Lessons from In­dia’s fed­er­al­ism - Ex­perts take a look at what might work for Myan­mar

Ex­perts Take On Its Work­ing and Lessons for Myan­mar

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL - Upen­dranadh Chor­agudi

“Indian Con­sti­tu­tion has been able to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of eth­ni­cally, re­li­giously and lin­guis­ti­cally di­verse pop­u­la­tion and proved that it is able to cater to their needs and as­pi­ra­tions”, and “The more fed­eral we (In­dia) are, the more united as a coun­try”.

This was the cen­tral mes­sage from two Indian Schol­ars who vis­ited Myan­mar In­sti­tute for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (MISIS) on in­vi­ta­tion from the Em­bassy of In­dia.

Mr. Shakti Sinha, for­mer civil ser­vant and cur­rent Direc­tor of Nehru Memo­rial Mu­seum and Li­brary, and Dr. Vishwa Nath Alok, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Indian In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion, New Delhi were pre­sent­ing their views at an in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion with in­vited academia, in­tel­lec­tu­als and for­mer diplo­mats at MISIS, on how Indian fed­eral sys­tem evolved and met the needs of chang­ing so­ci­ety.

The fo­cus of the dis­cus­sion ranged from wide ar­ray of is­sues in­clud­ing con­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments of gov­er­nance, fis­cal fed­er­al­ism, pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of rights of mi­nori­ties, group and in­di­vid­ual rights and en­ti­tle­ments, balance of pow­ers and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and iden­ti­ties and sub-na­tion­al­ism. The bur­den of colo­nial past has also come to the fore dur­ing the dis­cus­sions as ‘colo­nial con­structs’ shaped the con­tem­po­rary think­ing on some of the vexed is­sues of iden­tity.

Evo­lu­tion of Indian fed­er­al­ism can be traced to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the unique­ness is that the con­stituent sub-units viz., states, de­rive pow­ers from the Con­sti­tu­tion as a man­dated di­vi­sion of pow­ers, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are clearly ar­tic­u­lated and fol­lowed. The fact that Indian Con­sti­tu­tion has un­der­gone over 120 amend­ments dur­ing the past 70 years also re­flects the need to be flex­i­ble and adap­tive and there by it is seen as a liv­ing doc­u­ment. Ju­di­cial over­sight on the work­ing of Con­sti­tu­tion is also a crit­i­cal el­e­ment in re­tain­ing the balance of power be­tween Union Govern­ment and State Gov­ern­ments.

Speak­ing on the oc­ca­sion In­dia’s Am­bas­sador to Myan­mar, His Ex­cel­lency Mr. Sau­rabh Ku­mar pointed out that such an ex­change of views be­tween think tanks and schol­ars from In­dia and Myan­mar brings out lessons from each other’s ex­pe­ri­ences. Com­mit­ting to host such fu­ture di­a­logues with mem­bers of par­lia­ment and other stake­hold­ers, he pointed out that “Our col­lec­tive colo­nial past and cul­tural affin­ity and ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity com­pels us to seek lessons from each other on how to ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­tries”. “There may be some lessons for Myan­mar on how In­dia is able to re­tain its unity through a flex­i­ble fed­eral sys­tem” and it is for this pur­pose that the event has been or­ga­nized.

Speak­ing on the oc­ca­sion Mr. Shakti Sinha pointed out that at the time of In­dia’s In­de­pen­dence and en­act­ment of Con­sti­tu­tion, there were ap­pre­hen­sions whether In­dia would re­main as a coun­try or dis­in­te­grate within few decades. The fear of un-gov­ern­abil­ity of such a vast, di­verse coun­try was the source for such an ap­pre­hen­sion, how­ever Indian Con­sti­tu­tion has proved it wrong. As a guid­ing doc­u­ment it pro­vided so­lu­tions, as it is be­ing a liv­ing and flex­i­ble doc­u­ment. State for­ma­tion, pro­tec­tion, and pro­mo­tion of rights of mi­nori­ties, pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of lin­guis­tic and cul­tural rights, af­fir­ma­tive action to pro­tect the rights of marginal­ized sec­tions of peo­ple (sched­uled castes and sched­uled tribes) are some of the fea­tures that en­sured unity of peo­ple of In­dia. A crit­i­cal as­pect to ap­pre­ci­ate is that Indian Con­sti­tu­tion re­spected the pop­u­lar sovereignt­y and so­cial jus­tice. Non-dis­crim­i­na­tory func­tion­ing of the State ap­pa­ra­tus at all lev­els and special pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the rights of mi­nori­ties and marginal­ized will go hand in hand so that the unity and in­tegrity is main­tained. Ex­pe­ri­ence of North-Eastern States of In­dia com­pels us to as­sess how flex­i­ble Con­sti­tu­tion and fed­eral sys­tem en­abled it to re­tain the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of the coun­try, though all the prob­lems are not yet been fully solved. Di­a­logue and de­lib­er­a­tions take prime route in ad­dress­ing griev­ances of sec­tions of peo­ple and so­lu­tions are found through such an ap­proach within the frame­work of ba­sic struc­ture of the con­sti­tu­tion. In­dia’s pol­icy on lan­guages, special sta­tus for cer­tain states, pro­vi­sions for back­ward ar­eas de­vel­op­ment, af­fir­ma­tive poli­cies, all these were pos­si­ble through di­a­logue with ag­grieved sec­tions of the so­ci­ety.

