It has long been held by votaries of more democracy in India, including this scribe, that democracy will remain hollow unless federalism is strengthened in the system. A large continental multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation requires nothing less. Mr. Anna Hazare after his quick-fix solutions against corruption such as administering slaps to those guilty, has now turned his attention to making democracy more participatory. His solution: laws made by Parliament must be subject to prior approval by all the Gram Sabhas in the nation.
In a pre-recorded video announcing his plans for “Rebuilding Republic” Mr. Hazare said: “The Lok Sabha thinks it is above everyone. This is wrong. People have made you (Lok Sabha). So they are above you… Assemblies and Lok Sabhas think that they are above Gram Sabhas. But Gram Sabhas are above you (Lok Sabha and Assemblies).”
It needs to be gently explained to Mr. Hazare and his distinguished team members that because the people are sovereign they have the right to elect the legislators appointed to make laws. The people’s sovereignty does not consist of directly overriding the very legislators elected by them to perform specified tasks. Have Team Anna members given the slightest thought to how their proposal to make Gram Sabhas more powerful than Parliament would be made practicable? There are 265,000 Gram Sabhas in India. Before each Bill would all the Gram Sabhas be consulted and be asked to vote? Then will their votes be counted to determine the requisite majority? The concept is simply too silly to merit discussion.
The federal principle consists of empowering people to rule themselves with regard to problems that directly concern them and them alone. National policies concern the entire nation therefore legislators elected to Parliament by the entire nation address national problems. The same principle applies to states dealing with problems exclusively affecting the states. The same principle applies to local bodies dealing with problems exclusively affecting the localities.
People of any specified area elect their representatives to make laws and address problems that affect exclusively their respective areas. Federalism consists of making rational division of responsibility that allows empowerment for areas to obtain self-rule with regard to subjects respectively pertaining to them. For example, the subject of garbage disposal would affect a locality. No outside agency need exercise authority to deal with this problem. Autonomy and self-rule are the cardinal principles of federalism.
Federalism would be reduced to a farce leading to chaos if Mr. Hazare’s proposal were to be seriously implemented. One is embarrassed to have reiterated the basic principle that governs federalism which even school children might know. But Mr. Hazare’s proposal apparently backed by distinguished lawyers such as Mr. Prashant Bhushan makes one wonder if the proposal is at all meant seriously or is it a ploy to ridicule federalism. It is truly astonishing that former Law Minister Mr. Shanti Bhushan remains silent while such outlandish proposals emanate from his colleagues.