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Republic of India

This  is a chapter the author wrote on India in the book Diversity and Unity in Federal Countries published by the Forum of Federations as part of its Global Dialogue series. It was publishedn in 2010, editors Luis Moreno and Cesar Colino, McGill-Queens University Press. 


India is home to a pluricultural civilization whose polity is organized

around the founding belief of unity in diversity. The idea of pluralism survived

a traumatic partition in 1947, which created India and Pakistan, and

went on to provide the basis for the constitutional framework within which

peoples having multiple identities were to be accommodated within an Indian

union, with statutory guarantees for safeguarding their rights as individuals

and as groups.1 The framers of the Constitution were acutely aware

of the vast range of diversity for which they had to construct an encompassing

frame, allowing adequate expression for diversity while at the same

time maintaining the unity essential for national cohesion.

They viewed with some apprehension the rising aspirations of ethnolinguistic

communities and their demands for recognition and growing assertiveness

in the political arena. Chastened by the failure to maintain an

undivided India (encompassing both the provinces then known as British

India as well as the states ruled by Indian princes), and deliberating on the

new framework in the midst of its bloody and chaotic sequel, they were

cautious in their approach to the recognition of diversity.

diversity and the f ear of federalism

Initially there was a reluctance to recognize diversity as an ordering principle,

a reluctance rooted in a fear of ‘excessive federalism.’ The Founding Fathers

sought to create an integrated polity for a society that had never been integrated.

This was a formidable challenge in a pluricultural civilization where the

past was never remote, but ever-present. The assertion and consolidation of

movements with strong regional roots eventually brought diversity to centre

stage through the political process, and their commitment to democracy compelled

the national leadership to rethink its policy on the foundations of India’s

long-term unity and strength. They opted for a centralized federal union.


The Indian Union today is a federal republic of continental magnitude

encompassing wide-ranging diversities. It has a population of more than

1.1 billion people spread over 3,287,240 square kilometres. In terms of

size, the largest state of the Indian Union, Rajasthan, is more than ninety

times the area of Goa, the smallest state. While West Bengal has a population

density of 903 persons per square kilometre, Arunachal Pradesh has

only 13 persons per square kilometre.2 India had 714 million registered

voters during the 15th general elections to the Lower House of Parliament

(Lok Sabha) in April 2009. The Union’s per capita gdp (ppp) in 2008 was

about us$2,762.

India is a parliamentary federation comprising twenty-eight states, a national

capital territory, and six other territories directly administered by the

Union. The political structures of the constituent states share basic legal and

institutional features, with some elements of asymmetry devised to protect

fragile diversity in small and strategic settings. The Indian federation came

about as a result of both evolution and devolution. The federation was created

through the integration of previously sovereign or semi-sovereign

princely states, as well as a parallel process of reorganization of constituent

units inherited from the British colonial power, a previously unitary state

with some elements of provincial autonomy.3

The single-member plurality system of electoral laws is used for election

to the popular houses. The Constitution provides for periodic review of

parliamentary constituencies of each state after each decennial population

census. However, the representation of states has been frozen at the levels

determined after the 1971 census so that states implementing effective

population-control policies are not inadvertently penalized and those with

growing populations indirectly rewarded. States have directly elected legislative

assemblies and so do the national capital territory of Delhi and the

Union territory of Puducherry.4 While most states have unicameral legislatures,

six states have indirectly elected upper chambers as well.5

The full force of linguistic and cultural diversities began to be felt even

in the early years of the republic. The demand for the linguistic reorganization

of independent India was accompanied by an equally vigorous push

for a common language to serve as a lingua franca for the union. At a time

when predictions of imminent disintegration and collapse of the union

were rife, political adjustments, mediated by the electoral process, saved

the day. The literature on India’s fledgling democracy during this period

contains many dire predictions of imminent breakup through excessive

and premature democratization of a poor and illiterate population driven

by ‘primordial sentiments’ and lacking the maturity necessary to sustain a

diverse union. In the final analysis, it was the very operation of democratic

principles that enabled the search for acceptable solutions and averted the

collapse of this federal experiment.


The rights pertaining to expressions of diversity are contained in various

provisions of the Constitution, notably Part III relating to fundamental

rights. Despite its detailing of freedom of religion and cultural and educational

rights of minorities, the Constitution remained somewhat ambivalent

when it came to specifying criteria for the organization of diversity.

Although it firmly endorsed the respect of diversity in the chapter on

rights, it stopped short of detailing its institutional articulation in terms of

federal structuring. It conferred the power to recognize diversity on the

Union Parliament and government, but left it to the states to manage diversity’s

socio-political consequences. Accommodation is the key concept

that characterizes this constitutional approach to diversity, but it has been

interpreted as ‘assimilation’ by various political forces, particularly those

that insist on ‘mainstreaming’ minorities. 6

Nevertheless, the Indian Constitution enjoys a high degree of legitimacy,

which has been enhanced by the failure of attempts to radically modify its

core principles. The judiciary has enunciated a doctrine of “basic structure”

that, in effect, limits the right of Parliament to amend it in ways that would

alter the founding beliefs of the constitutional architecture. This doctrine,

first enunciated in the Kesavananda Bharati (1973) judgment of the Supreme

Court,7 emerged strengthened from the crucible of the Emergency

(1975–77) and has been subsequently reaffirmed with renewed vigour. The

accommodation of social diversity is thus an integral part of the Constitution.

Equity, redistribution, and social justice are other important principles

of constitutionally sanctioned state policy.8

The preamble to the Constitution enunciates “justice – social, economic

and political” as a first principle before moving to the principles of liberty,

equality, and fraternity. In pursuance of the commitment to social justice,

an intricate system of quotas and reservations in various sectors, especially

in educational institutions, government employment, and representation

in legislatures, has emerged over the years to promote a more inclusive society.

While these policies have at times generated political tensions within

states, mainly because more groups seek entry into categories that confer

advantages of affirmative action, they have not produced any significant

threats to the union as a whole.

However, not all issues related to ethnic identity are resolved with ease and

settled amicably. Many antagonisms still persist. This is particularly true of

the frontier states of Kashmir in the north as well as of Nagaland, Mizoram,

and Manipur in the northeast. In fact, recurrent militancy has prompted the

Union to invest the armed forces stationed there with special powers of arrest

and detention. Citing misuse, these special powers have been opposed

vigorously by local populations supported by human rights activists.9 The situation

in Kashmir has been compounded by the infiltration of terrorist

groups from Pakistan across the border, many of which have their roots and


bases farther north in Afghanistan. In Nagaland, insurgents continue to demand

a greater Naga state, Nagalim, encompassing territories located in

neighbouring Indian states as well as in Myanmar.

To counter these movements, the Indian Union has devised a number

of strategies aimed at increasing the incentives for participation in the

democratic electoral process. The attractiveness of this option is not immediately

evident because all of these states, due to a host of historical

and geographical reasons, have low levels of economic development. Enhanced

economic well-being would be a more tangible benefit for the people.

