In a system of asymmetrical federalism, India must remain a mosaic


As India completes 75 years of Independence this August, the time is apt for us to look at the constitutional, institutional, political and fiscal arrangements that take into account the plurality of our country.

Meaning of federalism:

  • Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.
  • A federation usually has two levels of government. Both these levels of governments enjoy their power independent of the other:
  • One is the government for the entire country that is usually responsible for a few subjects of common national interest. The other are Governments at the level of provinces or states that look after much of the day-to-day administering of their state.

Types of federalism:

Federalism can be classified on different grounds:

1. Holding Together Federalism vs Coming Together Federalism:

  • In the 1st type, powers are shared between various constituent parts to accommodate the diversity in the whole entity. Here, powers are generally tilted towards the central authority. Example: India, Spain, Belgium.
  • In the 2nd type, independent states come together to form a larger unit. Here, states enjoy more autonomy as compared to the holding together kind of federation. Example: USA, Australia, Switzerland.

2. Competitive vs Cooperative federalism

  • In Cooperative federalism the Centre and states share a horizontal relationship, where they “cooperate” in the larger public interest.
  • In Competitive federalism the relationship between the Central and state governments is vertical and between state governments is horizontal.

3. Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical federalism:

  • Symmetric federalism refers to a federal system of government in which each constituent state to the federation possess equal powers. But in asymmetric federalism, a distinction is made between constituent units with one having more power over the other.
  • India, for example, has asymmetric federalism as the Union wields more power than the states and union territories combined.

Need for federalism: Diversity of India:

  • It is a nation where four major religions of the world find abode; its Muslim population is the third largest in the world; and Indians speak languages belonging to five different families.
  • Such diversity and plurality call for an arrangement that can pave the way for accommodation and integration reflected in the existing system of asymmetrical federalism.

Asymmetrical federalism of India:

Indian model of asymmetrical federalism is based on the principle of weighted and differentiated equality. This principle calls for equal treatment of all States while being mindful that some States are more equal and unequal than others. So, the capacity to accommodate various social groups and their interests makes India a thriving federal democracy as it displays enormous asymmetric characteristics.

Protecting diversity:

  • While constructing an asymmetrical framework, our founding fathers chose the salad bowl approach instead of the melting pot approach. Recognising the distinctive cultural differences in the country and permitting self-rule within the scheme of a shared rule to territorially concentrated minorities is how asymmetrical federalism works in India.
  • Such an arrangement only proves that an asymmetrical constitutional setup is indisputably necessary for a multicultural and multinational country such as India to protect the rights of the community and the minorities. This setup facilitates the accommodation of multiple yet complementary identities.

Political asymmetry vs constitutional asymmetry:

  • This distinction was made by Ronald Watts. Both types of asymmetry exist in our country.
  • While in every federal nation political asymmetry is based on the territorial and demographic sizes of the constituent units, constitutional asymmetry characterises the Constitution’s extension of legislative and executive powers to the constituent units.
  • So when we find representation of States in the Rajya Sabha based on their population, it is a political asymmetry. That is why States such as Uttar Pradesh have 31 seats in the Rajya Sabha, whereas Meghalaya and Mizoram have just one each.

Self-rule within shared rule:

  • We find constitutional asymmetry in Article 370 (now diluted) and in the special provisions and powers extended to Nagaland, Mizoram and others in the omnibus Article 371.
  • The parliamentary statute cannot be implemented in the northeast States mentioned above without the consent of the legislatures of these States. Specifically, the provisions under Article 371 requiring the State legislature’s permission before implementing any parliamentary law exemplify asymmetrical provisions protecting the religious and social practices, customary laws and procedures of Nagas and Mizos.
  • In addition, creation of the Autonomous District Council as per the Sixth Schedule also acknowledges the socio-cultural, political and historical rights of the tribes of the Northeast, thereby facilitating the provisions of self-rule within the scheme of shared rule.

