Larger Linguistic States Are Important for Democracy in India

Over the past few months, there has been increased talk of dividing the state of Karnataka into two separate states. The division being talked about might result in two entities, the northern part of Karnataka and the southern part of Karnataka. Interestingly, all this talk is emanating from the sitting MLAs belonging to the two political parties that call themselves as 'national parties', the 'Indian national Congress' and the 'Bharatiya Janata Party'. Mr. Umesh Katti, sitting MLA from the BJP, and Mr. AS Patil Nadahalli, sitting MLA from the INC, are the two gentlemen who are at the forefront demanding separate statehood for the northern part of Karnataka.

Shift in the balance of power
While there is a lot of noise about smaller states being good for development, one has to be careful and consider the shift in the balance of power such division of the states is going to result in. The citizens of India will inevitably have to grapple with such an imbalance, if the larger states were to be further divided.

Why is balance of power important?
This is a question of democracy itself. One of the main reason why democratic practice has been successful across the world is, because of the development of a system of checks and balances to ensure that the political power is dispersed and decentralized. Democracy is a system built on the deeply held belief that government is best when its power to abuse is curbed and when it is held as close to the people as possible.

Let us now understand the current distribution of political power in the Indian Union, and the problems that are inherent under such a distribution.

Degree of centralization in the Indian Union
The power of the states and the Centre are defined by the constitution and the legislative powers are divided into three lists

  • The union list - consists of 100 items on which the Union Government can legislate. 
  • The concurrent list - consists of 47 items on which the state governments can legislate but the Union Government vests the power to override the state laws.
  • The state list - consists of 61 items, on which the state governments can legislate. 

While the distribution of power is heavily tilted towards the Union Government in the ratio of 147 to 61, the articles 352 to 360 of the constitution contain provisions that tilt the balance of power all the more towards the Union Government. According to the Article 356 of the constitution of India, states must exercise their executive power in compliance with the laws made by the Union Government. Article 357 calls upon every state not to impede on the executive power of the Union within the states.

What problem can over-centralisation create for India?
With political power centralised at Delhi, the linguistic groups that carry clout at Delhi always have a larger say in policy matters. As was evident in the recent decision by the Union Government to reduce the import duty on raw-silk, the silk weavers from the state of Uttar Pradesh were benefited, while the silk farmers from the state of Karnataka were negatively impacted. The Union Government of India had to give in to the lobby from Uttar Pradesh, at the expense of well-being of the farmers from Karnataka.
Such policy-making inevitably brews resentment among the negatively impacted groups of people. Resentment among the citizens is a problem that no state can ignore.

With states reduced in size, the capability of the states to resist (or even reverse) the policies that impact their people will also reduce. By moving to split the larger states into smaller ones, and by continuing to run the administration in a centralized fashion, India does not seem to acknowledge the importance of balance of power. Larger linguistic states provide the much needed counter-weight to create the balance of power, and for the democracy to thrive. If you take out the counter-weight, all you have is imbalance, which can only lead to instability.


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...