However, since development processes are slow and uncertain, specialstatus

provisions attempt to reduce disparities through fiscal incentives and

even direct subsidies, via constitutionally enshrined asymmetries. Many of

these arrangements were initially designated as temporary and transitional

in order to overcome principled opposition to them. As with the indefinite

deferment of the official language provisions stipulating the replacement

of English by Hindi within fifteen years, these asymmetrical provisions are

now entrenched firmly and permanently. These arrangements were subsequently

labelled “special provisions” to allay apprehensions that they could

be revoked unilaterally.10

Resort to asymmetrical federalism devices incorporated primarily in article

371 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, but also in Union legislation,

have helped attenuate tensions somewhat. Also, generous financial

concessions and incentives have been deployed to facilitate integration in

the more intractable cases. The search for solutions has essentially been a

search for adjustments that can be made on both sides. For the Union, its

sovereignty and integrity remain paramount imperatives, and all proposed

solutions have to meet these prior requirements of compatibility with the

Constitution and its accommodative capabilities.11 For militant autonomy

movements, the path of negotiation is left open, provided they do not seek

secession. The Indian government has thus negotiated and granted asymmetry

to constituent units, and erstwhile militants have entered electoral

politics. However, they have often been replaced by new, more radical, militant

groups that constitute the new underground opposition in most of

these states, notably in the Northeast.

What has been the Indian experience with the use of asymmetrical federalism

devices?12 The distinction between de facto and de jure asymmetry,

while relevant conceptually, is not central to the construction of asymmetrical

federalism in India. The basic starting point is the recognition of

inequality as a factor to be incorporated in the systemic responses to its consequences.

In a society marked by deep inequalities, this recognition comes

naturally. What is significant is the constitutional and legal will to build an inclusive

society through asymmetrical rights and privileges, from whatever

source they might emanate. Some of them have been incorporated in the


Constitution while others have been built into national and state legislation.

Yet others stem from policy enactments akin to delegated legislation, deriving

their legitimacy and authority from the asymmetric principle sanctioned

by the Constitution. They provide the framework for positive discrimination

in favour of the ‘native inhabitants’ of certain states.

The main provisions in this regard pertain to Jammu and Kashmir (article

370), Nagaland (article 371A), Sikkim (article 371F), and Mizoram

(article 371G). The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution further

designate territories with special administrative structures at the district

level.13 Differential treatment is also incorporated in national

legislation pertaining to the income tax as well as state laws regulating

ownership of land. Successive finance commissions, appointed under article

280 of the Constitution, have codified the special status of the northeastern

and northern frontier states in their horizontal allocations. The

executive branch has further extended these asymmetrical arrangements

through a formula-based system of grants and loans disbursed by the Planning

Commission. The totality of these arrangements can be viewed as part

of a system devised by Indian federalism to respond to the problems posed

by accentuated diversities.

The Political Economy of Indian Federalism

While age-old socio-cultural diversities still persist and thrive, they seem less

threatening for unity today than the widening income disparities generated

by rapid growth of certain regions and sectors of the economy under the

economic liberalization regime introduced in 1991–92. The crisis of agriculture

in several states and related food-security issues pose new challenges

and tensions. Vertical and horizontal fiscal transfers through the periodic finance

commissions under article 280 appear to be engaged in a constant

race to contain emerging cleavages and disparities. Threats to internal unity

due to strains on social harmony and cohesion arising from uneven development

are seen as new challenges for the federal polity, particularly in times

of economic crisis. Strategies of “inclusive growth” have been devised by the

United Progressive Alliance (upa) government, which is led by the Congress

Party and came to power in 2004. The upa interpreted the renewal of its

electoral mandate in 2009 as popular endorsement for these policies.

In the first few decades after independence, the economy grew at a rate

of about 3–4 percent per annum. This came to be referred to as the seemingly

inexorable and frozen-in-perpetuity ‘Hindu rate of growth.’ The infrastructural

foundations of the Indian economy were nevertheless laid

during this period of state-led development. A powerful national Planning

Commission placed emphasis on the public sector, import substitution,

and self-sufficiency.


Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic turnaround in terms

of growth, especially after India opened up its economy and liberalized its

trade in the early 1990s, integrating with the global market economy.

While the average growth during the 1980s was 5–6 percent, since 2003–

04, the growth in gdp at market prices exceeded 8 percent annually, until

the global financial crisis that began in 2008 put an end to this phenomenal

spurt. However, India remains in the category of low-income countries

according to World Bank criteria, and equitable redistribution remains a

challenge for federal public policy. While interstate disparities generate

strains and tensions in the federal system, interpersonal disparities get reflected

in the democratic political process and ultimately in the electoral

competition for power in the national, state, and local arenas.

The Indian economy has seen a greater integration with the world economy

and an economic liberalization policy that has generated rapid growth,

most notably in the service sector. Rapid growth sectors are concentrated in

a few states, while other states lag behind on most development parameters.

Integration with the global economy presents a new diversity challenge to

the federal system. The trade-to-gdp ratio increased from 22.5 percent of

gdp in 2000–01 to 34.8 percent of gdp in 2006–07. If the component of

services trade is included in this computation, then the degree of openness

to the world economy increases even further. Far from shrinking, the state

has assumed a proactive role in countering the negative political consequences

of increasing disparities in living standards.14

Although food-grain production has consistently increased since independence,

and Indian agriculture has made significant progress toward

self-sufficiency since the mid-1980s, it has lagged behind other sectors in

terms of growth rate and still remains a zone of concern. The environmental

degradation caused by the green revolution is noticeable in provinces

that were once hailed to be emblematic of India’s agrarian success. In addition,

over the years, there has been a gradual decline in public investment

in the agrarian sector and no concomitant increase in private investment,

unlike in other sectors. Suicides by farmers unable to pay their debts are

symptomatic of this malaise, and the exclusion of tribal populations from

the development process has led to the implantation of Left-extremist

movements in these areas, such as Maoist rebels who are present in twenty

states. Consequently agriculture, which is the responsibility of state governments

and on which a large section of the population is dependent, remains

heavily dependent on the timely arrival of the monsoon. As investment remains

insufficent, agriculture constitutes a neglected sector in deep crisis.

India also continues to rank low in the human development indices of most

international agencies.15

The uneven territorial distribution of socio-economic resources and

cleavages and the differential prospects for development in the constituent


states have led to tensions within the Union. The Hindi-speaking states of

north and central India have fallen behind, compared to the western and

southern states. The persistent under-development of the northeastern

states remains a source of internal strife.

Religion and Languages

The configuration of linguistic, cultural, and religious differences in the

country is complicated by the fact that the main societal cleavages are both

territorial and non-territorial. The magnitude of India’s diversity is legendary.

There are more languages in India than in any other federation on the

globe. India is home to all the world’s major religions. Hinduism, Buddhism,

Jainism, and Sikhism originated on the Indian subcontinent, while

Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam arrived in India long ago.

While Hindus account for 80.5 percent of the population, Muslims constitute

the largest single religious minority (13.4 percent) followed by Christians

(2.3 percent), Sikhs (1.9 percent), Buddhists (0.8 percent), and Jains

(0.4 percent). These religious minorities are statutorily recognized, and a

National Commission for Minorities is entrusted with the task of ensuring

that their constitutional rights are respected in the states.16

Minority rights, as applicable to religious minorities, are defined primarily

as educational and cultural rights. These are protected by the Constitution

throughout the Indian Union, but the question of the territorial

framework of reference for determining minority status remains a relevant

issue for the implementation of these rights. For example, Muslims are a

majority in Kashmir, whereas they are a minority in other states. Similarly,

Christians are a majority in Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, while

Sikhs are the majority in Punjab but a minority elsewhere.17

Linguistic diversity is obviously a key element in the debates on the construction

of unity. Indian languages belong primarily to two major language

families: the Indo-Aryan (76.9 percent) and the Dravidian (20.8 percent).

Of the twenty-two Indian languages listed in the Constitution, fifteen belong

to the Indo-Aryan variant of Indo-European languages, while four are from

the Dravidian group. The census lists one hundred other languages, of

which sixty-six belong to the Tibeto-Burmese group.18

The question of an official language for the Union was hotly debated in

the Constituent Assembly, and it was decided that both Hindi and English

would continue to be co-official languages for purposes of communication

between the Union and the states for fifteen years. Thereafter, Hindi was to

be the sole official language. When the 1965 deadline loomed large, there

was strong opposition from some non-Hindi-speaking states, notably Tamil

Nadu. This potentially explosive issue was resolved by a compromise that

retained English indefinitely as an official link-language.


Communication between the Union and states is in either of the two languages,

depending on the preferences of the states concerned. All official

enactments are published in both languages. All Union government departments

are expected to promote, through various incentives, the increased

use of Hindi in official work. Similarly, the officers of the All-India

services, essentially the Indian Administrative Service (ias) and the Indian

Police Service (ips), are required to learn Hindi as part of their training

program, in addition to the official language of the state to which they are

posted in case it is not Hindi.19 Recruited from all parts of the country and

frequently assigned to states other than their native state, these officers are

placed in positions of command and control and have to handle the problems

that arise in highly diverse settings.20

Of the twenty-two languages listed in the Constitution, four do not have a

defined territorial base within the Union. Thus Nepali is spoken primarily in

Nepal and Sindhi prevails in the Pakistani province of Sindh, whereas the

Urdu-speaking population is scattered, primarily across the Indo-Gangetic

plain, and Sanskrit is spoken by a scattered and numerically miniscule minority.

In addition to these twenty-two languages, states are at liberty to recognize

other local languages for official communication purposes. Thus,

English is recognized as an official language in Nagaland and Mizoram,

French in Puducherry, and Ladakhi in Kashmir.

The rights of linguistic and religious minorities, contained in articles 26,

29, and 30 of the Constitution, are designed to protect them from cultural

assimilation and culture-related disadvantage. Linguistic minorities are identified

with reference to the language composition of the states in which they

are located, though their rights are uniform once they are so recognized.

This is an area in which the gap between promise and performance is significant

because the statutory institutions in place to protect and promote these

rights lack the necessary powers to ensure compliance. Even though the

Constitution provides for a Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, there

has been scant discussion of the reports submitted annually to Parliament,

and state governments remain largely indifferent to the commissioner’s recommendations.


The decline of Urdu, once the language of the courts and of governance

under the Moguls and even for some time under the British, illustrates the

lack of effective safeguards. Urdu is the primary language of the Muslims

in four major states: Bihar (where 66.8 percent of the Muslim population

claims it as their first language), Uttar Pradesh (51.8 percent), Andhra

Pradesh (93.8 percent), and Karnataka (85.4 percent).22 According to an

official committee chaired by Justice Rajinder Sachar and tasked with reporting

on the social, economic, and educational status of the Muslim

community, the fact that the Constitution provides (in article 351) for

Hindi to draw primarily on Sanskrit for its vocabulary has worked to the


disadvantage of Urdu and hindered the development of Hindustani. This

debate on whether Hindi or Hindustani (a mixture of Hindi and Urdu)

should be the lingua franca goes back to the Constituent Assembly, where

the matter was settled in favour of Hindi by a very narrow margin.23 In

school education, the distortion of the three-language formula in many

Hindi-speaking states by the inclusion of Sanskrit as the third language (after

Hindi and English) rather than Urdu or another modern language has

affected the education of a whole generation of Muslims.

The rights of linguistic minorities within states are supposed to be protected

by the government of the state in which they are located, but religious

minorities that are scattered across the country present a different

set of issues. For example, Muslims as a community are scattered across several

states. In Kerala only 0.2 percent of the Muslims speak Urdu, even

though they constitute 23.6 percent of the population. In West Bengal and

Assam, where they constitute 23.6 percent and 28.4 percent of the population

respectively, only 11.2 percent claim to speak it in Bengal while none

claim it in Assam.24 Thus, the protection of the cultural and education

rights of Muslims is a complex task.

In the field of literacy, the Sachar Committee, which was asked to identify

areas of intervention by the government arising from a comparison of

data with other religious communities, found that the literacy rate among

Muslims was far below the national average. Unemployment among Muslim

graduates is the highest among all socio-religious communities. The

committee’s report also found that inadequate targeting and geographical

planning of access to bank-credit facilities has resulted in a failure to address

the economic problems of Muslims in rural areas. The concentration

of Muslims in states lacking infrastructure facilities implies that a large proportion

of the community is without access to basic services such as roads,

electricity, and drinking water. They are also under-represented in employment

in both the public and the private sectors.25

Linguistic and religious minorities exist in almost all states. There are

special constitutional safeguards for the rights of minorities. The Constitution

enjoins on the states to provide education in the mother tongue wherever

possible. However, the role of English as a lingua franca for higher

education and employment has not diminished. Even states that have vigorously

espoused the cause of local languages have relaxed the level of proficiency

required in higher education in order to attract students from

across the country seeking education through the English medium.26

Much of the political and legislative activity in the states is conducted in

the local official language, as are also the proceedings in the subordinate

judicial courts. Additionally, there is a growing lingua franca that integrates

vocabularies from different languages. In day-to-day communication,

the emergence of a mix of Hindi and English (Hinglish) in the


northern states and its spread has been facilitated by the cinema, the audio-

visual media, and the growth of the middle class. Non-Hindi-speaking

states also have their own versions of mixing Hindi and English with the regional

language. However, the regional language remains the preferred

medium of communication in informal settings for the majority of the

population, whereas English is used in more formal national and international


While the principle of equality among citizens is constitutionally recognized,

affirmative action or positive discrimination is not only permitted

but also actively pursued as public policy. Seats are reserved in Parliament

and in state legislatures for the castes and tribes that have been enumerated

as being particularly deserving of this measure. Similarly, quotas have

been carved out in education institutions and in government employment.

While the Union government observes quotas of 15 percent for the most

deprived and excluded castes (the dalits) and 7.5 percent for members of

backward tribes, the quotas vary from state to state, depending on their

numbers in the concerned state; however, by decision of the Supreme

Court, in no case can these quotas cumulatively exceed 49 percent.27 The

Court has also ruled that castes and tribes recognized as being entitled to

affirmative-action benefits in one state cannot claim them in another state

unless they are similarly recognized in that state. Although the Constitution

recognizes only a single Indian citizenship, social handicaps cannot be

carried across state lines to take advantage of affirmative-action benefits,

though physical handicaps can.

Indian citizens enjoy differential rights and entitlements. While fundamental

rights are guaranteed to all, nationals and foreigners alike,

throughout the territory of the Indian Union, special rights and entitlements

arising from affirmative-action policies are territorially restricted in

their scope and application.

The case of the communities classified as tribal is particularly instructive.

Identified on the basis of cultural distinctiveness and geographical location,

they are the intended beneficiaries of a slew of measures ranging

from assured representation in legislatures to reserved quotas in education

institutions and government employment.