Case of Union Territories (UTs):

Indian asymmetrical setup has evolved to include another type of asymmetry: UTs are special federating units that have been created because they were too small to be declared as States or could not be merged with a neighbouring State due to prevailing cultural dissimilarities, inter-State indifferences, extensive isolation and other specific needs, as in the case of National Capital Territory (NCT).

Asymmetry in fiscal arrangements:

  • When transferring funds from the Centre to States, statutory transfers are made based on the recommendations of the Finance Commission.
  • Also, while the Central government entirely funds specific Central sector development schemes in India, the cost of implementing Centrally sponsored schemes to bring about welfare is co-shared by both the Centre and sub-national units.
  • In the NITI Aayog era, the Centre has considerably reduced the share of its revenue to implement the Centrally sponsored schemes.

Criticisms of asymmetric federalism model of India:

  • Since 2019, many have questioned asymmetrical federalism’s pertinence, ignoring its effectiveness in recognising and promoting self-rule in multiple territories across India.
  • In recent years, it was raised with the dilution of Article 370 in 2019 and the subsequent debates and discussions over the dilution of the omnibus Article 371.
  • Some political commentators have highlighted that such enormous powers wielded by the centre puts the states and UTs in existential crisis as their very existence (including name, boundary, area, extent of autonomy and political power) is dependent on the whims of a majoritarian union executive.
  • Critics also highlight that the asymmetric federalism in fiscal sphere, especially after the introduction of the GST regime, leaves little revenue to be collected by the states while imposing the implementation of a large number of centrally sponsored schemes (even on state list subjects) on the states.

Way forward:

  • We must remember that the idea and arrangement of asymmetrical power-sharing can be unsettling if not utilised properly. Such features in our Constitution are neither marginal nor merely provisional. These features touch upon a considerably large number of States. And without these features and provisions, it would not have been possible to undermine the secessionist tendencies of a highly diverse society.

Asymmetrical federalism will continue to have its relevance in the future because to pave the way for cooperative federalism we must be able to accommodate various groups and provide them with a share in the governance of the country at the same time.

Editorial 2 : Local governments in a state of disrepair


Let us examine the state of India’s panchayats and municipalities, 75 years after Independence.

Local government:

Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies who have been elected by the local people.

It consists of 2 types of governments: rural and urban.

1. Rural local self-government: Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI)

  • PRI was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to build democracy at the grass roots level and was entrusted with the task of rural development in the country.
  • This act has added a new Part-IX to the Constitution of India. This part is entitled as ‘The Panchayats’ and consists of provisions from Articles 243 to 243 O.
  • In addition, the act has also added a new Eleventh Schedule to the Constitution. This schedule contains 29 functional items of the panchayats. It deals with Article 243-G.

2.Urban Local Governments: Urban Local Bodies (ULBs):

Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) were established with the purpose of democratic decentralisation.

  • 74th Amendment Act, 1992 pertaining to urban local government added Part IX -A and consists of provisions from articles 243-P to 243-ZG.
  • It also added 12th Schedule to the Constitution. It contains 18 functional items of Municipalities and deals with Article 243 W.

There are eight types of urban local governments in India –

  • Municipal Corporation
  • Municipality
  • Notified Area Committee
  • Town Area Committee
  • Cantonment Board
  • township
  • port trust
  • special purpose agency.
  • At the Central level the subject of ‘urban local government’ is dealt with by the following three Ministries.
  • Ministry of Defense in the case of cantonment boards.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs in the case of Union Territories.
  • The Ministry of Urban Development for all other issues of  ULBs.

