Federalism in IndiaPolitical representative system in Indian Parliament vis-à-vis NE India


Mathiupuang Gonmei, Social Worker
The word federalism is derived from the Latin word foedus, which means agreement. Therefore, federation is an agreement between two types of Governments, usually between Central and provincial Governments sharing power in their respective spheres as defined by the Constitution. It is a system of National and provincial Governments under a common sovereignty with both National as well as federating units having autonomy in their respective assigned spheres as prescribed by the Constitution.
In the case of India it has opted for quasi-federal structure after thorough debates by the Constituent Assembly. The term federal as such has not been mentioned in the Constitution of India but the working of Indian democracy is essentially federal in structure. However, in the practical working nature of Indian federalism since independence there has been a tilt towards unitary in character. That is why some Constitutional commentators rightfully described Indian federalism as federal in form but unitary in spirit. In recent times the concept of cooperative federalism and competitive federalism are also in vogue in India.
The present Government is stressing on the need to leverage the potential of cooperative and competitive federalism for achieving all round inclusive development in India. In this context there is a need to examine the concepts of cooperative and competitive federalism.
Cooperative federalism is a concept where the Centre and States share a horizontal relationship to basically “cooperate” in larger public interest. Under this system the Union and the States are Constitutionally obliged to cooperate with each other on the matters specified in Schedule VII of the Constitution. On the other hand competitive federalism is a concept where the relationship between the Central and State Governments is vertical and between State Governments it is horizontal.
This idea of competitive federalism gained significance in India post 1990s economic reforms. In a free-market economy, there is a concerted initiative to foster a spirit of competition. However, globalization increases the existing inequalities and imbalances between States. In competitive federalism States need to compete among themselves and also with the Centre for benefits. States compete with each other to attract funds and investment which facilitates efficiency in administration and enhances developmental activities.
The investors prefer more developed States for investing their money. Union Government devolves funds to the States on the basis of usage of previously allocated funds. Healthy competition strives to improve physical and social infrastructure within the State. It is pertinent to note that competitive federalism is not part of the basic structure of Indian Constitution. It is a new concept emerging out of the decision of executives.
Where does North East India fit in this scheme of Indian Federal System ?
Out of the total number of 790 (approximate) districts in the country; North East Region has around 130 districts. According to Article 81 of the Indian Constitution, Lok Sabha has 552 Members (530 from States, 20 from Union Territories & 2 members from the Anglo Indian Community to be nominated by the President). Unfortunately, North East India has only 25 MPs to represent in the House of the people (Lok Sabha).
This is due to the sheer small size of the population which accounts for only around 45 million or 3.37% of the total population of the country. Therefore, these 25 MPs in Lok Sabha and that too belonging to different political parties could hardly make any meaningful impact in a 552 strong member House and that is where the fault lies. It is strongly proposed that there should be at least one Member of Parliament for every 2 districts in the proposed expanded Parliament where it is expected to have around 800 seats in the Lok Sabha after freezing of the seats is relaxed by 2026. Even if two districts send one MP each, North East as whole will hardly have 65 MPs only which is not even the number of MPs from Uttar Pradesh.
In the Upper House ie Rajya Sabha too, each of the States whether big or small should have equal representatives like in the United States of America where they have 2 representatives each in the Senate irrespective of the size of the States and their respective population. That way, there will be check and balance in the federal system where sheer brute majoritarianism will not rescind the true spirit of democracy.
Poor representation in Parliament and its implication: A case study of Manipur
The State of Manipur has two representatives in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha. With this minuscule fragment of representation in a House of 552 Members, the voice of Manipur will never be taken seriously as it has no wielding power in the House. This was vividly evident during this ethnic conflict engulfing Manipur for the last more than 5 months.
Despite the catastrophic civil war like siutation in the State where hundreds of innocent people including women and children have been killed and thousands rendered homeless, the Government of India is not taking the matter seriously as it deserves to be. The Government seems to be playing with fire and bother the least about the lives and properties of the so-called peripheral North Eastern States.
The ethnic conflict that is engulfing Manipur has not only shaken the conscience of the Nation but has shocked the entire world and has brought shame and condemnation to humanity but the Government has not been taking any concrete measure to resolve the matter despite life attempt carried out on an elected MLA in broad daylight, houses belonging to Ministers of the Government of Manipur, Union Minister and other prominent politicians were vandalized and burnt down.
 If such conflict would have been in UP or any other so-called mainland States, the Government of India would have acted swiftly to restore law and order because the lives of this people matter more electorally or may be racially.
The complete lackadaisical attitude of the Government towards Manipur should awaken the conscience of the North East people and seriously look out for some new political mechanism wherein they can systematically assert themselves within the ambit of the law or Constitution. After 2026, the country is going all out for a comprehensive delimitation exercise based on the latest census where it is expected to herald a change in the composition of the Assemblies.
This is the time for North East people to seize the opportunity and bargain for increasing the number of MPs and MLAs not strictly based on the strength of the population. The Southern States of India will definitely support this initiative because they too stand to lose if the number of MPs are going to be on the basis of population. It may be noted that Southern States have been highly successful in population control whereas the Northern States have not seen any significant success in this regard. Therefore, there is a big apprehension that Northern States may corner more MP seats if it is based on the proportion of their population. (To be contd)