Apart from the populations of the northeastern states, which mostly fall

under this category, tribal communities are found in six other states. They

are the original inhabitants of a forest belt that traverses Bihar, West

Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh. Rich in

mineral and other natural resources, these areas are also under the sway

of radical left movements, Naxals or Maoists.28 Despite all the provisions

to protect the rights of the tribals living in these areas from being encroached

upon by outsiders, they remain among the poorest segments of

the population. Safeguards for autonomy and protection of identities are


by themselves ineffective in raising standards of living, unless accompanied

by determined public policies in favour of the deprived. The promise

of more inclusive growth as a prerequisite for social harmony becomes an

even more compelling necessity when growing segments of the population

are able to experience upward mobility and even prosperity. This accentuates

even more starkly the contrast between rich and poor. Two

antipodal attitudes toward the state coexist: while the rich manifest great

frustration with governance deficiencies that prevent them from fully enjoying

their wealth, the poor have high expectations from the state for the

improvement of their material condition. This tension manifests itself in

differential rates of electoral participation and conflicting claims on policy

priorities and choices.

It is important to remember that there are many cross-cutting cleavages,

and that diversities do not necessarily reinforce each other. In the case of religion,

the Muslims of southern India, for example, of Kerala and Tamil Nadu,

are very different in terms of language and culture from their religious brethren

of the north. Another question that poses itself in this context is: can individual

rights be set aside in favour of group rights? Progressive Muslims have

pointed to a nexus between the ruling classes and religious orthodoxies,

where individual freedoms are denied in the name of respect for group identities

and the rights incorporated therein. In the absence of a uniform civil

code applicable to all religious communities, dilemmas are bound to arise,

such as in the Shah Bano case (1985), which was ultimately decided through

a legislative enactment widely viewed as a capitulation to the conservative interpretation

of Muslim personal law as opposed to a more liberal construction

of the rights of Muslim women.29

Caste identities cut across religions and are all-pervasive, even among religions

that reject such hierarchies as a matter of dogma. Thus, dalits among

Sikhs and neo-Budhists are legally entitled to positive-discrimination benefits.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission, which was tasked by the first upa

government (2004–09) with identifying dalits in other non-Hindu religious

groups, has recommended reservation benefits for dalit Muslims.30

Broadly, caste and linguistic boundaries coincide, though equivalent

castes can be identified in each state if one adopts the social stratification

of the fourfold classification of varnas, which are broader generic groupings

of castes (jati). However, while caste-based parties exist in many states

and the use of caste loyalties for electoral mobilization is a common occurrence,

pan-Indian movements of castes have had limited success. The only

serious efforts were attempts to mobilize the dalits on nation-wide platforms,

but those were thwarted when linguistic boundaries intervened.31

The strength of India’s federal democracy draws largely from its pluralism

and diversity. Distinctiveness and diversity are constitutionally recognized.

Federalism was adopted to create a Union of diverse peoples, and the


boundaries of states were subsequently reorganized along ethno-linguistic

lines in response to popular demand.

constitutiona l and political dimensions

The Constitution begins with the words “We the People of India … give to

ourselves this Constitution.” It is conceived of as a covenant among individuals.

However, it goes on to recognize distinct groups and confers special

rights on them, notably through affirmative action policies. These policies

have been justified on the grounds of both reparation for historical injustices

perpetuated by the caste system and the need for the representation

of diversities in the public sphere.

The states, however, are not political units alone. The majority of them

have distinct cultural histories and personalities, and, in the case of the

larger pluricultural states, there are often distinct communities within each

state. In the presence of multiple identities, the overwriting analogy appears

the most appropriate. There is a superimposition of layered identities,

where the succeeding layers do not erase the existing ones, but merely

overwrite them. Thus, the Indian identity, however incredible it may seem,

asserts itself at times to override the basic identities of caste, language, and

religion, which constitute the stuff of normal political life.

While the basic purpose of the Constitution was to create an integrated

Union, subsequent developments tended to articulate the country’s fundamental

diversities. Within some pluricultural states, autonomous regional

councils have been created through state legislation designed to recognize

diversities. For example, the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar autonomous

district council has been in existence for over five decades within the state of

Assam. It is covered by the special autonomy provisions of the Sixth Schedule

and also constitutes a parliamentary constituency reserved for scheduled

tribes. Autonomous councils also exist for the Ladakhis of Kashmir.32

The representation of the states in Parliament is based on or linked to

their population, and the country’s largest linguistic group, Hindi-speakers,

are spread across many federated states. There is no constitutional distinction

between “nationality-based units” and the others because all states

have the same legal status. However, asymmetrical federalism is enshrined

in the Constitution through the mechanism of special-status provisions,

primarily for the border states of the north and northeast. These provisions

are intended to partially offset the situational disadvantages of these

peoples, who live in geographically isolated and difficult terrains.

B. R. Ambedkar asserted that the Constitution of India “can be both unitary

as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances. In

normal times, it is framed to work as a federal system … it is so designed as to

make it work as though it was a unitary system. Once the President issues a


Proclamation which he is authorized to do … the whole scene can become

transformed and the State becomes a unitary State … Such a power of converting

itself into a unitary State no federation possesses.”33

The founding beliefs of the Indian Union were grounded in centralization,

but the processes of federal democracy have gradually moved it toward

decentralization. The states derive their powers from the

Constitution and their political weight and powers of leverage through the

political process. The powers assigned to the states are enshrined in the

Constitution and protected by judicial interpretation.

The debate on the quantum of federalism required for the Indian

Union took a peculiar turn in the Constituent Assembly after Partition. It

came to hinge on striking a balance between what was necessary and what

was excessive. Ultimately, the Assembly opted in favour of a flexible and

adaptable federal arrangement, leaving it to future generations to determine

for themselves the quantum necessary, according to the needs and

circumstances of the time.34

Self-determination and Secession

India has frequently faced demands for self-determination. The handling

of issues relating to autonomy demands of linguistic, ethnic, and cultural

minorities is at the core of some of the most acute dilemmas it has confronted.

Take, for instance, the demand for the right to secession.

The issue cropped up initially in the context of the demand for linguistic

states in the south, where it was spearheaded by the Dravidian parties of

present-day Tamil Nadu, and among the Naga tribes in the northeast.

These threats were met and solutions to be defused them were sought at

two levels, the legal-constitutional and the political.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1963) altered article 19 on

basic freedoms in the chapter on fundamental rights to allow Parliament to

enact restrictions on the freedom of expression in the interests of the sovereignty

and integrity of the Union. It further required all candidates for Parliament

and the state assemblies not only to swear an oath of allegiance to the

Constitution but also to “uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Simultaneously, policy measures in the field of official language policy

defused some of the tension in this particular relationship with the Tamils.

However, since then, a number of other sub-national movements in the

northeast cropped up. Some were satisfied by co-optation of the leaders of

these movements through power-sharing devices, facilitated by the asymmetrical

federalism possibilities of the Constitution.

By far, the most serious challenge came from the Punjab, where the establishment

of a Punjabi Suba (1966) did not satisfy some groups, which persisted

with their demands for greater autonomy stretching to a ‘separate


homeland’ for the Sikhs. The Khalistan movement plunged the state into

turmoil in the 1980s, and the return to normalcy was slow and painful. After

the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar in June 1984 by security

forces to dislodge militants, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated

by her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984, and thousands of Sikhs were massacred

in the capital and surrounding states while the authorities stood by,

seemingly helpless. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered what could be

termed a state apology for these tragic events when he apologized to the

Sikhs on behalf of the Nation in Parliament.35 However, judicial redressal of

Sikh grievances, which have festered for more than twenty-five years, has

been painfully slow.

Violent challenges to the integrity of the Union have generally been

handled as law-and-order problems, justified on the grounds that they arise

from the use of extra-constitutional means. In countering them, the armed

forces of the states and the Union have frequently been accused of straying

into this very same extra-constitutional space to combat insurgency.36

The Reorganization of States

The Indian Constitution has a flexible procedure for reorganizing the internal

boundaries of the Union. Initially necessitated by the complex mosaic

of provinces and princely states that had to be integrated and then

reorganized, this flexibility has been used to recognize identity claims territorially

and give them space and voice in the federal system. A convention

has developed that requires that the boundaries of a state are altered and

new states created only with the concurrence of the concerned state legislative

assembly. Thus, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland comprising

the hill districts of Darjeeling in West Bengal was resolved through

a tripartite negotiation involving both central and state governments, and

led to the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

Simmering since the early 1980s, the Gorkhaland movement shot into

prominence in spring 1986 when the Gorkha National Liberation Front, led

by Subhas Ghising, began mobilizing the Nepalis of the Darjeeling Hill districts

on an anti-Bengali platform. After prolonged unrest and protracted negotiations,

a tripartite agreement was signed on 22 August 1988 in Calcutta.

The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council that came into being was an intra-state solution,

where the state legislature enacted the enabling statute. After two decades

of functioning, a further step toward greater autonomy was worked out

for the inclusion of the council under the Sixth Schedule, but the emergence

of a new movement pressing for statehood derailed this process and raised

doubts about the continuance of the council experiment itself.37

Additional constituent polities have thus been added, either through the

process of elevation of centrally administered territories to statehood or


through new states being carved out of existing ones. This process commenced

shortly after independence, against the backdrop of a longstanding

commitment of the Indian National Congress to give territorial recognition

to linguistic and cultural identities.

The first wave of state formation took place in 1956. Four years later, the

attempt to retain a multilingual Bombay state failed, and it was split into

Maharashtra and Gujarat. Subsequently, a separate state of Nagaland was

carved out of Assam in the northeast, and Haryana out of Punjab. Sikkim

was merged with the Indian Union in 1975 and the former union territories

of Himachal, Arunachal, Mizoram, and Goa were granted statehood

over a period of time. The most recent reorganization of states in 2000 resulted

in the creation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttaranchal from

Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh respectively.38

There are many pending demands for recognition as separate states. The

most notable among them are Telengana (Andhra Pradesh), Vidharbha (Maharashtra),

Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Bodoland (Assam), Kodagu (erstwhile

Coorg, Karnataka), and Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh).39

Structuring Centre-State Relations

There are also many unresolved demands for greater constitutional powers

emanating from the states. These demands gathered momentum in the

1980s and compelled the government to appoint a commission to study the

entire range of issues pertaining to centre-state relations.40 The Sarkaria

Commission recommended the activation of the constitutional provision for

an Inter-state Council to provide a forum of consultation with and among

states in matters of common interest and national importance. However, the

role of this council has been limited and sporadic. Other forums where

heads of government meet, such as the Chief Ministers Conference and the

National Development Council, continue to enjoy more importance as consultative

channels for the operation of executive federalism. The National

Integration Council, which was established in 1963 in the wake of the border

conflict with China, is a larger body with members from different communities

and professions. It has functioned sporadically in times of crisis to

attempt a reconciliatory consensus.

Voluntary agencies, in tandem with the new institutions of local selfgovernment

mandated for rural areas under the 73rd Constitution Amendment,

are increasingly involved in promoting development and empowerment.

A multi-level federal system was legislated into existence through

constitutional recognition of local governments, but its translation into effective

instruments of social and economic change has been uneven. Nevertheless,

it represents a substantial leap for the democratization process by

creating more than 3 million elected representatives, with one-third of the


seats and elective offices reserved for women. Evidence on the linkage between

decentralization and the effective representation of diversity is compelling,

and the unfolding promise of this reform is a work in progress.

There is a lively public debate in the media and among political parties

on how diversities should be conceptualized and handled. The Constitution

proclaims India to be a “secular democratic republic,” and religious

diversity is frequently converted into a source of political cleavage for purposes

of electoral mobilization. The debate hinges around different interpretations

of the concept of secularism, with the partisans of “Hindutva,”

notably the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) and the Sangh Parivar,

along with its ally in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, opposing what they term

“pseudo-secularism” and “the appeasement of minorities.”41

The unusual position and role assigned to administrative structures in

preserving unity is a notable feature of the Constitution. The two major

civil and police services, the ias and the ips, have an all-India character

and vocation. Recruited by the statutorily independent Union Public Service

Commission through a competitive examination, the selected candidates

are assigned to serve in the states, but can also be called on to serve

the Union government on deputation. The logic that presided over this arrangement,

which is a significant departure from other federal systems

where national and state bureaucracies are horizontally layered, was to provide

a uniting force through vertical mobility. It was argued that state experience

would be brought to bear on central policy-making and, vice versa,

the national perspective would enrich decisions made by the states. While

it is widely recognized that this objective remains only partially fulfilled,

the existence of such services does facilitate intergovernmental interaction

and strengthen the capabilities of executive federalism.42

Diversity, Pluralism, and the Media

There is a vibrant free press, both in English and the regional languages.

As for radio and television, the Union government has official channels

and services in this domain; they are supposed to be managed by an autonomous

agency (Prasar Bharati), but the degree of government interference

and control makes the exercise of autonomy difficult in reality. The

audiovisual media field, however, is open to private broadcasters, too. Television

channels in Hindi and other Indian languages have proliferated.

Their importance is partly linked to the proportion of the population that

speaks the language. Private news channels exist alongside governmentowned

television (Doordarshan) and radio (Akashvani), but efforts to create

autonomous regulatory and governance structures have had limited

success, as government influence in appointments remains a barrier to

genuine autonomy.


The publicly owned channels give voice and space to their regional stations

to broadcast in the regional language when they are not linked to the

national network’s broadcasts. Even though state governments do not own

television channels in the states, local political parties often have strong

links of ownership or finance with private, local television channels.

What other cementing forces knit together such a diverse pluricultural

civilization? The role of sport, and particularly cricket, has been remarked

upon, and its popularity cuts across cultural and social segmentation. Films

produced by Bollywood are popular nationwide, and their songs and

dances transcend language boundaries. Indians are also great travellers,

whether on pilgrimages or leisure tours. The vast network of railways has

traditionally been the preferred mode of travel and has contributed greatly

to fostering a sense of national unity. A similar claim can be made for the

Indian Post and Telegraph service, which reached out to the most inaccessible

of locations in the Indian Union. With the arrival of modern means of

locomotion and communication, this connectivity has only been enhanced.

Information technology has enabled and empowered even rural

areas, and cellphones are becoming commonplace in urban areas among

vast segments of the population.

The existence of multiple identities, superimposed on one another, is

one of the key features of pluralism in India. When demands for greater

autonomy are raised in the lively debate on the balance between regional

aspirations and national cohesion, both the validity and the viability of the

strong-centre framework are questioned. The Indian Constitution is thus

grounded in the political culture of the national movement. Mukul Kesavan

observes, “The challenge of representing India to a hostile colonial

state and then the trauma of Partition committed the republican state to

pluralist democracy … This was the ultimate political goal: to keep the diversity

of a subcontinent afloat in a democratic ark. Everything else was negotiable.

The political culture of the republic consisted of special interests,

procrastination, equivocation, pandering, tokenism and selective affirmative

action: in a word, democratic politics.”43

The underlying approach to diversity and pluralism is reflected in the

philosophy of the “composite culture,” which stresses the points of compatibility

and convergence between the different strands of cultural differences.

44 The hallmark of this approach is the recognition, tolerance, and

acceptance of diversity.

