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  Federalism and nationalism are closely related phenomena as federative processes below the levels of supranational integration presuppose or require a certain degree of nationalism. This precondition is necessary both for formation and maintenance of a federal union. Modern federalization is also a close kin of liberalism and democracy. For while a certain degree of authoritarian coercion may play some role in the initial federal formation, its continuation is highly unlikely without the practice of liberal democracy. These points are broadly illustrated by the Indian political experience. The first modern colonial  federal constitution for India was drafted by the British imperial Parliament in the form of the Government of India Act, 1935, broadly modelled on The British North America (now Canada Constitution) Act, 1867, also framed by the imperial Parliament in London. The 1935 India Act was general acceptable in the British Indian provinces (with certain reservations against the overriding powers of Governors and Governor General), but the princely rulers of Indian states refused to join the federal union due to the democratic overtones of Indian nationalism. Consent of at least 50 percent of princely rulers was a precondition for its operationalization.

The continuation of India as a federal national state is, moreover, largely attributable to the successful practice of electoral democracy and parliamentary federal governance.Some of our neighbors in South Asia have faced more serious problems in maintaining national unity due to the absence of democracy or federalism or both (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal).

          Both federalism and nationalism straddle the state as well as the civil society, yet the former is primarily a state-centric development whereas the latter is a society-centred affair. John Stuart Mill in his classic Representative Government (1861) has given some attention to the relationship between nationalism and federal representative government. "A portion of mankind may be said to constitute" says he, "a Nationality if they are united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between them and any others – which make them cooperate with each other more willingly than with other people, desire to be under the same government, and desire that it should be governed by themselves or a portion of themselves exclusively".1 Of possible factors causing nationality, Mill mentions race and descent, language, religion, and common political antecedents and possession of a national history ("strongest of all"). Then Mill slides into making a strong statement, stronger than comparative history and politics would appear to support: "Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist."2 Somewhat surprisingly, Mill himself had observed on the preceding page : "Switzerland has a strong sentiment of nationality, though the cantons are of different races, different languages, and different religions."3 In fact, Mill could have treated the Swiss case as a different category of federal representative government, the subject matter of the chapter that immediately follows in his book. But this he did not do. So Switzerland is probably treated as the exception to the general rule he asserted.

          We continue to have political theorists to the present in the United Kingdom, Mill's country, who strongly agree with him. Consider the following generalization made by Ernest Gellner:

          "At the beginning of the social transformation which brought about the new state of affairs, the world was full of political units of all sizes, often overlapping, and of cultural nuances... under the new social regime, this became increasingly uncomfortable. Men then had two options, if they were to diminish such discomfort : they could change their own culture, or they could change the nature of the political unit, either by changing its boundaries or by changing its cultural identifications."4

Thus, as Gellner sees it, political options are really constrained to nationalist assimilation or nationalist secession.

          The Indian political experience is not the only instance that persuasively counters the Mill-Gellner thesis briefly outlined above. Alfred Stepan and Brendan O'Leary independently offer comparative political argument and evidence against the above position.5 Empirically, they present "the evidence of the persistence of liberal democratic polycultural or multinational states, federal and / or consociational in format, [that] suggests blatant disconfirmation." Normatively, they reject "fundamental sociological limitations on constitutional statecraft" in pursuit of liberal democratic values.6


          Despite demographic and cultural diversities, geography, history and creative political construction have combined to produce the Indian variant of nationalism and federalism that are in significant ways unique in the world. This is the reason why any attempts to interpret India through the conceptual and empirical lenses of segmentary tribal Africa, largely monocultural Jacobin model of state-formation in Europe, Latin American dependency model, or West Asian "ethnic democracy" concept7 are revealed, only after a little probe, to be far-fetched, ill-founded, and ideologically motivated. The naturally bounded landmass between the Himalayas and the oceans produced a shared geography and history and a common framework of Indian civilizational and cultural zone, where racial divides were dissolved for all practical purposes, though linguistic, religions, caste, and tribal cleavages persisted. Even in case of cultural divisions that persisted, and in some cases were sought to be aggravated by imperial and / or native political strategies, the typical instinct was to desire fences rather than walls, barring the extreme case of the Muslim League's "two-nation theory" and the 1947 imperial partion of the subcontinent. The common geographical template and shared historical destiny shared by the long duree of historical evolution produced the sovereignty cults of chakravarti kingship, Kautilya's dharmanyaya of the state (distinct from shashtric nyayas), Ashoka's state ideology of dhamma, Mughal Sulah-i-Kul, Maratha ajnapatra, paramountcy of the British crown over Indian princely states which directly led to the formation of the Indian multicultural and multinatinoal federal state under the 1950 constitution of India.8 The composite Indian culture is interpreted by the Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar (popularly called a rashtra-Kavi, national poet) as a product of four "cultural revolutions" : (a) Aryan-Dravidian racial aggregation and acculturation; (b) Vedic or Brahmanical foundational worldview and Jain, Buddhist, Bhakti, Sikh, Sufi, and a variety of religious reform movements; (c) Hindu-Muslim encounter, coexistence, and osmosis; and (d) Indo-European contact and the British colonial conquest and modernization of India.9 In this Darwinian evolutionary narrative of Indian culture, the Mongoloid racial component and admixture is not entirely missing in the details. However, the seemingly "melting pot" cultural vision of the American vintage here implied needs to be tempered by the "vertical mosaic" model typical of Canada. Incidentally, it may well be added here that the historical arrival of migrants and aggressors from outside as well as the contemporary illegal or legal migrants from the neighbouring countries of South Asia in India make it closer in comparative terms to what Will Kymlicka10 calls "countries of immigration", especially Canada, than the Western and Southern European countries in his discussion of multiculturalism as a response to nation building.

