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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anti-Corruption and Federalism in India

At the end of 2011, India’s coalition government adjourned the upper chamber of the federal legislature without passing legislation that would have created an independent anticorruption agency. India was a the time rife with governmental corruption. A college wants its foreign students protected from crime? A payment is made to local police employees, who pocket the money for themselves. Someone wants a government contract? Well, that goes without saying.

The lower house having passed the legislation, the inaction of the upper chamber was particularly frustrating, particularly to the supporters of Hazare, whose hunger strike  during the summer had led to a promise by the government that the legislation would be introduced. It would have been impractical, and even anti-democratic, for the government to have sidestepped the legislative process simply because a demonstrator of Hazare’s stature was undergoing a hunger-strike. Even heroes should not be lionized too much. Lest it be thought that the federal parliament’s inaction would provoke Hazare to renew hunger-strike, he had actually attempted during the week leading up to the anticipated vote to rally public support against the government’s bill—calling it too weak—by undergoing a hunger-strike, but the large crowds of the summer did not materialize so he called off his hunger-strike “prematurely,” according to the New York Times, “blaming poor health.” It is odd that a person who risks his or her life in a hunger-strike would call it off on account of poor health. “I’m risking death, but I don’t want to get too sick” belies the claim to authenticity and thus undermines the credibility of the movement itself. Ironically, Hazare’s lobbying against the government’s bill may have contributed to the eventual inaction, so the inaction does not necessary constitute a failure for Hazare.

Furthermore, concerns other than corruption legitimately contributed to the inaction. Specifically, the New York Times reports that “(m)uch of the argument centered on an often-technical discussion about India’s federalist structure and whether the provision concerning the creation of state-level anticorruption agencies was unconstitutional.” As the example of the United States suggests, the encroachment of a general government of a federal system on the state governments can compromise the sovereignty retained by the latter, and thus the “checks and balances” feature of federalism between the two government systems (i.e., that of the states and that of the general government). In the case of the anti-corruption bill, whether the federalist arguments were a smokescreen or not, it is significant and highly valuable that federalism was raised as a factor explicitly. In the U.S., the factor is not typically raised even where it is relevant and even vital; typically, the federalism being affected is simply compromised.

Therefore, both with regard to Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade and federalism, the inaction of the upper federal legislative chamber is complex. Ideally, corruption should be rooted out systemically while federalism should be fortified rather than enervated. Both objectives can be achieved—meaning that federalism need not be compromised in riding the society of corruption.


Jim Yardley, “Bill to Create Anticorruption Agency Stalls in India,” The New York Times, December 30, 2011.