The manifestations of diversity are multiple, and old diversities have assumed

new salience. Recently, a diversity hitherto criminalized has gained

legal legitimacy. Sexual orientations characterized as “unnatural” by § 377

of the Indian Penal Code (ipc), and hence punishable under law, have

long been a menacing deterrent for same-sex relationships. In a landmark

judgment (2009), the Delhi High Court has struck down this provision of


the ipc as violating individual rights, thus liberating the gay and lesbian

communities from legal stigmatization. An appeal against this judgment is

pending with the Supreme Court, but the Union cabinet has decided to

adopt a neutral stance by neither opposing nor endorsing the judgment.

Regional political cultures of governance coexist within this national

frame, and each state has its own cultural specificities. The politics of the

southern states has been significantly dominated by personalities from the

world of cinema; screen idols are much sought after as candidates by political

parties in other states as well.

While the political culture of the Indian republic, as reflected in the

Constitution, lays great store by the protection and preservation of diversity,

some political parties stress the idea of “one nation, one people, one

culture.” Yet, competing views of citizenship, identity, and nation exist and

are vigorously expressed in the political arena. Cultural nationalism is promoted

on the grounds that the cultural heritage of India is shared by all

communities. The teaching of history in schools has relevance in this context,

and has become a terrain of political contest when parties with opposing

visions of the past and the future come to power.

Nations and nationalities are not recognized as such in the Constitution.

The chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar,

made it abundantly clear that the “Indian Constitution is a dual polity

with a single citizenship. There is only one citizenship for the whole of India.

It is Indian citizenship. There is no State citizenship. Every citizen has

the same rights of citizenship, no matter in what state he resides.”45

Economic Disparities and Internal Migration

Economic disparities between states have introduced new concerns in centre-

state relations. The rapid growth of some states, due primarily to the

new economic policies of trade globalization and economic liberalization,

has given rise to new levels of diversity. They have spurred internal migration,

both from underdeveloped regions within states as well as from

neighbouring or even distant underdeveloped states.

Differential rates of economic growth and levels of development of

states, and of regions within states, have understandably led to regular and

often seasonal flows of internal migration in search of livelihood to economically

prosperous places. Migration to large cities from the rural hinterland

is an all-too-common phenomenon. For example, workers from

Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh routinely migrate as farm labourers to the

Punjab and as security guards and taxi drivers to Mumbai and Delhi. In addition,

migration of economic refugees through the border between Bangladesh

and Assam has frequently been a source of tension and conflict.

These migrant communities tend to cluster together in their new habitat,


thereby following a familiar pattern of residential preferences where community

of origin is a key factor.

The rights of migrants are those of an Indian citizen, and those rights remain

unchanged in their state of adoption, provided they can establish their

citizenship and domiciliation in the state. In some states, a system of preferences

for ‘sons of the soil’ in government employment has been constitutionally

validated. For example, the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh has

special safeguards for its native inhabitants, even though there is only a single

recognized citizenship (i.e., Indian). In some cases, linguistic criteria for recruitment

effectively debar migrants from other language groups. Nativist

movements have been active in Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena has successively

targeted the Tamil- and the Hindi-speaking migrants. Similarly, the bjp

has been systematically opposed to the migration of Muslims from Bangladesh.

Foreign nationals are entitled to the same fundamental rights as Indian

citizens when they are being tried under Indian law. This principle was reaffirmed

even in the case of those being tried for terrorist acts after the

Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008. While the provisions regarding the

period of detention in police and judicial custody for those facing trial under

terrorism laws is different from those applicable to other accused persons,

they are nevertheless entitled to all benefits available to Indian

citizens, including legal aid.

Political Parties and Diversity

The role of political parties in maintaining unity, on one hand, and in articulating

demands for greater diversity, on the other, needs to be considered

carefully. Over the last two decades, the federalization of the party system has

thrown up new challenges for governance, even as it has given more space

and voice to diversity. Regional political parties have succeeded in capturing

power in many states, and their contribution to the consolidation of federal

democracy is noteworthy. The consolidation of federal coalitions and the de

facto emergence of consociational political practices of proportional representation

have given new strength to the unity-in-diversity principle. The

question, however, is repeatedly posed in the political discourse: do regional

political parties divide more than they unite the Indian Union?

In the initial phase of development of India’s democracy, the Indian National

Congress based its electoral appeal on its nationalist vocation and its

unifying vision, as opposed to the divisive forces of casteism, communalism,

and regionalism. While caste prospered regardless as an ordering

framework for political activity, religion developed, through successive

elections, into a primary cleavage that divided political parties into secular

and communal camps. This cleavage has become blurred in recent elections

as state-based parties have gained prominence and have on occasion


disregarded the secular-communal divide in the pursuit of their primary

goal, the maximization of power and influence in the national arena.

The federalization of the party system is in effect the result of the breakup

of the party system into its federal components (i.e., parties representing

state interests but not bound by the disciplinary framework of an all-India or

national party). This process initially affected the Congress Party where discipline

was less ideological and more organizational. As the polity moved toward

greater decentralization, the Congress leadership initially sought to

reassert central control through organizational centralization.

This hyper-centralization at the expense if inner-party democracy proved

ineffective and even counterproductive in the long run, as state electorates

opted for state parties to defend their perceived interests. This has led to

the steady increase in their importance in Parliament over the last two decades

since Rajiv Gandhi was defeated in the 1989 general elections. Their

seat-strength in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004–09), in relation to the combined

strength of the two main all-India parties (52 percent), was 15 percent

for the multi-state or smaller national parties and 33 percent for the

single state parties. In the 15th Lok Sabha, the share of the polity-wide parties

increased to 59 percent, thanks largely to a spurt in the tally of the

Congress Party. Table 1 shows the relative weight of polity-wide parties on

the one hand and state parties of different types on the other.46

These single and multi-state parties have provided the pool of ‘coalitionable’

parties from which two federal coalitions have provided governance

at the centre over the last decade, the National Democratic Alliance (nda)

led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (1999–2004) and the United Progressive

Alliance (upa) led by the Congress Party (2004–09), which received a second

five-year popular mandate in the May 2009 general elections. The

party system has therefore provided a vital channel through which state demands

and aspirations have been articulated and negotiated, and diversities

reconciled. The framework of government-opposition relations that is

the backbone of parliamentary systems has been the primary forum for this

process of maintaining unity amidst diversity.


When it came into existence, India’s federal union was given very meagre

chances of survival. It departed in far too many ways from the then-existing

templates of federalism, and the ways in which it violated basic tenets were

considered more significant than the ways in which it innovated upon

them. Today, it is clear that the adaptation of the federal principle to India’s

diversities is not akin to adulteration or dilution of federalism itself. It

is more appropriately viewed as an alternative interpretation of a principle

that is robust precisely because it is flexible and adaptable.


Indian federalism has taken a long time to develop appropriate structures.

Its resilience is partly explained by the fact that the roots of federalism are

strong in Indian society, but the task of giving them adequate institutional

expression is a work in progress. The capacity to innovate pragmatic solutions

for the demands of new forms of diversity, within the framework of an

increasingly competitive party system, is constantly under test.

Accommodation and ‘adjustment’ are important concepts in the lexicon

of Indian politics. What promotes a culture of governance that lays a premium

on adjustment and accommodation? The “argumentative tradition”

extends the time devoted to the search for accommodation and adjustment

before passing on to more belligerent positions.47

As Mukul Kesavan remarks: “the reason India is so important to the history

and practice of democracy is its success in making … representative

government work in a bewilderingly diverse country. This achievement liberates

the idea of democracy from specific cultural contexts … If India

didn’t exist, no one would have the imagination to invent it.”48

India is a country where it is easier to document and detail its diversity

than to explain its unity and where the quest for better ways of organizing

diversity is seemingly endless. Its adoption of federalism has undoubtedly

stood it in good stead. If it is a thriving democracy after six

decades of existence, it is in no small measure due to the fact that it is a

federal democracy.