          Historical patriotism graduated into incipient nationalism first in the coastal regions in British India where modernization made early headstart and then spread into the hinterland and the northwest and northeast frontiers. The lead was taken by the Indian Association founded on 26 July, 1876, in Kolkata (then Calcutta), earlier mooted as the Bengal Association, by pioneers like Surendranath Banerjea. Banerjea later wrote in his memoirs that the provincial nomenclature was dropped.

          ".... for the idea that was working in our minds was that the Association was to be centre of an all-India movement. For even then the concept of an united India, derived from the inspiration of Mazzini, or, at any rate, of bringing all India upon the same platform, had taken firm possession of the minds of Indian leaders in Bengal."11

          At a meeting held on 24 March, 1877, in Calcutta Banerjee was nominated a special delegate to canvass in various provinces for civil service reforms allowing entry of Indians into the highest echelons of the British Indian administration.

          In 1877-78 Banerjea travelled by the newly constructed railways through upper India to Lahore, Bombay, and Madras to campaign for the above cause.12 Similar associations had sprung up in other regions and major towns of India. Allan Octavian Hume, a retired British civilian, had a vision of linking them into an all-India organization to enable the people of India to articulate their interests through a common platform. He visited almost all provinces of India between November 1884 and April 1884 for this purpose and converted the first conference of the newly founded Indian National Congress on December 28, 1885, in Bombay. The new Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, hoped that this body might perform functions akin to His Majesty's loyal opposition in the United Kingdom. However, Florence Nitingale was more prescient in her observation : "We are watching the birth of a new nationality in the oldest civilization in the World."13

          Neither the history of Indian nationalism during the freedom struggle led by the Indian National Congress nor the making of the Indian federation need to detain us here as these are available elsewhere.14 We now proceed to attempt an explanation sketch of the interface between federalism and nationalism in contemporary India.


          Arguably, three important forces or factors impinge on the interface between Indian nationalism and federalism. These are (1) the pre-modern fluid structures and identities tied to religions, languages, castes and tribes, on the one hand, and the shifting territories and boundaries of centralized bureaucratic or feudal states in history and territorial reorganizations in democratic and federal India, on the other; (2) democracy, or more accurately, parliamentary democracy increasingly growing more federal; and (3) capitalism and globalization. We will elaborate these points in turn.


          Interestingly, the term "Hindu" has an etymology with a mixture of territoriality and ethnicity. It is derived from the term "Sindhu", the name of the river Indus, and Hindu / India and Inde, etc., were initially first used by Arabs and Europeans to refer to the people / territory associated with Hindustan, now officially designated as India or Bharat by article 1 of the constitution of India. It may well be pointed out that an ancient Indian Sanskrit dictionary, Amarkosh, includes the word Sindhu, but not Hindu! Through much of Indian history boundaries of regional Kingdoms have kept shifting, barring the dominance of three subcontinental states founded by the Mauryas around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, the Mughals in the 16th and 17th centuries CE, and the British in the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries. Larger regional Kingdoms founded at various points in history by the Guptas, Harshvardhan, Sultanas of Delhi, Vijayanagar Rayas, and Marathas were also animated by similar subcontinental power, albeit less successfully.15 These shifting territorial boundaries lent a peculiar centre-periphery and national-regional dialectics that may be said to have contributed to bureaucratic, feudal, or federative state formation at various points in time in Indian history and politics.

