India is a country of diverse cultures and traditions. Every crossroad is home to thousands of people with varied cultures and languages. Every state in the nation has a set of different languages, beliefs and faiths, practised by the population. Adhering to strict policies, maintaining harmony is the duty of responsible authorities. The so-called ‘federal’ structure of governance in India is just a major backbone of working out the entire ideology. Federal structure backs the very ideas from the direct counsel of members enacted upon by the authorities in the states respectively. The structure is based on delegation of power where the supreme cabinet grants some power to the demarcated state government. These powers are sui generis per se. They completely obligate the state government to bind the state on the doctrine as designed by the central administration.

Indian context of federalism is a very controversial approach. Indian state may not be completely unitary in the system but is also not completely federal in nature. The major evolution of post-independence was enacting upon the actions that made the central government the most powerful entity. All the powers were vested with them making them the supreme authority in every case. Yet the phases of federalism that India has witnessed are exemplary. The shift in autonomy and amendments made sure of the decentralisation of powers. The complete understanding of federalism is very limited and hence different people have varied opinions on the same.



The basic evolution of federalism in India developed during the post-independence period. The first instance after the Constitution was drafted saw the unitary form of governance. All the powers were vested with the central government. The government was solely responsible for the decision making in the legislative and judiciary field. Although the constitution backed federalism but did not mandate that India was a federation rather a union of state. Lately, it was proclaimed and a better governance policy was a dire need. The separation of power and delegation was also needed. This obligated the state governments o also be accountable making India a ‘quasi-federal’ nation. Now the powers were vested both with the center and the state. The center being more powerful delegated most of the administrative decision-making chances to the state for their territory respectively.

This federal form of government is highly maintained by two principles. They are separation of power and balance of power. In the case of Ram Jawaya vs. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court laid down that the principle of separation of power was not fully accepted by India. The contradictory proclamation was made in view of the statement by Granville Austin. He said that India is not a complete federal structure as most of the powers are vested with the central government. A similar judgement was also observed in the case of State of Rajasthan vs. UOI, 1977. The central government retained most of the essential powers in view of harmonious centre-state relation. Division of power between the centre and state may seem to be a very uprising on the prospect until the autonomy at a full scale is provided. At times of emergency, the central government has all rights to curb the decisive matters of state and curbs the full-fledged autonomy. The state is under the direct control of the centre. Other than that if a state government does not adhere to the policy of centre, the central government has every right to impose an emergency backed by the failure of constitutional machinery. As a result, the perfect division of power is absent.


The changing dynamics and the varied experiences that the Indian state has had a different structure in the rule. It has also shifted from centralist to federalist and again to a centre-federal form of governance. The trajectory of cooperative federalism is a mutual context. The structure is also known as the marble-cake structure is a concept of federalism in which, state, federal, and the local government have a common opinion on the issues raised and mutually need to take reasonable steps to avoid such upcoming. The relation in the case of cooperative federalism is a horizontal relationship where they cooperate with a larger public interest. The particular system is protected under Part VII of the constitution where the maintenance of by federal and state is obligatory in nature.

The cooperative structure does not only serve the public at large but the relationship between the state and centre develops. The relation on behalf of the tired government as that in India should lie in the heart of it in the sense of nationhood. The spirit of this governance is proved through strategies laid by cash manipulation in general. Cooperative federalism may seem appropriate but cannot co-exist with the malpractice prevalent in the Indian states.


The very idea of competitive federalism revolves around the more vertical relation between the centre and state. This federalism is the target or the goal that the Indian dominion aims to achieve. The very competition between the states to attract funds and investment by the union remarkably provides an ideal economic condition. The healthy competition strives to improve physical and social infrastructure within the state. This model is an intellectual construction that locates governance within an openly competitive approach to the process of social organisation. Although it seems to be a fair and idealistic approach to governance, the negative aspect shows otherwise.

The inter-state competition may mislead in instances. Trust deficit relations are a major drawback curtailing the essence of the federal structure. On one hand, the centre has increased state share during the division of pool but in reality, states get a lesser share. The socio-economic parameters and development of each state in India are different and while a few have made substantial progress, there are also states which lag. Certain states with the prospectus of developing are overlooked upon the already flourished states getting overwhelming support. This not only administratively deprives the state but the economic impact is hampered. Being provided financial autonomy is not enough, rather a fallacy to assume that states would perform uniformly.


An asymmetric form of governance in which the constituent states possess different powers. The division of obligations by the centre is different in different regions. Although all regions have same constitutional status but the distribution of delegations varies. In contrast to the symmetric form of this form does not ensure a perfect division of responsibility. Large differences in autonomy or rigidity of the constitutional arrangements make it stiff in nature.

India’s central power has a tendency while major powers are retained. The distribution of power amongst the states has not been uniform. Although the rise of competitive nature has made clear the ask for the states to comment, in some way the state is not that equally empowered enough to put forth any. For example, Puducherry, being a single administrative unit is non-contiguous. The state of Delhi, which is a union territory as well have different elements in the state lists. Delhi has three exceptions; police, land, and public order which is outside the purview of the state. As a result, all the union territory does not possess such exceptions. The distribution is not perfect.


The phases of federalism that India has proclaimed to achieve perfect governance have somewhere led to a conflict of ideas. The government itself is obligated to so much responsibility that the idea of perfect governance is flawed. Lack of delegation of responsibility has made the supremacy prevail in the nation. An ideal nation should be equally powerful at all levels of government. Autonomy in all decisive matters should be prevalent. Efforts at the cooperative and competitive form of federalism should be strengthened. They are the ideal structure when federalism is considered. The clash between orthodox ideas and the real scenario should be equated while perceiving the governance. Indian governance is based on the tiered system and is a multilingual federation. Unless there is equity in powers, an ideal model of governance cannot be claimed.

© The People Bookmark | 2020

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram