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Interview with Prof. Balveer Arora


Pasted below is the link to an interview that Prof. Arora gave to the Pakistani paper Jang, for their Sunday edition. It took place during his recent  visit to Lahore to attend a conference on Pakistani Federalism at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Many thanks to Prof. Arora and the Jang Newspaper in Pakistan.


Authority on federalism
By Zaman Khan

As a state, some of Kashmir is in Pakistan and the rest of it is in India. There is the question of whether Kashmir should be reunited and in what form; whether the whole issue can be thought of in terms of a porous boundary, which would allow people to move freely from one side to the other. So we would have reunited


Dr Balveer Arora was professor of Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University (1987-2010), and is currently Chairman, Centre for Multilevel Federalism at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. He read history and political science at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, the Sorbonne, Paris, and Sciences-Po, Paris, before obtaining his doctorate in 1972 from Paris I (Pantheon — Sorbonne).

He joined the JNU as assistant professor in the Centre for Political Studies in 1973, and was Chairman of the Centre for two terms (1989-91 & 1995-97) He was subsequently Rector and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University (2002-05).

He has written extensively on India’s federal system, its political parties and policy processes, notably Multiple Identities in a Single State: Indian Federalism in Comparative Perspective; Federalism in India: Origins and Development; and The Changing Role of the All India Services. His current research is on questions of identity and diversity, institutions of multilevel governance, federalisation of India’s party system and the functioning of federal coalitions.

This soft-spoken Lahore-born authority on federalism was in Lahore recently to participate in an international conference ‘Federalism in Pakistan after 18th Amendment’ arranged by LUMS where TNS had a chance to chat with him.


The News on Sunday (TNS): It is nice to see you in Lahore. How has your visit been so far?

Balveer Arora (BA): Lahore has a special place in my heart because I was born here, at the Lady Aitchison Hospital, and my family used to live in Sant Nagar. I went there yesterday and saw a park with a swing, and I thought I must have played here as a small child. So it is really a homecoming for me and I am overwhelmed by the warmth, hospitality and affection which I have encountered here. It is something special and these memories I will always cherish.

TNS: India is a federation but it calls itself a ‘union’. What is the difference and why call it a union?

BA: I think there are two reasons. First, in the changed context in which the Constituent Assembly was debating the word federation, a number of people associated the word federation with fragmentation, with the weakening of India, and they felt that the need was rather to consolidate and strengthen. So it was partly to placate them; and partly it was a play on words because even in the US constitution it is the United States, it is nowhere explicitly a federation. The word is not used and yet the fact is there. So it was very clear that what was being designed was a federation, but it was easier to have it accepted with the word union. I think it was a very clever move on the part of the constitution-makers to package it as a union, but actually it was clearly designed as a federation.

TNS: In 1935 the provinces were given powers but they were withdrawn in 1947 in the first Constitution of India, perhaps because the mindset of Nehru was more centralist?

BA: In fact the federal plan of the 1935 Act never really took off, but the blueprint was there. The overall design was there, but when the question was reconsidered, the mood in the Constituent Assembly had changed. It was even questioning whether it was now necessary, under the new circumstances, to have such a federal scheme. I have elsewhere called Nehru a ‘reluctant federalist’, in the sense that he was more committed to pluralism and democracy than he was to federalism as such. Because of his commitment to pluralism, he understood that some form of federal arrangement was necessary to hold India together. That is how he came to federalism.

Ultimately, ancient identities had to be politically recognised. Nehru was committed to pluralism and therefore recognised that for a country as large and diverse as India it would not be possible to rule it from one point in a centralised way. He thus allowed himself to be persuaded by Ambedkar, who had the American federal system as the model, which is where he had studied his constitutional law. Actually Nehru did not need too much persuasion and Ambedkar also did some very astute things. He packaged the proposals before the assembly, saying that in times of difficulty it will function as a unitary state; in normal times it will function as a federal state. So he created a consensus so that those who were scared also said alright it can be centralised and those who were for pluralism were also happy. It was necessary to be federal, so it required a lot of political savoir faire; it had to be put forward as a proposal which could gather a consensus in its favour.

TNS: Do you think the carving of new states always works well or does it create more problems then it resolves? In fact, there have been regrets expressed in some instances.

BA: The carving out of new states is something that has been dictated by the political and electoral process. In India there has been no very clear design that we shall have this kind of state only. These decisions have been responses to popular movements and can be explained by the logic of electoral democracy.

When political mobilisation takes place, you either suppress it by force or you find a way of accommodating it through democratic channels. And India’s whole approach had been to see if it can be accommodated, provided the group does not want to actually leave the union. That is where they draw the line, but short of that whatever they want can be considered.

Fortunately, constitutional flexibility is there, because initially the Constituent Assembly was unable to tackle this problem immediately and resolve it. They therefore deliberately kept a very flexible arrangement for the reorganisation of states and that finally turned to be a blessing in disguise. A simple law is sufficient, constitutional amendment is not necessary.

