By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, November 1, 2007 (IANS) From heads of state and government to experts and activists, around 1,000 people from the world will take part in an international conference on federalism here next week.
Conference leaders say the Nov 5-7 meet - the fourth in a series organised by the Canada-based Forum of Federations - will provide a platform for exchanges of ideas that can prove useful to countries in turmoil such as Sri Lanka.
For a country where federalism as a concept has proved greatly successful, the Indian contingent will include Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Opposition Leader L.K. Advani and Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
"The most important thing is it provides a unique learning event - from practitioners, for practitioners," Rupak Chattopadhyaya of Forum of Federations told IANS. "They come together to share each other's experience."
Among the foreign participants will be Presidents Micheline Calmy-Rey of Switzerland and Ahmed Abdallah M. Sambi of Comoros, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, which is to hold the fifth edition of the International Conference on Federalism.
There will be high-level teams from Bosnia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Austria besides Pakistan and Nepal. Iraq, Sudan, Malaysia, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates will also be taking part.
Sri Lanka, where a Tamil homeland campaign raging since 1983 refuses to end, is sending two senior cabinet ministers, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Rauff Hakeem. Two Tamil politicians will also attend: K. Vigneswaran and Gajendran Ponnambalam.
Another Sri Lankan Minister, Tissa Vitharana, who is battling against tremendous odds to evolve a national consensus on a power sharing formula, may also come.
"The Indian experience is very important in federalism," said Chattopadhyaya. "India is seen as an emerging economy. But Indian federalism is the real success story of the last 60 years."
Amaresh Singh, Deputy Secretary in the Home Ministry, which is coordinating the event, said federal form of governance as an idea was in vogue today.
"Countries that practice federalism constitute 40 percent of the global population. Now we have this concept being looked into by countries in turmoil. The conference provides a place to learn from each other's experiences."
There will be a total of 35 sessions when government leaders, administrators, scholars, experts and activists will have intense discussions on federalism and better governance.
"The objective is to promote a dialogue on the renewal and development of federalism and greater cooperation among practitioners of federalism in pursuit of good governance," an Indian official explained.
Among the discussion themes will be: Can unity and diversity be reconciled? How do institutional arrangements for diversity evolve over time in established federations? How important is language policy as a tool of conflict resolution? How far should federations accommodate differences in resource endowments? How do federations reconcile overall economic stability with state autonomy? How do federations deal with water disputes? To what extent should local governments lead in the empowerment of disadvantaged groups?
There will be no grandstanding orations or official statements. Everyone will actively participate in the interactive work sessions, where they get exposed to diverse points of view and new insights.
Said Chattopadhyaya: "We hope people get inspired by practices in other countries and we hope this is then transmitted to improved practices in other countries.
"Given that many countries have many socio-economic problems, there will be good and bad lessons to be shared and learnt."
(Courtesy: Indo-Asian News Service)