22 July – The spirit of Indian federalism

The issue of India’s federal nature has been both a subject of reiteration and conflict between the ruling party and the opposition. There have been instances when the opposition parties accused the Centre of violating the federal spirit through political and economic means, and there have been cases when the Centre alleged that the State regimes did not adhere to it.

Indian federalism

The centralising tendencies of Indian Constitution –

  • The Constitution of India gives primacy to the word, ‘Union’, and not ‘federation’.
  • Part 1 of the Constitution is titled, ‘The Union and its Territory’, and Article 1 therein states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. The fact that Clause (1) explains Union of States as a “federal union” does not take away from the underlying importance of the Union.
  • Part XI of the Constitution deals with ‘Relationship Between the Union and the States’; it doesn’t say ‘Relationship with the Federation and the States’.
  • Chapter two therein lays down, inter alia, ‘Obligation of States and the Union’, ‘Control of the Union over States in Certain Cases’, ‘Jurisdiction of the Union in Relation to Territories Outside India’.
  • Nowhere is the term ‘federation’ used. There are several such examples. The highest court of the land is not called the Federal Court of India, but the Supreme Court of India.
  • In the nature of a unitary state, India is governed by a common penal code (with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir, which has its own penal code). In the US, which is a federation of States, different States have different laws.

The foresight of our forefathers –

  • On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved an eight-point resolution in the House. Among other things, the resolution stated the following: “This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance, a Constitution”; and, “Wherein the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside British India and the States well as such other territories as are willing to be constituted into the Independent Sovereign India, shall be a Union of them all.”
  • It was left to B.R. Ambedkar to focus on the term ‘Union’ in the resolution. In his speech, delivered on December 17, 1946, on the resolution in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar said, “I am personally concerned… I like a strong united India, much stronger than the Centre we had created under the Government of India Act of 1935.”
  • On November 4, 1948, months after India had gained independence, Ambedkar moved a Motion in the Constituent Assembly, introducing the Draft Constitution. The distinguishing feature of Ambedkar’s speech in the course of introducing the Draft Constitution was his repeated emphasis on a mix of unitary and federalism, and the need to keep the rigidity, or non-flexibility of functions, that a federal system suffers from. Ambedkar admitted that federalism being a “dual polity” based on divided authority, could lead to a diversity of laws which, beyond a point, “is capable of producing chaos and has produced chaos in many federal states”. He, thus, said, that the Draft Constitution had used three means to “maintain the unity of the country” — a single judiciary, uniformity in fundamental laws (civil and criminal), and, a common All India Civil Service. During his address, Ambedkar repeatedly referred to the federal system in the US which, he held, would not be suitable for India.
  • While discussing Ambedkar’s speech in Constituent Assembly, Professor Shibban Lal Saksena of the United Provinces, for instance, backed him completely, stating: “No matter what we say about the fundamentals of the culture of our peoples in different Provinces being the same, we a heterogeneous people; and taking advantage of the situation that the British have gone, there are all kinds of disruptive elements trying to raise their heads, and therefore it is essential that the Centre must be strong…” This apprehension holds good today.

Conclusion –

In the end, the concept of a strong Centre with residual powers to States, prevailed. India became a Union of States and not a federation of States — a Union which contains the spirit of federalism but not the fissiparousness that a federation could unleash in the special Indian conditions.

SourceVIF India

Also read: 20th July – How MGNREGA transformed into a monument of failure?