          The pluralities of "ethnic" identities in India are characterized by a pattern of cross-cutting, overlapping, and intersecting cleavages that encourage fluidity and coalescence in politics. This leads to a situation where

          ".... Indians tend not to fix on any of these identities fiercely and permanently... They tend instead to shift their preoccupations, readily, and often, from one identity to another, in response to changing circumstances As a result, tensions do not become concentrated along a single fault line in society, and do not produce prolonged and intractable conflicts – 'ethnic' or otherwise – that might tear democratic institutions apart."16

          A cultural context like this in the Indian subcontinent has produced seven ways of defining nation : "(1) ancient civilizational entity, (2) composite culture, political entity, (3) religious entity, (4) geographical / territorial entity, with a specific cultural ethos, (5) a collection of linguistic entities, and (6) unity of great and little nations."17 Such an agglomerative idea of nationalism goes pretty well with a federative rather than a parliamentary or unitary union.


          To take up the tack of electoral democracy based on universal adult suffrage and parliamentary-federal governance, independent India began its political life as a typical majoritarian democracy albeit tempered by consociational power-sharing among the major communities and a nominal federalism bultressed by an one-party dominant system under the aegis of the Indian National Congress and a centralized bureaucratic apparatus dominated by the All India Services in both union and state governments. The early majoritarian tenor of the political system was also evident in the executive-dominated parliamentary component in the nominally federal system to curtail the power of the federally integrated judiciary to exercise its power of judicial review of the actions of the parliament and judiciary by adding the ninth schedule to the constitution by the first amendment (1951) which made the laws of the Parliament and state legislatures parked there immune from judicial scrutiny. Reacting to the Supreme Court's ruling in Golaknath v. State of Punjab (1967) putting Part III of the constitution beyond the amending power of the Parliament, the 24th amendment (1971) declared that the Parliament could amend any part of the constitution and the courts could not invalidate such amendments on the ground that they contravened the fundamental rights. The 25th amendment (1971) made the laws giving effect to directive principles of state policy aimed at equitable distribution of material resources of the community and concentration of wealth and means of production to the detriment of common good beyond the purview of courts of law. The 38th amendment (1975) barred the courts from sitting in judgement over the union executive's power to promulgate ordinances and declare constitutional emergencies. The 39th amendment (1975) terminated the jurisdiction of courts in matters concerning the election of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Finally, the 42nd amendment (1976) fought hammer and tongs to establish parliamentary and legislative supremacy as they "embody the will of the people and the essence of democracy is that the will of the people should prevail". It also empowered the union government to unilaterally deploy and direct armed forces or para-military forces in a state "for dealing with any grave situation of law and order." Moreover, it sought "to strengthen the presumption in favour of the constitutionality of legislation enacted by Parliament and state Legislatures by providing for a requirement as to the minimum number of judges for determining questions as to the constitutionality of laws and for a special majority of not less than two-thirds for declaring any law to be constitutionally invalid."18

          The foregoing political centralization under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, pushed to the authoritarian extent by the Emergency regime of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1975-1977) in reaction to the extra-parliamentary mass movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, proved to be unsustainable. The pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction, following especially the 1977 and 1989 general elections. Three factors contributed to this new trend : (a) judicial decisions, (b) constitutional amendments, and (c) party system transformation. The Supreme Court, which had gone along with the anomalous ninth schedule in the constitution by the first amendment, inasmuch as it made some legislations impliedly higher than the constitution itself, began to assert its power of judicial review not only on parliamentary and executive actions but also on constitutional amendments by the late 1960s. When its ruling that fundamental rights were beyond the amending power of the Parliament in the Golaknath judgement was sought to be negated by the 24th amendment, the Supreme Court in its judgement in Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973), conceded the Parliament's power to amend any part of the constitution, but bounced with the ingenious legal theory of the unamendability of the "basic structure" of the constitution as the constituent power of the Parliament was limited to amendment, and did not amount to complete replacement, which only a new constituent Assembly could do. This judicial doctrine was propounded in the Keshavananda Bharati judgement by a 7:6 majority (and subsequently buttressed by a unanimous judgement in I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2007. The laws put in the ninth schedule were also made open to judicial review following April 24, 1973, the date of delivery of the Keshavananda judgement. Another constitutional amendment, the 53rd amendment, 1986 – granted asymmetrical autonomy to the state of Mizoram comparable to Nagaland under article 371A. This followed the formal renunciation of insurgency is pursuit of secession by the previously separatist Mizo National Front in 1985. These authoritative case laws and amendments strengthened separation of powers and constitutionalism as well as asymmetrical federal autonomy of a peripheral tribal community.

