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Comparing federal structures: India, US

Comparing federal structures: India, US
Not all human beings have heard Donald Trump's name. It is true about the citizens of the Indian Union too. Many citizens of the Indian Union have not ever heard Narendra Modi's name either. That is just the reality. However, some have heard of him, and they have heard of him in varying degrees. That degree represents the degree to which America and the Whites actually control the mindscape of Indian Union's brown citizens. So, the most Trump-engaged section of this group of Browns is not happy with Trump for various reasons. But they are not alone. Many citizens of the USA also feel similarly. And since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, what is on display is some vociferous opposition to the new incumbent. And they are pushing back and trying to protect their rights that they believe that Trump might take away. They might just succeed. One Governor (a post akin to a Chief Minister in a state of the Indian Union) after another from the Opposition Democratic Party has stood up and said that they would make sure that Trump's wish cannot run wild in their states. And they can succeed since their Constitution enables them to protect themselves from the whims of a centrally elected demagogue.

The federal character of the US Constitution ensures that democratic, bottom-up protection against Central demagoguery. Trump may be the most influential person in the world, but inside the US, individual states have significant autonomy, so that they can be governed by the wishes of the state's populace and not by the fancy of those outside. Thus, when many across the world are seeing in Trump and his support base the rise of a regime that is semi-fascist in intent and possibly action, the federal structure of the US Constitution gives autonomous powers to the states to govern themselves in most matters. Thus, lessening the effect of a change in Central power. It acknowledges that a US state is a political unit and its government is much closer and representative of the sentiments and wishes of the people concerning most affairs that govern their life.

It's the government that should matter. Also, the federal structure and significant power to an individual state mean a more representative government, since if most people of a state vote against the Central winner, say, Trump, then they don't have to be subject to his policies on many crucial matters on which they disagree with him. In short, a deeper democracy.

Today, the Union Government at Delhi under the control of a party by dint of its majority in the Lok Sabha. The BJP has won an outright majority of the seats with under 33 per cent of the vote. Even in the form its alliance, the NDA, it represents less 40 per cent of the voting citizens of the Indian Union. Many states simply had nothing much to do with Modi and his BJP, both of which are extremely unpopular in these states. Thus, the similarity between the incredibly divisive reactions than Trump and Modi invokes has some parallels. States within the USA that disagree with Trump have more protections than states under the Indian Union that do not agree with Modi. This difference lies in the much robust federalism of the USA and the so-called federal structure of the Indian Union that is federal only in name but undemocratically centralised for all legal and practical purposes.

Let us understand that by a few fundamental differences between the Constitution of India and that of USA vis-à-vis the question of federalism. In the upper house of the US, the Senate, which is a council of states has equal representation from each state. Thus each state is considered an equal partner with an equal vote irrespective of population, just like the United Nations. In the Indian Union's upper house, the Council of States or the Rajya Sabha, the number of seats allotted to the states is not equal but is according to population, and hence, is not fundamentally different from the Lok Sabha. In short, the states are not considered equal. The more populous is stronger. Also, unlike USA which has a concept of state citizenship in addition to US citizenship, Indian Union has no legal concept of a West Bengal citizen or a Tamil Nadu citizen, in addition to the citizenship of the Indian Union. In the US Constitution, the mandate and powers of the Union government are much smaller than the Union government of the Indian Union. In the US constitution, residuary powers lie with the individual state. Thus, the US Constitution says, "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States". This is a huge difference that in time progressively empowers states of the USA and makes the states of the Indian Union into menial vassals of New Delhi.

Also, states of USA have full control over education--Union has nothing to do with it. States make their family laws, electoral laws and various such laws and even has its supreme court which is the apex court in many matters. The US Supreme Court is not the apex court for all legal matters. For many matters, the apex body is the state supreme court. States levy their own income tax, and it has all powers to change such income tax rates and various other tax rates.

In short, in terms of making law, levying taxes, making policy and various other issues, an individual state of USA has far greater power than their counterpart in the Indian Union. Given the incomparably greater diversity and the ethnolinguistic difference between the various states of the Indian Union, the reality should have been the exact opposite. The USA has been the aspirational model for certain key sectors of South Asian elites. As far as the Indian Union is concerned, it shall do well by doing away with the absurd centralisation of power it has, which assumes the multinational, multi-lingual Indian Union to be more homogeneous than White Caucasian majority USA. If Indian Union wants to learn from the USA, it should learn what a real federal structure looks like in practice. The present rights that individual states of USA have are much greater than the existing rights of different states of the Indian Union. This shameful situation must change.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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