Current state of local governments in India:

  • The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, which mandated panchayats and municipalities, devolved a range of powers and responsibilities and made them accountable to the people.
  • These amendments radically changed the scope and extent of India’s democracy. From a mere 4,000 MLAs and MPs, the number of our elected representatives exploded to nearly 3.2 million. We progressed from being representationally sparse to one of the most intense democratic participatory systems envisaged.
  • Scope was also provided for the participation of women and the marginalised sections of society in government. These reservations were not merely extended to the elected seats but to the leadership positions as well.
  • In the nearly 30 years since these amendments were incorporated into our Constitution, politicians have mouthed the rhetoric of power to the people, but failed to keep their word on the true ‘devolution’ of powers, responsibilities and accountability to local governments.

Barriers to empowerment of local governments:

1.Concentration of real power in bureaucracy:

  • Bureaucrats, insulated from political compulsions, remain opposed to strengthening of local governments as they would lose their pre-eminent positions of power over where, how and when government money is spent, if they actually devolved power to local governments.
  • Every local government needs to have organisational capacity, by way of staff such as engineers, office staff and social mobilisers. Staffing of local governments is scanty. In some States, many panchayats share a single secretary, who operates from a shoulder bag, a jhola, carrying all the books. The sub-district staff are still controlled by the Collector, seen as the head of an anachronism, the district ‘administration’.
  • The line departments are loath to allow their local institutions — schools, anganwadis, primary health centres, veterinary hospitals and so on — to be placed under the control and supervision of panchayats. Yet one cannot hold any higher-level bureaucrat to account for the abysmal quality of local services.


  • The Finance Commissions have made many recommendations for financially strengthening LSG, but of the low cash that are devolved to local governments, not more than 5% of the divisible pool of Union taxes, come with conditionalities that bind them to specific uses.
  • Furthermore, these funds are tied down by restrictive procedures that give officers control over local government expenditure decisions, through cheque signing conditionalities.
  • While local governments have their own tax resources such as property taxes, in many States, there is no emphasis given to their collection. Where they are collected, officers exert control over how local governments use their funds, by committing these to aggregate purchases tendered and arranged at higher levels.


  • Technology is a much-loved tool of bureaucrats to centralise the delivery of local services, much to the detriment of local decision-making. They take away from local, nuanced decision-making and put enormous powers in the hands of higher-level officers and politicians.
  • Thus, beneficiary lists prepared through gram sabhas are subverted by MLAs acting in concert with higher-level officers who, in spite of their claims to professional neutrality, are unable to resist political pressure from above.

Way forward: emerging trends:

  • Urban governments will be the new political battleground of the future India. The continuous breakdown of urban services is igniting interest amongst urban citizens — most have been indifferent in the past — to engage with and combat bad governance.
  • Over the past decade, urban NGOs have sprung up, which educate and exhort urban citizens to take a greater interest in urban governance. There are many good examples of local action in practice.
  • Second, there is a growing failure of local services being delivered by line departments. Earlier, in many States, line departments were unwilling to devolve decisions on location of new infrastructure — that is where the powers of patronage existed. However, as India closes the infrastructure gap, line departments seem more willing to hand over the day-to-day management of local services to local governments.
  • One of the outcomes of the pandemic lockdowns was how panchayats rallied around to keep local institutions going, even as higher-level officials were unable to supervise and manage them.


In the final outcome, local governments cannot be ignored. For us, the Indian people, our independence for the most part lies in strong local governments that are responsive to our needs and wants. Local governments are our most effective vaccines against the pandemic of big government.

The temples that Jawaharlal Nehru built

Syllabus: GS-1, Post-Independence India

Context: As India is celebrating 75 years of its Independence, Indians are seeing this as an occasion to recall Nehru’s luminous legacy.

Nehru’s immortal speech “A Tryst with Destiny”(It was delivered on the night of August 14, 1947.)    “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India awakes to life and freedom.” 

India during 1947

  • In 1947, Nehru, as Prime Minister, inherited an India that was politically shattered, socially divided and emotionally devastated.
  • Yet, with restraint and self-confidence, he steered the country through those turbulent times and laid out the vision of a modern, progressive nation that quietly earned the respect of the global community.