          The 44th constitutional amendment (1978) brought about by the Janata Party Government, the first non-Congress government in New Delhi voted to power in the post Emergency 1977 elections, repealed the authoritarian features introduced into the constitution by the Emergency Congress regime by a series of amendments including the 42nd amendment. The effect of the 44th amendment was to restore the representative democratic character of the constitution, not so much to enhance the federal autonomy of state governments, excepting some institutional constraints of the cabinet and Parliament on the exercise of the emergency powers by the Prime Minister. This amendment also tried to introduce a majoritarian participatory democratic feature of referendum prior to a constitutional amendment proposing to tinker with the democratic and secular nature of the constitution and independence of judiciary,19 but this aspect of the amendment was negated by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha as against the Janata Party Government majority in the Lok Sabha.

          The end of the Congress Party's dominance and the advent of a federal multiparty system and coalition and minority governments on the heels of the 1989 parliamentary elections heralded the phase of so far (writing in the Fall of 2011) irreversible federalization of the political system clearing the way for federal power-sharing by smaller national and regional parties and marginal ideologies and social groups. There emerged a new model of divided and therefore consensual federal governance. This is a byproduct of accentuated separation of powers between the legislature, executive, and judiciary; sharpened federal division of powers between the union and states, discordant bicameralism with the Lok Sabha under a coalitional governmental majority and the Rajya Sabha under the oppositional coalitional majority; and an extremely variegated configuration of party systems in the states and local political system. This complex development has made the task of legislation and constitutional amendments a highly difficult proposition, this is further complicated by an enormous expansion of the power of judicial review and activism. Add to this scenario the growing power of the mass media and civil society organizations, to say nothing of the heightened incidence of the social and political movements in the country, and we can easily understand the emergent phenomenon of divided government and a model of consensual federal governance, occasionally verging on immobilisme and political paralysis.


          Both federalism and nationalism are post-medieval developments. They also developed partly concomitantly and partly causally with early capitalism, though not necessarily industrial capitalism. In India these entities were born in the context of colonial capitalism seeking to supplant a feudal society and economy. Independent India set out to establish a "socialistic pattern of society" and a state- dominated, import-substituting nationally- reliant industrial economy. When this economy came to grief due to a severe balance of payment crisis in international trade and fiscal overload on the incipient welfarist state, the Congress minority government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao accelerated the process of bureaucratic deregulation, gradual disinvestment of the public sector and privatization, and globalization. Using the short-hand term neoliberal economic reforms or globalization for this policy paradigm, we hypothesize that this shift has reinforced the process of federalization, though it has adversely affected the dimensions of democracy and welfare.

          Impressionistic academic observations differ about the changing state-capital alliance for growth in the post-globalization phase in the Indian political economy. On one hand, Atul Kohli observes that "the balance of class power within India is shifting decisively towards business and other property owning classes."20 On the other, Pratap Bhanu Mehta remarks : "The state still has inordinate power over capital. Business is vulnerable at the hands of the state at so many levels: at every moment it is taxed, licensed, stamped, assessed, audited, authorized, given permission."21

          In the pre-globalization phase, both the liberal and neo-Marxist political analysts were agreed that the state in India was autonomous, or at least relatively autonomous, from its class base. The liberals based their argument on the independence of institutions like the judiciary and the press, and a balance of forces between groups and classes in the civil society and the state, besides of course the mass enfranchisement and reasonably free and fair elections despite occasional electoral malpractices.22 In neo-Marxist assessment, neither of the two modern classes of workers and capitalists was able to establish its hegemony over the over-developed state in India. Instead, a coalition of dominant proprietary classes ruled the roost.23

          How have things changed since the paradigm shift to the neoliberal economic reforms in 1991? In structural terms, India is no longer a predominantly agrarian economy. In 2010-11, the share of agriculture and allied sector in the national economy is 14.2 percent, whereas the industrial sector accounts for 30.60 percent and the service sector is way ahead of both at 55.2 percent.24 Another major structural change in the economy since 1991 is the gradual shrinking of the dominant public sector from the position of the "commanding height" to a growingly competitive position vis-a-vis the private sector and joint sector. In terms of fixed capital in 1973-74 to 1979-80, the public sector accounted for 69.1 percent as compared to 26.1 percent for the private corporate sector and 4.8 percent for the household sector. The corresponding figure had changed to 51.8 percent for the public sector, 44.7 percent for the private sector, and 3.5 percent for the household sector in 1992-93 to 1997-98. In the same time bands, the change in the number of employees was from 29.4 percent to 30.6 percent in the public sector, from 45.5 percent to 44.9 percent in the private sector, and from 25.1 percent to 24.5 percent in the household sector.25 In The Economic Times list of India's biggest 500 companies / corporations in 2010 a scrutiny of the top 10 revealed that the ratio of public sector to the private sector has now improved for the latter to be 5:5. In case of the top 25, the number of private sector companies is 14 as compared to 11 corporations in the public sector.26

          We now propose to succinctly explore the impact of this structural change in India's political economy on federalism and nationalism in the country. This analysis is carried out in two sections: (a) politics of distribution, and (b) politics of identity.

