Dr. M. K. Teng
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Coalition Politics and National Unity

By Dr. M.K. Teng

The breakdown of the national consensus on a parliamentary majority in India, a phenomenon which is characteristic of the function of parliamentary governments in the developing countries, has led to a dangerous trend, to identify the federal division of powers with sub-national pluralism. In an attempt to seek legitimacy for the coalition governments, which largely depend upon the support of several regional parties, a phenomenon specified to the Indian political system, many of the political parties, which claimed to have demolished one-party dominance of the Congress, have called for the identification of the federal division of powers with sub-national identities representing the pluralist content of the Indian society. Indeed the proposals were aimed to evolve a centre of power in which the coalition constituents shared authority to sustain their power. The decentralisation of central authority on horizontal basis, it was contended would, end the quest for identity of the regionalised sub-national cultures in India, otherwise compartmentalised in artificial administrative divisions of the Indian federal organisation. The pluralisation of power at the federal centre in India and in the states, it came to be actively advocated, would dissolve the configuration of political power based upon the traditional one-party parliamentary majority which reflect the diversity of the Indian society.

Besides the theoretical proposition that all forms of federal organisation are based upon territorial division of political authority on administrative basis, not even remotely related to any social pluralities, the practical implications of seeking any identification of the federal division of powers with sub-national identities, would be disasterous for such a large country as India and would, sooner than anticipated, lead to the disintegration of the Indian federal structure.

Federalisation is a political process which underlines a division of powers on territorial basis. Whenever the territorial division of powers was sought to be identified with sub-nationalism, the federal structures disintegrated.

The Indian federal polity grew out of two diametrically divergent processes, which underlined the devolution of authority to erstwhile provinces of what was known as the British India, before the independence and the integration of the Indian Princely States, which acceded to India in accordance with the instruments of Accession. The Instruments of Accession envisaged, the procedure by virtue of which the Indian States acceded to India. The federal organisation of India, was, therefore, constituted of the erstwhile Indian provinces and the Indian Princely States, which were liberated from the British tutelage after the British colonial empire in India came to its end in 1947.

The federating process in India underlined a combination of the devolution of authority to the provincial governments on the one hand and the integration of the acceding states, on the other. The Constituent Assembly favoured a conditional devolution of the powers to the provinces. The rulers of the states, on their part too, approved of a conditional transfer of their authority to the federation. The Constituent Assembly of India, however, proved to be a great leveler and forged the provinces and the states into an irreversible union in which the Central government assumed paramount authority over the provinces as well as the States.

The political boundaries of the Indian Provinces and the Princely States, as they evolved with the consolidation of the British Power in India, overspread ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversities. The Indian social pluralism did not represent any political boundaries. The ethnic divisions, religious commitments, caste gradation and cultural diversities, cut across the political boundaries, the British described, creating many interlocking segments. None of the interlocking segments presented any political uniformity and territorial contiguity.

The Indian federal organisation envisaged by the Constitution of India does not represent the division of political authority on the basis of the division of powers between the federation and the sub-national identities. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution, envisioned integration as well as autonomy in a concrete political system. The Indian federal organisation was embedded in an environment, which was plural and diverse, but its boundaries were clearly defined.

The federal division of powers evolved by the Constituent Assembly transcended the cultural, religious and linguistic pluralism of the Indian society. The autonomy, now claimed for sub-national identities as the basis of what is called ‘cooperative federalism’, is a prescription for the dissolution of the federal relationship evolved by the Constituency Assembly of India as a basis of the Indian Federal Organisation. Any attempt, made, consciously or unconsciously, to change the territorial division of powers in the Indian federation will lead to its disintegration.

There is an inherent conflict between subnational pluralism and political autonomy. Political autonomy is a residue of political authority and therefore, complementary to national integration. Subnational pluralism is basically a function of ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic separatism and consequently irreconcilable to national integration and nation-building.

Coalition politics is not an attribute of parliamentary government. It is a dysfunctional feature of the cabinet system of government, which is essentially founded on an ideological and political consensus on a national level. Regional aspirations, autonomy and plural sociology, are an antithesis of a parliamentary consensus.Federalisation of power in India, is reconcilable to the national census in a parliamentary government to the extent it underlines on a political division of powers, within the broad framework of a parliamentary order.

Coalitions, are destructive of the parliamentary majority. If the trend to replace, parliamentary majorities continues, the whole parliamentary systems in India will not survive for long. Nor will the federal division of powers endure for many years, because its basis in India is underlined by a consensus on a parliamentary majority.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel




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