Recalling Nehru’s luminous legacy

His ideas

  • Nehru’s vision of India was anchored in a set of ideas such as:
    • Democracy
    • Secularism
    • Inclusive economic growth
    • Free press
    • Non-alignment in international affairs and also in institutions

His institutions

  • Temples of modern India: Nehru dubbed our factories, research laboratories, irrigation dams and power stations as the temples of modern India.
  • These institutions touched every kind of economic activity, ranging from agriculture to aviation and space research.
  • There were around 75 of these institutions including the:
    • Bhakra-Nangal dam
    • Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited
    • All India Institute of Medical Sciences
    • LIC
    • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation
    • Indian Oil Corporation
    • National Library of India
    • National Institute of Design
  • Nehru saw these institutions occupying the commanding heights of a stable, self-sustaining economy with people’s welfare as their central mission. His inclusive vision ensured that these institutions spanned the entire social spectrum.
  • Balanced approach: His inclusive vision ensured that these institutions spanned the entire social spectrum.
    • When the IITs were planned, Nehru also established a network of Kendriya Vidyalayas.
    • Along with large projects in steel and petroleum, he also set up the Khadi and Village Industries Commission.
    • When Bhilai, Durgapur and Rourkela were taking shape as functional townships, he also felt the need for a well-designed, modern city and thus was born Chandigarh.
  • Triumph of democracy along with development: The establishment of the Election Commission of India and the Planning Commission manifests this. They relate to the fundamentals of the Nehruvian vision.

His management of institutions

  • Nehru’s institutions flourished under the management of a group of accomplished persons who shared his idealism and his vision of a modern India.
  • These were people of stature and high learning. They were technocrats, scientists and professionals with impressive records of past achievements.
    • They included Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, P.C. Mahalanobis, Verghese Kurien, S.S. Bhatnagar, S.Bhagavantam and C.D. Deshmukh.
  • Many of these institutions, over the years, rose to global standards.
    • Indian Oil became the first Indian company to be listed in the Fortune 100, in 2014.
    • Amul emerged as the country’s best-known consumer brand and India became the largest milk producer in the world.

Nehru’s Management model- a template for succeeding PMs

  • Nehru’s rule set the stage for momentum in the Indian economy. This was the period that saw seismic shifts in the Indian economy.
    • Green Revolution: It transformed India from a basket case to a grain-exporting nation.
    • Telephone revolution: It changed the telephone from being a symbol of elite lifestyle to mass ownership.
    • Digital revolution: It turned India into a global technology hub all played out one after another.
    • Momentous reforms in 1991: These transformed the economy into an open, liberal, and largely market-driven regime.


Collectively, Nehru’s ideas & institutions and shifts after him have lifted over 300 million Indians above the poverty line and heralded the arrival of a modern, diversified globally connected economy with a significant digital component.

About Pandit Jawaharlal NehruNehru met Gandhiji in 1916 and was drawn to him instantly. He became his close friend, follower, and associate.He was involved in the non-cooperation movement in 1920 and was imprisoned for the first time.Nehru also played his part in making the struggles of the people of the princely states align with the freedom movement in British India.He was the party president in the Lahore session (1929) when the declaration of complete independence as the goal of the freedom movement was passed.Nehru was at the forefront of various movements like the Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement and was arrested a total of nine times by the British.From 1946, he was elected the president of the congress party and served as its president for three more terms.Nehru headed the interim government of India in 1946. He became the first prime minister of Independent India.Nehru’s vision of a united India led to the speedy integration of the princely states into the Indian Dominion.Nehru, as prime minister, advocated a mixed economy. He established heavy industries believing them to be essential to the development of a country. But there were also heavy control and regulations of the industry.He was a founder and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.He was a prolific author and some of his works are ‘The Discovery of India’ and ‘Glimpses of World History’.Since 1957, his birth anniversary is celebrated as ‘Children’s Day’ in India.


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