TNS: Don’t you think the thinking of centralist leaders like Nehru led to the problems of Tamil Nadu and later on Punjab.

BA: Yes, in the case of Tamil Nadu, Nehru gave the assurance that the official language, Hindi, would not be imposed on them unless they agreed. That formula was worked out during his life time itself. The constitutional deadline came in 1965, and English was declared a co-official language without any time limit for its replacement.

In the case of the Punjab, the problem was a little more difficult. The problem was difficult because, after Partition, the creation of territorial units on the basis of cultural identity was considered acceptable, but the framework that was adopted for the Indian union was that of a secular state. The creation of territorial units on the basis of religious affiliation was therefore considered not acceptable. Unfortunately, the Punjabi Suba movement, led by the Akali Dal, put it forward as a religious identity issue. It was only much later, when it was packaged as a language demand for the Punjabi speaking people, that finally it was seriously considered and accepted in 1966. It sought to separate Punjab from the Hindi speaking people of Haryana, and also to safeguard the Gurkmukhi script. The shift in emphasis from religion to language removed what was in fact the main obstacle that took it so long to be accepted, even though the two were very closely connected.

TNS: So the founders of the Indian union did not foresee that the Sikh problem will arise from the religious point of view?

BA: Once Punjab was created in 1966, the demand for having a separate state for Punjabi speaking people, both Sikhs and Hindus, was satisfied. As you know, in the same family there are Sikhs and Hindus, and there was no question of enmity between the two. Later on, much later in the 1980s, came up this so-called movement for Khalistan, talking of independence for a Sikh state, and of course that was dealt very differently because the union of India has a very firm attitude towards secessionist movements.

TNS: On what basis were new states created in India, language, culture or territory? A lot of states have been created after 1947.

BA: Yes, the creation of states has continued. In 1956, fourteen states were created after states’ reorganisation and that essentially concerned the south, where the linguistic principle was adopted. In so far as the other states were concerned, there was the separation of Maharashtra from Gujrat in 1960, and then there was the separation of Punjab and Haryana, the Punjabi and the Hindi speaking areas in 1966.

Subsequently, further reorganisation of states, because today there are 28 states, was based on different criteria. In 1971, there was a major restructuring of the North East, where there were small communities, and where ethnicity was the basis for creation of new states. The Naga state had been created earlier, in 1963 and Mizoram where the Mizos live. There were also distinct units which already existed, Manipur and Tripura, which were already constituted entities even though they were federally administrated, as union territories. They were upgraded basically to statehood. They were not carved out afresh; in fact it was basically a question of raising their status from a federally administrated territory to a full fledged state.

The last reorganisation, which took us from 25 to 28 states, took place in 2000. It involved the creation of three states, which are essentially inhabited by the tribal populations, in Madhya Pradesh and in Bihar. The people living at the foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttar Pradesh, were given Uttarakhand. Jharkhand was carved out from Bihar and Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. In these cases there were two factors which are at play; one is that they have distinctive geographical features, forests in the case of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, and mountains in the case of Uttarakhand. And the second is that they were all three relatively neglected and relatively under developed, so development was also a criterion.

The idea was that if they were detached from the larger state, their development would be faster. The most successful earlier example was that of Punjab and Haryana. After they were separated, both their economies took off and both prospered in a remarkable way. So it is possible, but however it does not always work that way. It depends on the resources available, how the people are, how hardworking they are, and the leadership.

TNS: Do you think the carving out of these new states has always worked well or has it created more problems sometimes than resolving them?

BA: As I said, there is no magic formula, no sure recipe for success. Carving out of new states has been dictated by electoral considerations too and by democratic processes. In India, there has been no very clear design always, that we shall have this and we shall not have this. These have often been responses to popular, often militant, movements and because of the logic of elected democracy when mobilisation takes place you either suppress it by force or you find a way of accommodating it through democratic channels. And India’s whole approach has been that it should be accommodated, provided the group does not want to leave the union, which is where they draw the line. But short of that extreme step, constitutional flexibility fortunately is there for accommodation. By a historical accident, because they initially were not able to tackle this problem immediately, so they kept a very flexible arrangement for creating new states and that finally turned out to a blessing in disguise.

TNS: Being an expert on federalism, how do you look at the Indian federation or union and what are the challenges it faces today?

BA: I think the Indian Union has successfully managed to meet the demands of most of the groups which have asked for the recognition of their identity. There are some demands for more autonomy which are still pending; they are mainly in the Northeast. There is the demand of the Nagas, who already have their own state, but they still have claims over some of the territories in the adjoining areas. You know Naga tribes cut across states; they are even in Burma (Myanmar). So some are in Manipur and there are some in other adjoining states. So that demand is there, but it is very difficult to see how you can cut off a portion of the neighboring state because you have a few Naga tribes living there, so it remains a contentious issue. Otherwise the identity issues in the Northeast are now settled, though in Manipur they have some demands.