Table 1

Distribution of Lok Sabha seats between All-India and State Parties (1996–2009)

Parties 11LS: 1996 12LS: 1998 13LS: 1999 14LS: 2004 15LS: 2009

Percentage of seats

All-India parties

Congress (inc) 25.8 26.0 21.0 26.7 37.9

bjp 29.6 33.5 33.5 25.4 21.4

Subtotal: inc+bjp 55.4 59.5 54.5 52.1 59.3

State parties

Multi-state parties* 18.8 11.8 13.3 14.9 9.9

Single-state parties &


25.8 28.7 32.2 33.0 30.8

Subtotal: state parties 44.6 40.5 45.5 47.9 40.7

Grand total 100 100 100 100 100

* Multi-state parties are parties other than the two polity-wide parties that are recognized as ‘national’ by

the Election Commission on the basis of their performance in the preceding election. Five qualified in the

2009 elections: cpm, cpi, bsp, rjd, and ncp.

Source: Compiled from data of Election Commission of India,



This chapter benefited from comments and suggestions made by participants at the

India roundtable held at Panjab University, Chandigarh on 18–19 April 2008 and the

Global Dialogue at Brussels on 10–11 June 2008. The assistance of Kailash, who organized

the India roundtable and whose painstaking research contributed greatly to

the collation of data for this chapter, is gratefully acknowledged. The remarks and

suggestions of Sandeep Shastri, Irina Busygina, Richard Simeon, and Andreas Heinemann-

Gruder were very helpful. I am indebted to John Kincaid for his perceptive

comments and perceptible value addition, as well as his infinite patience. Customary

caveats apply.

1 Balveer Arora and Douglas Verney, eds., Multiple Identities in a Single State: Indian Federalism

in Comparative Perspective (New Delhi: Konark, 1995).

2 India Government, National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation, India and its

States, ed. P. Nag (Kolkata: natmo, 2007).

3 For further background, see Akhtar Majeed, “Republic of India.” In Constitutional

Origins, Structure, and Change in Federal Countries, eds. John Kincaid and Alan Tarr

(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 180–207; George

Mathew, “Republic of India.” In Distribution of Powers and Responsibilities in Federal

Countries, eds. Akhtar Majeed, Ronald L. Watts, and Douglas M. Brown (Montreal &

Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 155–80; Rajeev Dhavan and

Rekha Saxena, “Republic of India.” In Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Governance

in Federal Countries, eds. Katy Le Roy and Cheryl Saunders (Montreal & Kingston:

McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 165–97; Govinda Rao, “Republic of India.”

In The Practice of Fiscal Federalism: Comparative Perspectives, ed. Anwar Shah (Montreal

& Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 151–77; Amitabh Mattoo and

Happymon Jacob, “Republic of India.” In Foreign Relations in Federal Countries, ed.

Hans Michelmann (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009),

168–87; and George Mathew and Rakesh Hooja, “Republic of India.” In Local

Government and Metropolitan Regions in Federal Systems, ed. Nico Steytler (Montreal &

Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), 166–99.

4 The former French territory, Pondicherry, was handed over to the Indian Union in

1954, although the treaty of cession was not ratified by France’s National Assembly

until 1962, in the wake of the declonization of Algeria. For the relationship between

diversity and institutions, see Niraja Gopal Jayal, Representing India: Ethnic Diversity and

the Governance of Public Institutions (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

5 Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttar

Pradesh have bicameral legislatures. While the number of Lok Sabha elective seats remains

frozen at 543 (with two additional seats for the Anglo-Indian community filled

by nomination), the boundaries of the electoral constituencies were redrawn prior to

the 2009 general elections on the basis of the 2001 census, which increased the

number of reserved constituencies. See Alistair McMillan, “Delimitation, Democracy

and End of Constitutional Freeze,” Economic and Political Weekly, 8 April 2000,

Republic of India 223

1271–6, and Sanjay Kumar, “Delimitation on Basis of 2001 Census: Damage Control

Exercises,” Economic and Political Weekly, 10 May 2003, 1835–7.

6 Foremost among such parties is the Bharatiya Janata Party, with its Hindutva ideology.

Christophe Jaffrelot terms this Hindu nationalism. Cf. his The Hindu Nationalist

Movement and Indian Politics (New Delhi: Viking, 1996). This appellation, however, is

contested by K.N. Panikkar, who feels that the ideology is more akin to fanaticism

than to nationalism. Cf. K.N. Panikkar, “Culture as a Site of Struggle,” Economic and

Political Weekly, 14–20 February 2009, 34–41.

7 Kesavananda Bharati v Kerala, air 1973 sc 1461.The principles enunciated in this

judgment were subsequently developed in Minerva Mills v India, air 1980 sc 1789,

where judicial review was emphatically made an integral part of the basic structure.

8 Cf. Part IV of the Constitution, Directive Principles of State Policy.

9 A.G. Noorani, “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act: Urgency of Review,” Economic

& Political Weekly, 22 August 2009, 8–11.

10 See also Louise Tillon, “United in Diversity? Asymmetry in Indian Federalism,” Publius:

The Journal of Federalism 37 (November 2006): 46–67. Tillin argues that asymmetry

is not central to the Indian strategy of accommodating minorities.

11 Secession was indirectly made unconstitutional by the 16th Amendment to the Constitution

(1963), which prescribed oaths to be taken by all candidates for elections to

“uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

12 On the concept itself, see Ronald L. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems, 3rd ed, (Montreal

& Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 125–30. For a critical view of the

contribution of asymmetrical federalism to the maintenance of unity in India, see

Tillin, “United in Diversity?”

13 M. Hidayatullah, The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution of India (Gauhati:

Ashok Publishing House, 1979). On the application of asymmetry in fiscal federalism,

see M. Govinda Rao and Nirvikar Singh, Political Economy of Federalism in India

(New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005).

14 Amaresh Bagchi, “Globalisation and Federalism: Uneasy Partners?” Economic and

Political Weekly, 20 September 2008, 41–8, and Baldev Raj Nayar, The Myth of the

Shrinking State: Globalization and the State in India (New Delhi: Oxford University

Press, 2009).

15 Rahul Mukherji, ed., India’s Economic Transition: The Politics of Reform (New Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 2007).

16 The Jains were proposed to be brought under the purview of this commission

through the 103rd Constitution Amendment Bill (2004), which also seeks to confer

constitutional status on the commission. Minority commissions exist in fifteen states

as well. See India, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Annual Report 2007–08 (New Delhi:

2008), 20.

17 India, Planning Commission, Report of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force, Implications

of the Geographical Distribution of Minorities in India: Report, 2007 (Chair: Bhalchandra

Mungekar). States where minorities constitute a sizeable percentage of the population

are Kerala (43.7 percent), Manipur (43.0 percent), Assam (34.9 percent),


Arunachal (33.8 percent), Goa (33.6 percent), Sikkim (36.4 percent), and West

Bengal (26.3 percent). See also India, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Expert Group on

Diversity Index: Report, June 2008, and Expert Group on Equal Opportunity Commission:

Report, February 2008.


