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Experiments in Devolution

Partha S. Ghosh

Edited by Rekha Saxena
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2011, pp. xi + 493, Rs.795.00


The Foreword to the volume by George Anderson, President of the Forum of Federations, informs us that at the end of the Second World War there were only four functioning federations, namely, the United States, Canada, Australia and Switzerland; today, the world has about thirty, and many more are on the path of becoming so. Why this fascination for federalism? The reason is not difficult to find. With the growth of democracy almost everywhere in the world, and people's ever-increasing awareness about their cultural and ethnic rights, almost every group within a nation state is asking for recognition of its specific identity markers which must be reflected in the constitutional arrangement that the state will have to contrive to make possible. Added to this issue is the question of uneven regional development in any national territory making the discontented regions asking for more autonomy to take care of their development priorities. The fact that India has been constantly acceding to both these sets of demands resulting in an ever-increasing number of states within the Indian Union provides a good example of federalism to serve as the safety valve to prevent territorial disintegration of many nation states. All those states which could not adequately read the writing on the wall have paid the price through dismemberment, Pakistan being the best example in South Asia. Yet, strangely, Harold Laski, one of the doyens of political science, had infamously showed his lack of foresight by predicting the doom for federalism. It was as late as in 1939, almost 150 years of the successful run of the American federal state that Laski seemed to be unhappy with the way American federalism functioned. His ire was that the United States was procrastinating joining the World War in favour of Britain and its democratic alliance network against the forces of Fascist Germany, Italy and Japan primarily because as a federal system its decision making process was tardy. In his paper 'The Obsolescence of Federalism', published in The New Republic (May 1939), he virtually wrote the epitaph of federalism. He argued that as a model of government the American experiment had failed because federalism celebrated divided territoriality, divided sovereignty and divided citizenship, and all put together they were dangerously pitted against the nation's capacity to be decisive at the time of crisis. He had ignored the fact that Americans were not tardy in taking decisions, they were taking their decisions ...

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