          This dimension basically boils down to the question about the impact of neoliberal economic reforms on democracy and development. Neoliberal capitalism and globalization tend to privilege capitalist development over democracy and distribution. Participatory democratic accountability and politics of distributive justice get dubbed as "populist politics" and subordinated to corporate capitalist profit and accountability of the national state to capitalist corporations national and multinational and multilateral agencies of global capitalism like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. The neoliberal project for multi level governance turns into a "self-conscious attempt to promote a form of 'dissembeded federalism' where the 'economy' always operates at least one level above that of the 'polity' in order to create an exit option and the disciplinary effects of jurisdictional competition."27 Global capitalism weakens the democratic authenticity and distributive capability of the sovereign national state – federal as well regional, and may in fact play one against the other to promote corporate capitalist profits to the detriment of democratic rights and distributive justice. Numerous studies in post-reform Indian political economy have clearly documented that economic disparities among classes and regions have sharply increased. Francine Franked draws attention towards the emergence of a dual economy (large poor segment against a small affluent one) as a result of India's "macroeconomic reforms without redistributive change" since the early 1990s. The new economic strategy is aggravating class as well as regional economic disparities.28 Amaresh Bagchi and John Kurian observe that "a proximate cause of the widening regional disparities during the nineties was the grossly unevenflow of investment to various states after liberalization." Percentage share of private investment proposals between August 1991 and March, 2000, went to the relatively developed states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu to the tune of 66.7, whereas the poorer states of Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal had to be contented with merely 27.4 percent. Moreover, only five states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu – netted about 75 percent of total foreign direct investment (FDI) in India since liberalization.29

          Needless to add that these trends in widening class and regional economic disparities, if left unreversed, may prove to be politically explosive for India's national and federal unity. Adam Harmes' observation about neoliberal multilevel federal governance suggests that in this model mobile assets are favoured over immobile assets in structures and processes of government policy, capital is previliged over labour, and transnational corporations are given priority over progressive social forces that organize political action in opposition and try to unify politics and economics. Harmes goes on to suggest that the realignment of politics and economics can be attempted by the following strategies :

1.      Promotion of economic nationalism and reimposition of capital and exchange control and a withdrawal from international trade agreements; and

2.      Bringing the polity up to the level of the regional or global economy through multilateral harmonization and progressive regional and global governance.30

          The foregoing strategies run counter the onrush of the neoliberal ideology in the wake of the collapse of communism and the folding up of the post-war welfare states in the West. It appears to be an uphill task. However, if the adverse effects of globalization on the cultures and economics of the South gather momentum and become orchestrated, some recourse of these measures of economic nationalism and multilateral coordination of progressive policies of equitable regional and global governance would gain in credence and efficacy. The global financial crisis that suddenly engulfed the advanced capitalist economies of the West since 2008-2009 has indeed promoted the global capitalist clubs of Group of 8 and Group of 20 to depart from the very neoliberal capitalist policies such as free market enterprize and free trade and adopt state support to market institutions and protectionist nationalist policies in relation to international trade!


          Globalization tends to sharpen politics of identity more than politics of redistribution, at least initially, though the two often get combined in the long run and intermesh each other in a complex way.31 In the context of nationalism and federalism in India, two aspects of its socio-cultural structure appear to be empirically relevant and theoretically fruitful. Some groups can be treated as parts of the multicultural texture (e.g. castes and tribes in the central tribal belt, linguistic and religious minorities spread across the country), whereas some communities may have pretentions of being national minorities (e.g. linguistic groups having regional majorities and states carved out for them, religious regional majorities in Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab and northeastern tribal majorities having states created for them). If India had only what are called multicultural groups pure and simple, it may will have developed into a classical nation-state and a parliamentary system of the Mill-Gellner type briefly discussed above. It is the sizeable presence of the national minorities that makes it a federative national or multinational state. The Indian modernizing national elite opposed the so-called "two-nation" theory of the Muslim league egged on by the British colonial divide and rule policy during the freedom struggle, and continues to follow the policy of "unity in diversity" and the strategy of multicultural federal nation-building to the present. A close reading of the Constituent Assembly debates and the text of the constitution clearly shows a preference for liberal and multicultural consociational aspects of federal democracy over the multinational and asymmetrical federalism. Firstly, the major premise in the framework of fundamental rights is liberal individualism which makes the  individuals the bearers of rights. These are, of course, supplemented by two kinds of minority community rights based on language and religion (articles 29 and 30). These go beyond the universal framework of common citizenship rights and establish the ground for what are called "differentiated citizenship" rights making a space for "politics of recognition."32 Group /community representation through consociational measures is largely promoted in practice rather than through constitutional or legal provisions, excepting transitional reserved representation to scheduled castes and tribes and women in local councils, state Assemblies and national Parliament.