Language/statement9.htm. Accessed 14 July 2009. Interestingly, if one includes

English, the Indian Union has the same number of recognized official languages as

the European Union (i.e., twenty-three).

19 Balveer Arora and Beryl Radin, eds., The Changing Role of the All-India Services (New

Delhi: Centre for Policy Research, 2000).

20 Nirmal Mukarji and Balveer Arora, ed., Federalism in India: Origins and Development

(New Delhi: Vikas, 1992).

21 T.C.A. Srinivasavaradan, Federal Concept: The Indian Experience (New Delhi: Allied,


22 Paul R. Brass, “Elite Interests, Popular Passions and Social Power in the Language

Politics of India.” In Language and Politics in India, ed. Asha Sarangi (New Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 2009), 197.

23 India, Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India, Cabinet

Secretariat, Prime Minister’s High Level Committee, November 2006. See also Granville

Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (Oxford: Clarendon Press,


24 Paul R. Brass, “Elite Interests, Popular Passions.” See also Katharine Adeney, Federalism

and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan (New Delhi: Palgrave Macmillan,

2007). The work of the National Commission for Minorities is now supported by a

Ministry of Minority Affairs,

25 The Sachar Committee Report was presented to the Prime Minister on 17 November

2006 and was tabled in Parliament on 30 November 2006. See also Zoya Hasan, Politics

of Inclusion: Castes, Minorities and Affirmative Action (New Delhi: Oxford University

Press, 2009).

26 The Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education now requires clearance of only

middle-school level proficiency in Tamil for non-native students, as reported in

Hindu, 5 May 2008.

27 Reserved quotas have also been introduced in recent years for other intermediate

castes, known as other backward classes (obc), in implementation of the Mandal

Commission Report. The first move in this direction was made by the V.P. Singh government

in 1990, and the upa government of Manmohan Singh extended it to

higher education institutions. The Sachar Committee has also determined that more

than 40 percent of Muslims belonged originally to backward castes and, hence, deserve

reservation benefits.

28 Cf Bhupinder Singh, Autonomy Movements and Federal India (New Delhi: Rawat, 2002).

See also Ranabir Samaddar, ed., The Politics of Autonomy (New Delhi: Sage, 2005).

29 Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano & Ors, 1985 air 945, 1985 scr (3) 844. The Rajiv

Gandhi government reacted to this judgment and got Parliament to pass the Muslim

Republic of India 225

Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, which essentially endorsed the

orthodox interpretation. See also Asghar Ali Engineer, ed., The Shah Bano Controversy

(Delhi: Orient Longman, 1987); Zoya Hasan, ed., Forging Identities: Gender, Communities

and the State in India (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1994); and Mushirul Hasan,

ed., Will Secular India Survive? (Delhi: Imprint One, 2004). Partha S. Ghosh, “Politics

of Personal Law in India: The Hindu-Muslim Dichotomy,” South Asia Research 29 (1),

2009, 1–17, points out that the Act nevertheless reasserted the right of Parliament to

legislate in the domain of personal law.

30 The Commission was appointed by the Union government in October 2004 and submitted

its report in May 2007. It was finally tabled in Parliament in December 2009

but government reserved its views on the policy implications of implementing its recommendations.

A notable suggestion is the extension of reservation benefits to all

socially and economically deprived categories, regardless of religion.

31 The Republican Party of India, founded by B.R. Ambedkar, remained limited to

Maharashtra. More recently, the Bahujan Samaj Party, founded by Kanshi Ram

and currently led by Ms Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has attempted

to expand to neighbouring Hindi-speaking states with some success. Cf Christophe

Jaffrelot and Sanjay Kumar, eds. Rise of the Plebeians? (New Delhi: Routledge, 2009).

32 See Balveer Arora, “Adapting Federalism to India: Multilevel and Asymmetrical Innovations.”

In Balveer Arora and Douglas Verney, Multiple Identities, op.cit. See also

Michael Burgess, Comparative Federalism: Theory and Practice (London: Routledge,

2006), 123–5.

33 B. Shiva Rao, ed., The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, vol. V (New Delhi: Indian

Institute of Public Administration, 1968), 810.

34 H.M. Seervai, Constitutional Law of India, vol. I, 3rd ed. (Lucknow: Eastern, 1983),

chap. 5.

35 Speech in Rajya Sabha on 11 August 2005, Accessed 13 September

2009. He said, “I have no hesitation in apologising not only to the Sikh community

but [to] the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of

the concept of nationhood and what [is] enshrined in our Constitution. So, I am not

standing on any false prestige. On behalf of our Government, on behalf of the entire

people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such [a] thing took place.”

36 The other approach to resolving conflicts is partition-based, embedded in history

and culture. See Balveer Arora, Peter R. deSouza, and Angela Liberatore, eds.,

Cultures of Governance and Conflict Resolution (Brussels: European Commission, 2009).

For an overview of these processes, see Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi

(New Delhi: Picador, 2007).

37 The Constitution Amendment Bill, which was pending approval in Parliament, has

been shelved as the new militant movement demands increased territory and greater

autonomy. A fresh round of tripartite talks involving both the Union and State governments

have reopened in an effort to find a solution. A useful sourcebook on autonomy

movements is S.B. Ray Chaudhury, et al., eds., Indian Autonomies: Keywords

and Key Texts (Calcutta: Sampark, 2005).


38 Emma Mawdsley, “Redrawing the Body Politic: Federalism, Regionalism and the Creation

of New States in India,” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 40(3), November

2002, 34–54.

39 The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ms Mayawati, has recommended that the state be

split into three or four separate federated units, but, so far, the Union Government has

not responded. On the initial reorganization of states, see Joseph Schwartzberg, “Factors

in the Linguistic Reorganisation of Indian States.” In Region and Nation in India,

ed. Paul Wallace (New Delhi: Oxford & IBH, 1985), 155–82.

40 India, Commission on Centre-State Relations, Report (New Delhi: 1987) (Chairman:

R.S. Sarkaria).

41 Jyotirmaya Sharma, Terrifying Vision: Golwalkar, the rss and India (New Delhi: Penguin,


42 Executive federalism in India encompasses both the elected and the permanent

executives, the latter playing an important role in ensuring inter-state coordination.

The members of these two elite services occupy command-and-control positions

throughout the Union, and their interaction is institutionalized. Even though they

represent state governments when they meet, their career mobility generates networks

that provide an additional support to sometimes difficult relations.

43 Mukul Kesavan, “India’s Model Democracy,” Accessed

15 August 2007. A proposal for setting up an equal-opportunity watchdog agency is

pending with the government. See Ministry of Minority Affairs, Equal Opportunity

Commission: What, When, How?: Report of the Expert Group (New Delhi: February 2008.)

44 Rasheeduddin Khan, Federal India (New Delhi: Vikas, 1992).

45 India, Constituent Assembly Debates, Speech of 4 November 1948, vol. VII, no. 1, 31–44.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state to have its own constitution and separate citizenship.

However, some portions of the Indian Constitution have been made applicable

to the state by decisions of the local legislature or with its concurrence. Cf. A.S.

Anand, The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, 3rd ed. (Delhi: Universal Law Publishing

Co., 1998).

46 For a more detailed analysis of the impact of diversity on electoral politics and the resultant

federalization of the party system, see Balveer Arora and Stephanie Tawa

Lama-Rewal, “Introduction: Contextualizing and Interpreting the 15th Lok Sabha

Elections,” South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 3, 2009; http:// Accessed 2 January 2010.

47 Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005).

48 Mukul Kesavan, “India’s Model Democracy”; Accessed

15 August 2007.