And of course there are autonomy demands as well from Jammu and Kashmir. It is a composite state so Jammu has its own personality; Kashmir has its own personality. So these are some of the challenges that the Indian Union still faces.

TNS: Since you have mentioned Kashmir, India has still not been able to resolve the Kashmir issue?

BA: Yes the problem is very much there, and it gets worse from time to time and some times the responses from either side complicate the issue. But the problem basically is that there are demands for the restoration of greater autonomy, going back to what the autonomy of Kashmir was and it is basically question of renegotiation of the terms of accession to the union. I think on these issues there are a number of efforts: a report of the Team of Interlocutors was recently submitted to the central government, and if some negotiated settlement could be found, it would go a long way in bringing back peace and harmony in Kashmir.

TNS: Still a long way to go, but what are the relations between the two states?

BA: It is a different question. As a state, some of Kashmir is in Pakistan and the rest of it is in India. There is the question of whether Kashmir should be reunited and in what form? The question is whether the whole issue can be thought of in terms of a porous boundary, which would allow people to move freely from one side to the other. So we would have reunited families, since families are now divided. And the other thing of course is to work out a status which would be acceptable to all parties.

TNS: Do you expect any public good from the market system?

BA: Well it is the system that seems to have gained global currency; even our erstwhile socialist friends have invented their own variants of it, even in China. Of course, Russia has gone the capitalist way. So it does seem that the future lies in reforming capitalism, in the direction of injecting more concerns of socialism into it. We need to think of ways, given the global penetration and integration which is here to stay.

TNS: Do you think capitalism is going towards socialism?

BA: Not capitalism going towards socialism because that would be unrealistic. Capitalism being tamed and corrected and regulated in the interest of societies is what we can work for. State capitalism is one way, and China has a developing model where they are still trying to inject democracy. State capitalism is also in evidence when one tries to intervene through the inclusive growth model. It is also on the lines of harmonious growth, in the sense that the state does not forget its obligations to the poor. The state may also have no heart, but it has to have its interest in mind, and if it is a democracy it knows that it has to have some heart to stay in power through elections.

TNS: How do you see at the challenge of religious extremism in India?

BA: Religious extremism in not a major threat in India. The religious extremists of Hindu kind are broadly included in their political formation, support the Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) which is a responsible electoral party that competes. Of course there is a problem of communal harmony and from that point of view Indian state is very vigilant to make sure that nothing happens. As for the other groups, as far as we know they remain a very small minority. The extremist movement, some groups have penetrated, infiltrated but I don’t think by and large that is reached to any significant proportion.

Pakistan has probably a much bigger level. I was looking at the figures presented yesterday for the budget for public order of federal government and I was explained that the large allocation was due to fighting terrorists.

TNS: Now, as an expert on federalism and from India, how do you look at Pakistan? You must have heard about the division of provinces, particularly Punjab. They say that is the panacea of all ills. How do you look at it?

BA: I have actually come here to learn. This seems to be a very crucial and formative stage in the development of federalism in Pakistan; a lot of changes have taken place, thanks to the 18th Amendment which we have been discussing in the conference and its possible consequences. And it is as if a new federal system is being born in Pakistan. Now what are its features, what are its strengths, what are its weaknesses? What are its chances of survival? Whether state reorganisation is part of the agenda or whether it is something that has been brought in which is not necessary for federalism? These are things which I am also trying to understand.

TNS: How do you look at the level of scholarship in Pakistan?

BA: I have been very impressed by the quality of the interventions and the papers that have been presented in this conference. And I think that the scholars here have a very complete understanding and awareness of how these systems work, not just here but elsewhere too. They have been following what is happening in India also and so I think that it is through this comparing of experiences. We will try to find some ways to power.

TNS: Don’t you think there should be more traffic of scholars and students between each others educational institutions. There should be easy visa regime between India and Pakistan?

BA: I think yes, most definitely, that is an absolute must. People to people level contacts must be there, and more facility of exchange, easier visas, because the present regime is so cumbersome that it discourages scholars. There is uncertainty whether they would be granted a visa or not so nobody plans with that element of uncertainty. It is unfortunate. I think there should be separate treatment for scholars and researchers, to allow them to move freely from one side to the other.

TNS: Don’t you think India being a big power should take more and more initiatives to normalise relationship with its neighbours?

BA: Yes that has been the effort, but things don’t always move as we wish. The doctrine which was spelt out by Indian Prime Minister Gujral, that India should take the initiative with its smaller neighbours, remains relevant. India has been taking initiatives, but I get the impression that whenever things appear to be moving smoothly, and there have been occasions when things have been moving towards a better relationship, some incident or the other is created, on one side or the other, which totally spoils the atmosphere and spoils the mood. And then there is a setback, from which it takes time to recover.

Ideally the leadership should not allow itself to be deflected from their main goal by these incidents on both sides. An easier regime for visas and more exchanges of people and scholars would help in building up a favorable climate for the success of these initiatives. I am truly happy to be here in Lahore, it is such a beautiful city. Thank you for this opportunity to express myself on so many issues.