Understandably, many postcolonial nations are uneasy, if not apprehensive of the idea of federalism. Nonetheless, it is also a fact that given the diversity of their demography and geography, when they freed themselves from the yoke of colonialism, they were left with little choice than to embrace much of the governance model of the colonies they were once, and which kept the divisions within controlled with tactful legislations. For instance some, including Perry Anderson in his book “Indian Ideology” say as much as 85 percent of the Indian constitution is a mirror of the Government of India Act 1935. True enough, we even see in Article 371-C, so often quoted in Manipur these days, shadows of the clause in GOI-Act 1935 which provided for the formerly un-administered “backward tracts” to be slightly upgraded to “excluded areas” and “partially excluded areas”, which left the non-revenue districts loosely administered under the gaze of the governor of the province, and not the participatory popularly elected provincial governments. It is interesting that a former governor of Assam Robert Reid noted that it was the Lushais, who he thought were the most forward looking of the undivided Assam tribes, were unhappy to be clubbed in the backward or “excluded area” category by the GOI-Act 1935, and expressed instead their preference for an autonomous Lushai Hills within the Assam provincial government. This probably was also influenced by the revolt of commoners in those days in these hills against the Lushai chieftianship under which there were serfs and therefore for them the modern looked much more attractive than the oppression of their customary power structure. This gritty temperament of the Lushais are evident to this day in the manner Mizoram has advanced in the last few decades, including in football, churning out champion materials endlessly. The irony is, what today is seen as an article meant to protect the hills, in its original form was actually meant to exclude the hills. This is also exactly the case with reference to the Inner Line Permit System which too has been the cause of much turmoil in Manipur in recent times.
It is also to be noticed that most postcolonial nations, despite having adopted federalism, also generally ensure that there are conditions to it. These conditions were in many ways aimed at not allowing the federal pledge amount to a suicide pact for the nation. India is no exception. Its own federalism is limited by structural safeguards to ensure its provinces do not get too powerful for the comfort for the Centre. In fact, constitutional experts like Fali S. Nariman have openly argued that India is unitary in spirit but its claim of being federal in nature is facile. The strongest alibi he cites for his contention is Article 3 of the Indian constitution, which gives the Centre the power to not only alter the boundaries or change the name of any state, but also to create news states or dissolve existing ones without the consent of the concerned states. Such overwhelming power entrusted to the Centre, and consequently the hegemonic imposition of a sense of powerlessness to constituent states, is in no way an assurance of federal structure or spirit. Perhaps India in its formative days had reasons to ensure that its federal units do not get too powerful, fresh as it was from the trauma of Partition and the uncertainty that other parts of its newly and hastily patched up provinces may too begin pulling away. Such compelling circumstances would probably have made any nascent nation think of an asymmetrically powerful Centre, but those conditions are today gone. India is a confident and powerful nation now and there is no longer the need to continue to suffer from the same paranoia which it once was forced into. Article 3, hence calls for a radical rewriting, if not dropped from constitution altogether, he had argued.
It must be recalled here that less resilient nations, Ethiopia for instance, has had to undergo a partial dismemberment in recent times. Of the stories of nations which are succeeding in holding together despite their internal diversities, the case of South Africa is interesting. The internal rifts, tribalism, tribal notions of territory etc, have been a very potent mix of extremely destructive energy giving rise of centrifugal forces of such vehemence that it threatened to tear the nation apart on many occasion. Like so many other nations, it too could not have done without adopting a federal model, but it also had to evolve a formula to ensure that this federalism did not amount to its ultimate disintegration. Its slogan hence has been, “rights rather than territory”, a motto which seems to be working. The South African model of federalism should be of interest to many states in Northeast India where conflicting notions of territory and ethnic homelands have been the cause of so much violent turmoil. Manipur also definitely could learn from this.
Source: Imphal Free Press