[Editorial Analysis] The upcoming crisis in Indian federalism

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Federalism
Mains level: Federalism and its issues and challenges

Context:

• When the Lok Sabha’s composition changes dramatically in 2026, the Indian Constitution may face an unprecedented crisis.

• Seats in the Lok Sabha have been based on the 1971 census since 1976, and have not taken into account population changes.

• As a result, the freeze provided an opportunity to ensure that India’s most prosperous states were not penalised politically for their achievements.

Position of states in federation :

• To understand that States are distinct associative communities within the federal structure of the Indian Union, one only needs to study the history leading up to the linguistic reorganisation of States in 1956, and subsequent movements for Statehood afterward.

• It couldn’t be any other way in a polity as diverse as ours – linguistically, culturally, and ethnically.

Competition among states :

• All citizens are equal in a democratic system, and they are thus entitled to equal representation in government.

• However, this implies that larger states are more likely to dominate national debates than smaller states.

• Small states are concerned that they will receive a smaller economic share of the pie, have less say in national issues, and be rendered irrelevant in the country’s political governance.

• To allay this well-founded fear, federal democracies have incorporated various compromises into their governing structures in order to strike a balance between democratic and federal principles. American example is the best one to suit this picture.

Indian Structure :

• The quasi-federal structure of India has always been unique.

• Our founders recognised that India’s diversity necessitated federalism, but they also established a strong centre to avoid fissiparous tendencies among States that had never been a single political unit.

• While history is mixed, fears of severing Indian national unity simply by giving states more power have proven to be unfounded — and, if anything, it has been the other way around.

• The 1956 linguistic reorganisation of states was a popular recognition of federal principles that did not result in separatist tendencies.

• Since then, new states have been formed within the Union in response to public demands for greater autonomy.

• Any conflict between federal principles and democracy in India will inevitably have linguistic, religious, and cultural ramifications, potentially leading to new forms of sub-regional chauvinism.

• As a result, there is a pressing need to reimagine our national compact; another pause will only push this thorny issue further down the road, perpetuating an increasingly undemocratic system.

Tackling Challenges :

• To assuage the fear of smaller States being dominated by larger ones, the powers of States vis-à-vis the Centre contained in the Lists and in provisions dealing with changing state boundaries must be increased.

• There’s no reason to believe that giving our states more power will lead to national disintegration. More localised decision-making, on the other hand, is certain to boost national prosperity.

• Second, the Rajya Sabha, our House of States, needs to be expanded in terms of its role and composition. This would provide a kind of check on national majoritarian politics that have a negative impact on smaller states.

• Third, constitutional changes and changes in state financial redistribution must have the approval of all or nearly all states (the fate of the Goods and Services Tax, or GST, serves as a salutary warning in this regard).

• Language and religious provisions in the constitution must also be unaffected.

• Fourth, serious consideration should be given to breaking up the largest States into smaller units that will not dominate national discourse on their own.

Conclusion :

• Devolution of powers will not break national bonds of affection and patriotism, but it will put them under severe strain when one part of the country is given more power than another.

• The memorable quote “Everything must change for everything to remain the same” can be found in Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo.

• This includes the question of how, in the coming years, we will balance the competing claims of democracy and federalism.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the World War II, consider the following statements:

1. Indian Army was the largest volunteer force during WWII.

2. An Indian Army Memorial is located at Rome.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

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