          Secondly, the constitution grants legal sanction to the right to freedom of religion to all citizens (article 25) and lends moral sanction to the ideal of a common civil code (much like a common criminal code already in place since 1861), in practice this ideal is still unrealized. The religion-based civil code is generally discriminatory to women, but the state has tactically left the matter to the communities concerned, especially in case of the minorities and now increasingly also with reference to the majority religious community. This is a multicultural concession of an illiberal character.

          Thirdly, Indian secularism is in some ways unique in as much as it neither puts a wall of separation between the state and religion as in the USA and France nor does it allows the state to have an official Church as in the United Kingdom, which has virtually become secular in practice for all practical purposes. The state in India can legislate on religious matters but has increasingly moved towards a stance of principled distance from religious affairs in practice.33 Moreover, the historical bicultural Hindu-Muslim tenor of Indian secularism has gradually evolved into a discourse of multicultural secularization.

          Fourthly, in the Indian approach to federal nation-building territoriality has been given primary over ethnicity. This goes beyond article 1 of the constitution, which formally declares India a "union of states" rather than of linguistic and / or religious communities. It gets manifested in the long-drawn-out and still continuing process of reorganization of state and substate boundaries. The first preference of the central leadership has been to maintain multilingual / multi ethnic states. Under popular agitations, linguistic basis for state formation came to be subsequently conceded. In the backdrop of the 1947 Partition and occasionally continuing communal conflicts religion has remained an anathema to the Indian nationalists. By the 1970s, tribal identities in the Northeast and by the 2000s regional / territorial backwardness came to be conceded for formation of states in uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. It is still hanging fire at this writing in mid-2011 in Telangana. Substate territorial political (as against mainly administrative) reorganizations are given priority over straight-away creation of new states in the federation.

          Fifthly, in the Indian approach to the federal construction, asymmetrical federalism is again conceded with a great deal of reluctance. This is evident in article 350 of the constitution granting asymmetrical status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which captions this arrangement as "Temporary provisions." This has, however, continued indefinitely under the pressures of democratic and insurgent political activities in the state and external pressures from Pakistan and China. Asymmetrical status granted to the regional tribal majorities in Nagaland and Mizoram under articles 371A and 371G also came under pressures of democratic agitations and insurgencies, though these provisions are captioned differently as "special provisions."34


          The ideal of federal nation-building is best captured in terms like "federalism without a centre", a matrix, or cybernetics. This vision is most likely to be realized in a freely and equally covenanted federal union without any internal or external coercion. The US federation contracted at the Philadelphia Convention (1787) and ratified by the federating states in regional referendums or legislatures come closest to this ideal. Most other federations, including the Canadian and Indian, are products of historical and political processes that are a combination of tutelary or coercive exercise of formally free constitutional contract. Even the USA went subsequently through the throes of a civil war to save the union. The extant instances are more amenable to a centre-periphery model of federalism. Needless to add that the dynamics of initial federal formation and the text of the constitution are subject to change in the course of the evolution of a federal polity, the various phases of which are marked by centralization or decentralization.

          Brendan O'Leary has proposed a theory that stipulates the necessity of a federal staatsvolk for stability of a stable democratic majoritarian federation, federal or multinational. Such a system:

          "... must have a staatsvolk, a national or ethnic people, who are demographically and electorally dominant – though not necessarily an absolute majority of the population – and who will normally be the cofounders of the federation."35

          O'Leary draws  a sample of 23 democratic federations and applies the above hypothesis taking 50 percent of population as the criterion for the existence of a Staatsvolk in a country. He concludes:

          "The data suggest that all the federations that have been durably democratic for more than thirty years have, prima facie, a staatsvolk which is significantly over 50 percent of the relevant state's population :Australia (95), Austria (93), Germany (93), India (80) if its staatsvolk in considered to be Hindu people, the United States (74), Canada (67) if its staatsvolk is considered to be Anglophones, Switzerland (64), and Malaysia (62)."36

