Reimagining Indian federalism

Reimagining Indian federalism


The return of coalition governance in New Delhi is a significant political development. Despite assertions of promoting cooperative federalism, there has been a visible trend towards coercive federalism, marked by attempts to undermine state autonomy.


GS-02 (Polity)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • About Federalism
  • Challenges
  • Why Address this Issue?

About Federalism

  • Federalism in India is characterized by the division of powers between the Union and the states, ensuring a balance that accommodates the country’s vast diversity.
  • Key points about Indian federalism include:
    • Constitutional Framework: The Constitution of India outlines a federal structure with a strong unitary bias. It delineates the powers and responsibilities of the Union and the states.
    • State Autonomy: States have significant autonomy in certain domains, allowing them to tailor policies to their unique socio-economic contexts.
    • Cooperative Federalism: The principle of cooperative federalism emphasizes collaboration between the Union and the states to achieve common goals, ensuring a harmonious relationship.
    • Fiscal Federalism: The financial relationship between the Union and the states is critical, with mechanisms like the Finance Commission ensuring equitable distribution of resources.
    • Inter-State Relations: Bodies like the Inter-State Council facilitate dialogue and resolution of inter-state issues, promoting cooperative governance.
    • Challenges of Centralization: Recent trends towards centralization have raised concerns about the erosion of state powers and the need to uphold the federal spirit.
    • Role of Regional Parties: Regional parties play a crucial role in representing state interests, influencing national policies, and ensuring a balanced federal structure.


The current political and administrative landscape presents several challenges to India’s federal structure:

  • Centralization of Power: The increasing centralization of decision-making undermines state autonomy and hampers their ability to address local issues effectively.
  • Imposition of Uniform Policies: Efforts to impose uniform policies, such as the promotion of Hindi, disregard the cultural and linguistic diversity of states, leading to tensions.
  • Misuse of Central Agencies: The deployment of central investigative and regulatory agencies to target political opponents disrupts the federal balance and undermines democratic processes.
  • Financial Imbalances: The skewed distribution of financial resources, exacerbated by the misuse of funds and the levying of cesses, disadvantages high-performing states.
  • Representation and Delimitation: The potential changes in delimitation based on new Census data threaten to disproportionately empower northern states, marginalizing others.
  • Policy Implementation: Unilateral decisions, such as the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, without consulting state governments, highlight the challenges in implementing policies at the state level.
  • Erosion of Institutional Mechanisms: The weakening of institutions like the Inter-State Council diminishes platforms for collaborative decision-making and dispute resolution.

Why Address this Issue?

  • India’s strength lies in its diversity. A robust federal structure ensures that different regions can preserve their unique identities and contribute to national unity.
  • Equitable distribution of resources and representation fosters balanced development, reducing regional disparities and promoting social harmony.
  • Decentralized governance allows states to innovate and implement policies tailored to their specific needs, improving overall governance and public service delivery.
  • Upholding federal principles strengthens democratic processes by ensuring that all regions have a voice in national decision-making.
  • Safeguarding state autonomy prevents the central government from overreaching its powers, maintaining the constitutional balance.
  • A cooperative federalism framework promotes collaboration between the Union and states, enhancing policy outcomes and national progress.
  • Equitable fiscal federalism ensures that states have the necessary resources to pursue their development priorities, contributing to national economic stability.

Suggested Measures

  • Revitalize Institutional Mechanisms: Revive and empower bodies like the Inter-State Council to serve as effective forums for consultation, decision-making, and dispute resolution.
  • Ensure Equitable Representation: Maintain provisions like the 91st Amendment to ensure fair representation and avoid disenfranchising any region.
  • Promote Cooperative Federalism: Foster a spirit of cooperative federalism through regular dialogue, collaboration, and mutual respect between the Union and states.
  • Address Financial Imbalances: Reform the fiscal federalism framework to ensure equitable distribution of resources, considering state performance and developmental needs.
  • Respect State Autonomy: Avoid imposing uniform policies and respect the cultural, linguistic, and administrative autonomy of states.
  • Strengthen Decentralized Governance: Empower states to design and implement policies suited to their specific contexts, encouraging innovation and localized solutions.
  • Enhance Transparency and Accountability: Ensure transparent and accountable governance at both the Union and state levels to build trust and cooperation.