HomeAsia-Pacific Social Science Reviewvol. 15 no. 1 (2015)

Reimagining Federalism in India: Exploring the Frontiers of Collaborative Federal Architecture

Chanchal Kumar Sharma

Discipline: Political Science



This paper argues that in response to contemporary challenges, the federal governance structure in India requires fine-tuning. A directional shift is required from a cooperative model to a collaborative model of federal governance in view of various endogenous and exogenous imperatives of change, such as rising assertiveness of civil society; rising “self awareness” of regional and local political elites; globalization, privatization, and retreat of the central state; and increasing reliance of the national government on intergovernmental coordination mechanisms rather than centralized/hierarchical mechanisms for policy making and implementation. Thus, I reflect on the possibility of supplementing the federal practice in India (known for being “federal in form and unitary in spirit”) with collaborative institutions and deliberative processes to achieve policy coordination. Institutional reforms are required to generate the right incentives for welfare enhancing, multi-stakeholder engagement and thereby improve the quality of democracy. Three suggestions offered are: (1) expansion of the existing structural and functional horizons of the Inter-State Council (ISC) to engage, inter alia, non-state actors, enabling it to function as a quasi judicial “collaborative council”; (2) offer constitutional status to the newly formed “collaborative community of national and international experts, practitioners, and partners” named NITI Aayog because only a “constitutional mechanism” can prevent the process/institution(s) of multi stakeholder engagement from being marred by ad-hocism and (3) transfer the financial allocation function of the erstwhile Planning Commission to a permanent Finance Commission because a collaborative federal architecture can develop only in the context of a balanced, transparent, and distortion free system of intergovernmental fiscal relations.