ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The Value of Federalism

The assumptions behind the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir are based on rhetoric.


The central government’s sudden move to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and split the state into two union territories was bound to elicit both praise and manifold objections. The objections raised by civil society members, public intellectuals, and political leaders from the opposition parties are by now too well-documented to require any reiteration here. Approaching the Kashmir issue from an oppositional standpoint would mean the normative prioritising of the language on violation of constitutional norms and the norms of deliberative democracy, and the injustice over the affirmative language that has been the official language to justify the decision to wipe out the special status of J&K.

The stated justifications by the central government behind such a move are not unusual. These claims state that the integration of Kashmir is in the interest of the development of the region and the welfare of the people. Put differently, the official move treated Article 370 and its associated provision, Article 35A as the main hurdle in achieving this aim. The drastic step to “integrate Kashmir” with India has been seen by the central government and its supporters, who now range across the political spectrum, as a necessary condition for a strong government both at the centre as well as in the states.

The official narrative of integration and a strong nation is couched in language that is affirmative in its orientation. Such orientation includes the rhetoric of integration, development of the nation and region, and the welfare of the people from the Valley. This stance, touted by the central government and shared by many from the political class with a rather shaky democratic consciousness, is based on rhetoric rather than reality. The reality of the past experience with the model of developmental nationalism does not completely confirm this stance. This is evident in the regional tensions that continue to exist both within and between the states that are constitutive of Indian federalism. We need to realise that the value of states that are constitutive of federalism depends more on shared harmony and tranquility and not on the agony and estrangement of the people who reside in these regions.

The centralisation of power cannot maximise welfare. If that were the case, India would not have witnessed the growing trend of distress migration from rural to urban India; an urban India that does not have the capacity to guarantee quality of life to the people. Outmigration, which is the result of the neglect of balanced and judicious regional development, has, however, led to a much bigger civilisational loss that is evident in the several thousand villages, as, for example, in Uttarakhand. These villages have now acquired the dubious distinction of becoming “ghost villages,” without any human habitation. The value of a physical region, thus, depends on how well it supports human and ecological flourishing.

While the central government claims to open up opportunities through the abrogation, it seems to be oblivious of the fact that it has no control over the equitable distribution of urban spaces, which are notionally free for economic transaction. Such a transaction has the inherent logic that forecloses the access of the common person to the fruits of development suggested in the official justification. As the experience with urban development suggests, it has allowed such access only to the super-rich urban class, which has put fences around these spaces, turning them into a modern agrahara, a sacred locality of the top of the twice-born where persons from lower castes do not have access even though they may have the capability to do so. The official narrative subsumes the voices against injustice, particularly from the Valley. What they needed was just the moral minimum. They expected the central government to at least let them know what was being decided about their future in the context of Article 370.

The consolidation of power through such an imposition and not through deliberative composure shows the present government to be quite impatient to achieve its goal of concentrating power. The consequences of such moves are predictable. A strong desire for control could be quite elusive and sometimes counterproductive. It is elusive precisely because the desire to centralise power through the centralisation of conflict on Kashmir alone would make the government ignore the other spheres of conflict such as agriculture, employment, and urban governance, just to mention the more acute ones. Federalism does offer a bright chance to negotiate conflict by sharing power and not reducing it by converting states into union territories. But, the present central government seeks to negotiate conflict through centralisation. The neglect of decentralised conflicts can lead to their eruption depending on its articulation by the affected parties. Reciprocal federalism can compel the central government to pay equal attention to these conflicts. Similarly, federalism influenced by human flourishing also contains the egalitarian value that needs to be promoted to make physical spaces civilisationally liveable.

Updated On : 12th Aug, 2019


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