Federalists were in favour of a strong federal government
which could bring unity and control the states. Finally,
a compromise was arrived at, and the Constitution was approved
in 1789. United States became the first Republic in modern
world, and the American Constitution the first written Constitution
the early years of the American republic were turbulent.
For nearly a decade, the Republican group, led by Jefferson
and Madison, and the Federalist faction, led by Hamilton
and Adams, were at loggerheads. In the midst of all the
early tumult, the question of slavery was deliberately kept
aside to buy peace and win the support of Southern states.
the Republicans vanquished the Federalists in the 1800 election
in which Jefferson was elected President. The Republicans
embraced some of the Federalist ideology, even as the states'
rights were protected. The issue of slavery was not resolved
until the civil war in the 1860s. But the promise of true
liberty and democracy was denied to women and Blacks for
several decades more. Women obtained the right to vote only
in 1920s. While Black males got the right to vote after
the civil war, that right became real for the Afro-American
population in Southern states only in 1960s after the Civil
promise of the Declaration of Independence took over 180
years to be fulfilled. Judged by that slow evolution, Indian
Constitution is both radical and revolutionary. At one stroke,
all citizens got the right to vote. In a breathtaking display
of idealism, and faith in our people, our freedom fighters
embarked on universal adult franchise, and embraced the
republican principle. The new Constitution itself was never
approved by the Governor General, the notional head of state.
By significant and deliberate decision, it was signed by
the members of the Constituent Assembly. As the preamble
so eloquently declares, "We, the People", have
given unto ourselves the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly,
and the drafting Committee under Babasaheb Ambedkar's visionary
Chairmanship, gave us a remarkable document of self-governance.
the indomitable Sardar Patel integrated the more than 500
princely states into Indian Union. With the exception of
Hyderabad state, not a bullet was fired in achieving this
bloodless miracle. Given our special history, there was
never any serious debate about the rights of states. Earlier,
the Congress party had a vision of a decentralized, state-centered
republic. But in the aftermath of partition, fears of fragmentation
compelled the Constituent Assembly to create a strong Union
government in a quasi-federal state.
the painful memories of partition recede, our quasi-federal
democracy has increasingly become a truly federal system.
It took decades of debate and struggle. And it happened
by a combination of three circumstances. Article 356 has
become almost a dead letter after the Supreme Court verdict
in Bommai case. The Union's discretion to extend patronage
through public sector investments has all but disappeared
thanks to economic liberalization. And the compulsions of
coalition governments made it impossible to ride roughshod
over the states.
addition to these changed circumstances, we must concede
that fair and objective fiscal devolution has put our federalism
on sound footing. The current practice of treating all Union
tax revenues as the divisible pool of resources and earmarking
a share to states (as recommended by the Tenth Finance Commission)
has further strengthened the states. Today, the Union transfers
over 42 percent of the tax resources to states - through
Finance Commission, Planning Commission, and centrally sponsored
schemes. With recent initiatives in employment, health and
education sectors, it is likely that these transfers will
reach 50% of Union taxes - a remarkable accomplishment by
fact, now it can be argued that the Union's ability to influence
events in states has been reduced excessively. For instance,
the Union has no automatic jurisdiction over criminal offences
which affect public order or national security. Inter-state
trade still faces several barriers, and the Union is helpless.
The Union armed forces could not intervene to eliminate
Veerappan, and a shameful menace continued for nearly two
decades. States like Bihar are practically in medieval era,
with kidnapping and organized crime as growing major industries.
Politics, violence and crime are inextricably intertwined
in many states. Left wing extremism has taken hold of large
regions in several states. In all these cases the Union
is helpless. In some ways, it is paradoxical that the Union
has greater influence on events in Nepal, Maldives or Sri
Lanka, than in our own states! Clearly we need to reexamine
some of the challenges faced in states, and find viable
constitutional mechanisms to address them. Otherwise the
growing regional disparities and lawlessness will pose the
greatest dangers to our economy and national security.
is a lot that is wrong with our democracy and politics.
Even the working of the Constitution needs to be altered
in respect of some details. The fact that we already have
a hundred amendments shows that we adopted that great document
in excessive and unnecessary detail. But we must also recognize
that we have a noble and humane Constitution which has,
in a large part, worked satisfactorily. And we have a democratic
system which is resilient and capable of addressing our
crisis. We, the people, need to take charge, and recognize
that true transformation is possible only through our efforts.
meanwhile, let us celebrate our Constitution and our democracy
which give us, the citizens, the sovereignty, space and
opportunity to rejuvenate our republic. If we work with
good sense, we can surely transform our institutions of
state and our politics and governance before we celebrate
the 60th anniversary of our Republic. A great opportunity