals and ensuring a slackened propaganda before the 2017 election campaigns of Uttar Pradesh and the incapacitated campaigning activities and the Election results favouring the BJP seemed to prove his argument valid. 

In addition to that, even though the overtly centralized planning commission was replaced by NITI-Aayog, the latter tends to be inclined to the office of the Prime Minister. The Aayog constitutes of a CEO, a Vice-Chairperson, some full-time members, few ex-Officio members who’re Cabinet Ministers and special invitees of which none of them so far were State officeholders.  Even though the NDC was replaced by a Governing Council, it is highly looked down upon as being a mere formulator of Union policies- like a caged parrot. For instance, the council met thrice between 2015-17 and the ‘15 meeting was devoted to policy formulation related to the proposed amendment to the Land Acquisition (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) act of 2013. Also, the Regional Councils comprise of a school of Chief-Minister’s nonetheless, the Central Executive determines the composition as well as the themes to focus on. They aren’t empowered to work on a theme of their choice, in sync with their aspirations. In 2015, three councils on Skill Development, Swachchh Bharat and Implementation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes were formed. Albeit the fact that these councils were heterogeneous in party-based compositions, they were chaired by then BJP Chief-Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh respectively. 

The abolition of Art.370 brings to the limelight one of the excessive powers of the Union to alter the territorial boundaries and status of the constituent units with a simple majority, with minimal and exceedingly formal consultation with the affected (Art.3). Notwithstanding the Puducherry crisis, the ex-CM accused the former Lieutenant Governor and the Union of their (successful) attempt to topple the government. The Calcutta High Court’s direction to remove the anti-CAA advertisements sponsored by the West Bengal Government validates Art.256 that requires the State Governments to implement a parliamentary law. Further, Art.257 enables the Union to give directions to the States ensuring the same. En réalité, refusal to adhere to such lawful directions may invite discharge of Art.356 according to Art.365 and the Constitutional validity of the latter was upheld by the Bommai verdict. 

In toto, the Parliament which is supposed to be the asseverate temple of democracy is being confined to an edifice of constitutional formalities. The constitution with a natural inclination towards the centre joins hands with the de facto one-party dominance paving the way for a centripetal centre-state relation.