Point­ing out that no two fed­er­a­tions are sim­i­lar, Prof. Vishwa Nath Alok pointed out the need for a flex­i­ble for­mula based fis­cal trans­fers so that the sub-en­ti­ties of the fed­eral struc­ture will be­come ac­count­able and re­spon­si­ble for the peo­ple. Re­sources and ac­count­abil­ity goes hand in hand and Indian fed­eral sys­tem ac­com­mo­dates the spe­cific ge­o­graph­i­cal or other con­straints of some of the States while de­volv­ing re­sources. Such ar­range­ments are made through con­sti­tu­tional body, the fi­nance com­mis­sion. How­ever, it is the abil­ity to raise own re­sources that de­ter­mines the real au­ton­omy of the sub-na­tional en­ti­ties in a fed­er­a­tion. This is an evolv­ing area where in po­lit­i­cal econ­omy fac­tors play a cru­cial role in terms of main­tain­ing eq­uity and ad­dress­ing in­clu­sive and bal­anced de­vel­op­ment of all re­gions of the coun­try. In In­dia, special cat­e­gory states have been des­ig­nated, who re­ceive sub­stan­tial grants from pooled re­sources from the union govern­ment ow­ing to their spe­cific cir­cum­stances like ge­o­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion, hilly ar­eas, sen­si­tive and bor­der

states, con­cen­tra­tion of tribal pop­u­la­tion and etc. Such ar­range­ments are meant to bring out eq­ui­table de­vel­op­ment of all parts of the coun­try.

Fis­cal trans­fers are sen­si­tive is­sue and it is for this rea­son that Indian Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates an in­de­pen­dent body ‘ fi­nance com­mis­sion’ which is set up at ev­ery five year in­ter­val, to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­vis­ing a just for­mula for shar­ing of re­sources. Such a mech­a­nism has proved to be suc­cess­ful as In­dia has so far 14 fi­nance com­mis­sions who have ac­com­plished the re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­vis­ing flex­i­ble and rel­e­vant for­mu­lae for fis­cal de­vo­lu­tion.

Indian fed­eral sys­tem re­ceived fur­ther boost with the en­act­ment of con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated lo­cal gov­er­nance struc­tures that are closer to the peo­ple. Demo­crat­i­cally elected lo­cal bod­ies at the vil­lage level and at mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, with man­dated func­tions and re­sources led to deep­en­ing of the demo­cratic prac­tice in the coun­try. Though sad­dled with un­even func­tion­ing of such ar­range­ments in dif­fer­ent States, lo­cal gov­er­nance struc­tures have proved to be a sig­nif­i­cant way for­ward for In­dia to deepen and sus­tain its demo­cratic prac­tice. Over 2 mil­lion peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives are elected for all the vil­lages of the coun­try ev­ery five years! Such lo­cal bod­ies are close to the peo­ple and meet their day-to-day needs. Strength­en­ing of fis­cal ca­pac­i­ties of ru­ral lo­cal bod­ies and their lead­er­ship is still an on go­ing agenda for In­dia. For ex­am­ple in ur­ban ar­eas, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are more re­source­ful with over 70% own re­sources to spend on lo­cal de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, com­pared to their ru­ral coun­ter­parts.

Dur­ing the in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion, the speak­ers re­sponded to var­i­ous queries from Myan­mar academia and in­tel­lec­tu­als. Lively de­bate fol­lowed on di­verse top­ics such as, fis­cal equal­iza­tion prin­ci­ples, fis­cal ca­pac­i­ties, process of con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment, pro-cen­ter bi­ases and quasi-fed­eral na­ture of Indian Con­sti­tu­tion, the di­choto­mous view on fed­er­al­ism and unity, is­sues of re­sources, es­pe­cially min­eral roy­al­ties; ci­ti­zen­ship is­sues un­der fed­er­al­ism; de­cen­tral­iza­tion and fed­er­al­ism; colo­nial legacy and eth­nic iden­tity build­ing, role of free­dom strug­gles in forg­ing iden­tity and con­scious­ness among peo­ple; and spirit of reasonable ac­com­mo­da­tion.

It is heart­en­ing that both Indian Em­bassy as well as MISIS have ex­pressed their com­mit­ment to con­tinue such an ex­change of schol­ars in or­der to fos­ter a healthy de­bate and dis­cus­sion on is­sues of con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance for Myan­mar so­ci­ety.

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