          Beyond a prima facie plausibility, the empirical validity of this theory in the Indian case is open the question. O'Leary himself concedes : "If the primary division in India is linguistic rather than religious then India may appear to lack a staatsvolk."37 The fact of the matter about India is that it has no primary division, a point already made above by James Manor.38 Moreover, India's federal stability cannot indisputably, attributed to Hindu majority. In fact, until the late 1990s, the Hindu majoritarian party, Bharatiya Jana Sangh / Bharatiya Janata Party, largely remained a marginal electoral and parliamentary force. Its fortune looked up in the wake of the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement mobilized by the BJP in the early 1990s. Yet its rise stopped short of a parliamentary majority, and it could only form a coalition government in the National Democratic Alliance from 1998 to 2004 joining hands with secular parties on the condition of dropping its patently Hindu communal agenda from the common minimum programme of governance.39 In the period of one-party dominance of the Indian National Congress during much of the first four decades after the Independence in 1947, India owed its federal stability more to its practice of multicultural and multiregional consociational democratic accommodation. Since the advent of substantively federal phase since the early 1990s, an enhanced national integration and federal power-sharing is accountable to an extremely regionalized, if somewhat fragmented and dysfunctional, party system. The regionalized rather than federalized party system today initially caused government instability of grave nature for a decade, but the political system remained stable. The tricoalitional configuration of parties in the Parliament that emerged out of the 1989 parliamentary elections led respectively by Janata Dal, Bhartiya Janata Party, and Indian National Congress gradually developed into a bicoalitional configuration led respectively by the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The problem of governmental instability seems to be over since 1999. Some basic constitutional precepts of parliamentary federal governance like the Prime Minister's preeminence, cabinet collegiality and cohesion, and collective responsibility of the council of ministers to the Parliament are still stretched beyond recognizable limits. This requires party system reforms along federative lines.40 Nonetheless, the relevant point in the argument here is that neither the problem in question nor the possible remedies has much to do with the staatsvolk invoked in the Indian case by O'Leary.

          India's federal successes and stability sociologically owes more to its multicultural and multinational matix and politically to consociational and federal politics than to the staatsvolk. Beyond the "mainstream" states of the North and South, where federalism has worked well, the troubled states of the "perepheries" in the Northwest, Northeast, and the Deep South that have in several instances gone to the extreme of secessionism and / or insurgencies have subsequently returned to the federal democratic "mainstream".41 I venture to suggest that the rise of the "peripheries" and their protests in some cases to the extent of insurgencies may in fact be seen as a struggle to make India a federalism with a multiplicities of regional centres culminating into a matrix or cybernetic model of federalism.



1.      John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, part of an anthology of Mill's selected works edited by H.B. Action and published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1972. First published as Considerations on Representative Government in 1861. The quote and discussion here draws on the 1972 text, pp. 359-60 and chapter XVI, "Of Nationality, as Connected with Representative Government" and Chapter XVII "Of Federal Representative Government."

2.      Ibid., p. 361.

3.      Ibid., p. 360.

4.      Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty : Civil Society and its Rivals, London : Hamish Hamilton, 1994, p. 108.

5.      See the Contributions by Stepan and O'Leary to J.A. Hall, ed., The State of the Nation : Ernest Gellner and The Theory of Nationalism, New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.

6.      Brendan O'Leary, "An Iron Law of Nationalism and Federation? A (Neo-Diceyian) Theory of the Necessity of a Federal Staatsvolk, and of Consociational Rescue", Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2001, pp. 273-296 at page 275.

7.      While other comparative models here alluded to are stock-in-trade in the literature in comparative history and politics, for "ethnic democracy", see Gurharpal Singh, "Reassessing 'Conventional Wisdom' : Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, and Indian as an Ethnic Democracy" in Sanjib Baruah, ed., Ethnonationalism in India : A Reader, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 99-119.

8.      For references to relevant works in Indian History, see Mahendra Prasad Singh, "Multicultural Identify and Democracy in India" in Veena Kukreja and M.P. Singh, eds., Democracy, Development and Discontent in South Asia, New Delhi : 2008, Note 7 on p. 73.

9.      Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Sanskriti Ke Char Adhyaya, Foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru, Patna : Udayachal, 1962, 2nd edition.

10.    Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy : An Introduction, New Delhi : Oxford University, Press, 2002, 2nd Edition, first Indian edition, p. 353.

11.    Surendranath Banerjea, A Nation in Making : Being the Reminiscences of Fifty Years of Public Life, Bombay : Oxford University Press, Reset and reprinted in 1963, first published in 1925, p. 38.

12.    Ibid., pp. 37-51.

13.    B.R. Nanda, The Making of a Nation : India's Road to Independence, New Delhi : Harpercollins Publishers India, 1998, pp. 21-22.

