Mahatma’s ‘Little Republics’- Comparing Indian and EU Polity

The country that gave the Mahatma to the world has failed his vision of ‘little republics’. India’s polity- as we all know- has a strong, very strong centre, something the Mahatma was never in favour of. This strength of centre has only grown in past 75 years with the passage of legislations that give the central agencies sweeping powers to enforce the ‘will’ and ‘ideology’ of the party enjoying power in New Delhi. The centre can make laws on virtually all subjects, including amending the constitution, when the party having majority in the Parliament also enjoys electoral support in majority of Indian states. It means that a cabinet comprising of a few ministers can wield power across a country that is so diverse in all aspects.

Now consider this argument. Can we allow a big corporate house to have complete control over all small and medium enterprises? Can that one corporate be allowed to decide how all inferior enterprises conduct their affairs and generate revenue? Indeed, no. The beauty of democracy lies in individuality of units that collectively form the union.

Now also consider these stats. The European Union (EU), comprising of 27 member states, has world’s third largest population (450 million) and total land area of 4 million sq. km. Compare this with India, a country and not a ‘grouping’, that comprises of 28 states and 8 UTs, and has world’s second largest population (1.3 billion) with total land area of 3.28 million sq. km. The EU is a diverse region too with so many languages and cultures, and hence can be compared with the diversity here in India. Yet, member states that make the EU are capable of managing their own affairs with the EU overseeing security and foreign relations. They have single market, common policies on trade and allow free movement of people and goods and services.

The EU is typically the fruition of vision of the Mahatma because of decentralization underpinning the arrangement. One can argue that India too has 3-tier form of governance and the constitutional safeguards that include separate union and state lists on law-making powers. But, at the same time, isn’t it true that a few politicians in New Delhi have, more often than not, the clout to influence, and even undermine, the state regimes? Law enforcement agencies under prevention of money laundering and corruption laws are used to weaken the stability of state governments. While the Mahatma envisaged more and more powers in the hands of gram sabhas, his idea has been brutally crushed, if not in letter then indeed in spirit.

The other fallout of this unjustifiable tilt in favour of centre is lack of sense of duty in staffers at virtually all government and quasi-government places of work. A common man walks into a public sector bank only to be insulted, ignored and reprimanded, and s/he doesn’t even know where to file a grievance. Is it the centre or the state or the local body that oversees any public office is a puzzle for a common man. All this unprofessional conduct and failures have roots in the flaw in the Indian polity- the departure from the Mahatma’s idea of true Swaraj, of having ‘little republics’, answerable and accountable to common man.

The cure isn’t ‘anarchy’. No, realizing the Mahatma’s vision doesn’t need a measure like balkanization. It only needs a strong political will to relinquish the greed of a very strong centre. It also needs a relook at laws that allow the central law enforcement agencies to ‘dance to the tunes’ of a few powerful people in New Delhi. The basic argument here is that the true potential of Indian society can be realised when the member states of Indian Republic are more independent (without subverting the constitutional ideas that begin with ‘We, the People of India’) and compete in an ethical manner with one another to ultimately benefit the socio-economic progress of the basic building block- the common man.