Monday, October 20, 2008

On federalism

The term federalism appears to have two connotations which, interestingly, are diametrically opposite.

For some, federalism embodies the principle of decentralized authority established around a framework of centralized rights. For others, the term stands to mean a state broken into divisions for administrative convenience but tightly ruled from the centre (the Centralist view, for example). Personally, I think the second is a perversion of the very idea of federalism, but thats not the point here. The diversity of opinions itself is the cause of wonder.

Take these two events, for example:

Last week, the Chief Minister of Kerala, V S Achuthanandan, staged a public demonstration in New Delhi to protest the Centre's negligence towards his state. Achuthanandan bemoaned the fact that the Centre is withholding various favors from his state such as rice quota, establishment of an IIT etc. Mind you, chief ministers are the executive heads of Indian states, and Kerala is better-off among other Indian state on many metrics.

In the same week, Raj Thackeray, a political leader in Maharashtra, encouraged his supporters to attack North Indian candidates who were visiting Mumbai to take an entrance exam for employment in the Indian Railways, a Centrally operated entity. “When there is availability here why should people from outside be called?”, asked one of his followers.

In a way, Achuthanandan and Thackeray both seem to be venting their own, but opposite, ideas of federalism.

Update: A few weeks back I had written about Centralists and their affinity for big powerful central governments (they also get mention in the above post). Then comes along this post on Retributions, one of the contributing blogs on the nationalist watering hole The Indian National Interest. While commenting on MNS violence, the writer asks "Is the Indian state so weak that it cannot take on a few hundred goondas?". As perfunctory as the question may be, I find it incredibly telling that the 'Indian state' even comes in the picture when talking about a law and order problem related to a relatively isolated regionalist movement. That 'state' and 'Indian state' are interchangeable in the writer's mind speaks volumes about his/her approach to a federal system of government.

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