Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Indian Federalism: Continuity and Change

Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Indian Federalism: Continuity and Change

Article excerpt

It is argued in this paper that the Indian Constitution makers adopted federal polity to establish a single political unit in a multi-ethnic society. After the partition they felt the necessity of federation with a strong centre to ensure the unity and development of the country. But later there were important developments, viz., a transition from one-party dominant system to multi-party system and the upsurge of ethnic groups, which not only diluted the nature of the central government but also gave rise to identity politics and led to the formation of coalition governments on one hand and movement towards formation of smaller states on the other. Solution, it is suggested, lies in just distribution of resources for development of different regions to satisfy regional aspirations.


Federalism is a developing idea. It is not a rigid conception confined to a particular pattern. Different countries have adopted it to suit their needs and to solve their problems. It stands both for diversity and unity. As K.C. Wheare has pointed out, "It stands for multiplicity in unity. It can provide unity, where unity is needed, but it can ensure variety and independence in matters, where unity and multiplicity is not essential" (Wheare, 1946: 260). It was in this sense that the framers adopted a federation for India. The federation was "to bring about equilibrium between the forces of plurality and unity" (Ayyar: 1948).

As the evolution of the principle of federalism makes it clear, there are generally two varieties of federation. Firstly, they have been formed by bringing together a number of sovereign or autonomous states as in the case of USA. Secondly, they have been formed, as in the countries of the British Commonwealth, by breaking a unitary state into a number of federating units. This kind of federalism, called devolutional federalism has been motivated by various factors like administrative convenience, economic necessities, desire for local autonomy and linguistic, racial and cultural aspirations of the people. In the period after the First World War, with the rapid spread of nationalistic ideas, this kind of federalism became very popular especially as a bulwark against the disintegrative forces. (1) This model was favoured by the authors of the Government of India Act, 1935, and was followed to a great extent by the framers of the Indian Constitution.

Before the Indian Constitution makers, there were two major models: 'modern nation state' in which loyalties to national community and to political structure ultimately merge so that nationalism and patriotism become one; and 'multi-ethnic' or 'multinational state' which consists of "many nations bound together in a single political or territorial unit by feeling of patriotism derived from ideology, memories of common struggle against external or alien powers, and rational calculation of common advantage in the sharing of a political structure but not by a common nationality" (Brass, 1974: 9-15). Out of these two models, the framers of the Indian Constitution favoured the second model in order to meet aspirations of different groups based on language, religion, race or ethnicity.

The Government of India Act, 1935, introduced Federalism for the first time in India. But it was criticised on the ground of unequal treatment given to two of its units, namely, British provinces and Indian states (Ambedkar, 1939). But the federal scheme could not be implemented due to the outbreak of the Second World War and the Central Government continued to be governed under the Act of 1919. After the War, the British Government sent a Cabinet Mission to India to devise a new constitutional framework so that division of the country on communal ground could be contained. It was for this purpose that the Cabinet Mission Plan (16 May, 1946) suggested a three tiers federal structure of India consisting of the centre, the groups and the provinces. …

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