14.    Sample, for example, Ibid., as a variant of nationalist historiography in the large corpus of literature on the Indian freedom struggle, the crucible of the making of the Indian nation. For Nationalist Marxist Histography, see Bipin Chandra, India's Struggle for Independence, New Delhi : Penguin, 1989. For a review of subaltern historiography of India, see Vinay Lal, "Subalterns, Rebels and Outcasts : Explorations in Modern Indian History", www.sscnet.ucla.ed/history/lal/subalter/html. The making of the Indian constitution including its federal dimensions is studied most authoritatively by Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution : Cornerstone of a Nation, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1966, Indian edition 1972, Oxford India Paperback 1999. For a good history of Indian federalism, see K.R. Bombwal, --

15.    M.P. Singh, "Indian State : Historical Context and Change", The Indian Historical, Review, Vol. 21, Nos. 1 & 2, July 1994-January, 1995.

16.    James Manor, "Ethnicity and Politics in India", International Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3, 1996, pp. 459-475, at p. 463.

17.    T.K. Oommen, "Conceptualizing Nation and Nationality in South Asia", in S.L. Sharma and T.K. Oommen, eds., Nation and National Identity in South Asia, New Delhi : Orient Longman Ltd., 2000, pp. 1-18, at pp. 1-2.

18.    The Constitutional (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, the text in M.V. Pylee, Constitutional Amendments in India, Delhi : Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., 2003, pp. 179-202.

19.    The Constitutional (Forty-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1978, the text in M.V. Pylee, Constitutional Amendments in India, Delhi : Universal Law, Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., 2003, pp. 206-222.

20.    Atul Kohli, Democracy and Development in India : From Socialism to Pro-Business, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 14.

21.    Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Politics as Morality Play”, The Indian Express, New Delhi, December 7, 2010, p. 10.

22.    See, for example, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi : The Political Economy of the Indian State, New Delhi : Orient Longman, 1987, Chapter 1.

23.    See, for example, Pratab Bardhan, The Political Economy of Development in India, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1984, Chapters 5 & 6.

24.    Government of India, Ministry of Finance, Economic Survey 2010-11, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 187 and 237.

25.    J. Dennis Raj Kumar, "Size and Growth of Private Corporate Sector in Indian Manufacturing", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVI, No. 18, April 30, 2011, pp. 95-101 at p. 98.

26.    ET 500, October 2010, pp. 30-31.

27.    Adam Harmes, "Neoliberalism and Multilevel Governance", Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 13, No. 5, 2006, pp. 744-745.

28.    Francine Frankel, India's Political Economy 1947-2004, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2005, 2nd Edition, p. 625, pp. 604-5.

29.    Amaresh Bagchi and John Kurian, "Regional Inequalities in India : Pre- and Post – Reform Trends and Challenges for Policy" in Jos Mooij, ed., The Politics of Economic Reforms in India, New Delhi : Sage Publications, 2005, pp. 322-350. See also Sanjay Baru, "Economic Policy and Development of Capitalism in India: The Role of Regional Capitalists and Political Parties" in Francine Frankel et. al., eds., Transforming India : Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 207-230; and V. Upadhyay et. al., eds., From Statist to Neoliberalism : The Development Process in India, Delhi : Daanish Books, 2009.

30.    Adam Harmes, op. cit.

31.    Nancy Fraser, Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics : Redistribution, Recognition & Participation, New Delhi : Critical Quest, 2008; and Will Kymlicka, "Multiculturalism", Chapter 8, in his Contemporary Political Philosophy : An Introduction, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2005, first Indian edition of the 2nd edition published in 2002.

32.    Iris Marion Young, "Polity and Group Difference, A Critique of the Ideal of University Citizenship", Ethics, Vol. 99, no. 2, 1989, pp. 250-274.

33.    Rajeev Bhargava, ed.,

34.    See, in this context, Louise Tillin, "United in Diversity? Asymmetry in Indian Federalism," Publics : The Journal of Federalism, Vol. 37, no. 1, Winter 2007, pp. 45-67, for a negative view of asymmetrical federalism both in India and in comparative terms. She argues that this mechanism has neither been crucial to India's ability to hold together nor has it been a successful device in potentially divided societies generally.

35.    Brendan O'Leary, op. cit., pp. 284-285.  / emphasis in the quoted text itself.

36.    Ibid., 285.

37.    Ibid., p. 287.

38.    James Manor,op.cit.

39.    Katherine Adeney and Lawrence Saez, eds., Coalition Politics and Hindu Nationalism, London : Routledge, 2005.

40.    Douglas V. Verney, "Federalizing India's Political Parties : National All-India and National Interstate Parties" in Rekha Saxena, ed., Varieties of Federal Governance : Major Contemporary Models, Festschieft in Honour of Professor M.P. Singh, New Delhi : Foundation Books / Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 175-207.

41.    James Manor, "Centre-State Relations" in Atul Kohli, ed., The Success of India's Democracy, New Delhi : Cambridge University Press, pp. 78-102.