Then, the prerequisite of a federal government is the supremacy of the constitution, which implies a written and rigid constitution. Supremacy of the constitution means that the terms of the agreement, which establish the central and regional governments and which distribute powers between them, must be binding upon them. If any change is desired to be brought about, it must be made by amending the constitution as prescribed by law and not by the unilateral action of any of the two sets of government.
But the process of amending a federal constitution being difficult and circuitous, it is not possible to get the desired results as and when the needs of the people and the country demand. It is also possible that the capricious policy of a number of regional governments may create unnecessary difficulties in the passage of the amendment. All constitutional amendments in the United States require ratification by three-fourths of the States after having been passed by a two-thirds majority of Congress. There is no prescribed time- limit for ratification unless specifically determined by a resolution of Congress. The absence of such a prescription makes the issue a plaything of the states and indefinite delay takes away the purpose underlying the amendment.
For example, the child labour amendment was proposed by Congress in 1924, without specifying the time-limit for ratification. So far only twenty-eight States have ratified it, the last one being Kansas in 1937. On one occasion Ohio ratified an amendment submitted eighty years earlier. Connecticut, Georgia and Massachusets voted in 1939 to ratify the first Ten Amendments one-hundred and fifty years after they had been submitted to them for ratification. The American system of amending the Constitution also makes possible for thirteen small states to pool together and hold up an overwhelming majority of the remaining states in their effort to make a much wanted constitutional change. The powers in a federation are divided and the organs of government, instead of being parts of one highly integrated piece of administrative machinery, are parts of as many different administrative systems as there are federating units. Being coordinate in status a uniform policy for the common good can only be secured by voluntary agreement among all the units to cooperate. This is something which it is often difficult, if not impossible, to secure.
The particular interests of all the component units of a federation are not always identical and each unit is likely to pursue a policy which seems to be conducive to its own interests over those of the State as a whole. More serious still, this divergence of interests may bring the several units into sharp conflict with one another or collectively into conflict with the central government. Even when there is no conflict of interest, great loss often results when a given job is not to be done under a single direction. In the conduct of foreign affairs, the federal government exhibits inherent weakness and inconsistency. The experience of the United States in particular has shown that the individual members of the federal union, by virtue of their reserved powers over the rights of person and property, may embarrass the national government in enforcing its treaty obligations in respect to aliens residing in the United States. When internal differences are carried into foreign relations, the national government loses its international prestige. A fluctuating foreign policy leads to manifold troubles.
Federation becomes a weak government both internally and externally. Similarly, in times of war the federal government may sometimes be found lacking in promptness of decision and firmness of action, due to the multiplicity of powers, which a national emergency of this kind demands. It was, perhaps, for this reason that Adolph Hitler altered Germany from a federal to a unitary State in 1934. A federal government is financially expensive, since there is much duplication of administrative machinery and procedure. There are as many sets of legislatures, courts and administrative departments, with Ministers and Ministries, as the number of the units composing the federation plus the top-heavy identical institutions at the Centre. And all these function within the framework of democratic machinery which is often cumbersome and usually expensive. Moreover, mechanics of federalism are wasteful of time and energy in that it much depends on negotiation, both at political and administrative levels, to secure uniformity of laws and proper administrative compliance. Finally, though federation is an irrevocable union, yet the possibilities of secession are there.
Regional loyalties seldom die and linguistic differences ever remain uppermost. There is conflict of economic interests too. Then, there are racial prejudices. The American Civil War and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 are reminders of such tendencies. The United Arab Republic disintegrated with the separation of, Syria. There, is ferment now in Canada.
In May, 1964, the Quebec legislature set up a committee to report on all the implications of a breakaway from the federation. The French-Canadian grievance has been building up over the rival scope of the two languages and the two cultures in Canada. But more realistically the problem is economic. The development of the English- speaking Provinces is held to be at the expense of the French-speaking Quebec.
Till recently, the separatist groups had not spelt out their separation in terms of outright secession. But Quebec’s Premier Rene Levesque, who headed the separatist Parti Quebecois’ (PQ), immediately after assuming office in December 1976 threatened secession. It was averted as the proposal was negative at a referendum. But the separatist tendencies have not disappeared.
It will be a sad development in the career of federalism if at all it ever happens. India is also torn asunder into twenty-five linguistic States with territorial, economic, and cultural disputes plaguing the solidarity of the nation. Recent Events in the North-East region, particularly in Assam, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, show that Indian nationalism is fragile and the federal set up, although forty-four years old now, has not helped to dissipate separatist tendencies.