Fed­er­al­ism and its al­ter­na­tives­2

A look at what mo­ti­vated the lead­ers of na­tion­al­ist or sub­na­tion­al­ist move­ments to wa­ver be­tween the fed­eral and uni­tary mod­els ofa con­sti­tu­tion and even­tu­ally choose a pre­dom­i­nantly uni­tary one.

FrontLine - - INTERVIEW -

AT one time a favourite ques­tion in the pub­lic ser­vice ex­am­i­na­tion was, Is the Con­sti­tu­tion of the In­dian repub­lic uni­tary or fed­eral? Vari­ances of this ques­tion ap­peared in var­i­ous guises and that ten­dency was en­hanced by the opin­ion of au­thor­i­ties in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence who gave am­bigu­ous an­swers. For ex­am­ple, a com­mon an­swer was that the Con­sti­tu­tion since the 1950s has been uni­tary with some fed­eral fea­tures, or that it has been fed­eral with uni­tary char­ac­ter­is­tics.

The fail­ure to give an un­am­bigu­ous an­swer to the ques­tion is due to, among other rea­sons, the fact that po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and thinkers in In­dia swayed like a pen­du­lum be­tween the uni­tary and fed­eral mod­els. In the 1920s, Chit­taran­jan Das in Ben­gal and Moti­lal Nehru in Ut­tar Pradesh within the In­dian Na­tional Congress, in the Mus­lim League cru­cially im­por­tant lead­ers such as A.K. Fa­zlul Haq, the erst­while Chief Min­is­ter of un­di­vided Ben­gal in the 1930s, were in­clined to­wards the fed­eral model. Again in the 1940s, var­i­ous re­gional lead­ers based in Bom­bay (now Mum­bai) and Cal­cutta (now Kolkata) dis­played sim­i­lar ten­den­cies. They ul­ti­mately man­aged to reach a con­sen­sus in 1946-47.

The ques­tion that we need to ad­dress is, what mo­ti­vated the lead­ers of na­tion­al­ist or sub­na­tion­al­ist move­ments to wa­ver be­tween the fed­eral and uni­tary mod­els and even­tu­ally choose a pre­dom­i­nantly uni­tary con­sti­tu­tion? Why did the fed­er­al­ist lead­ers fail to keep their fol­low­ers faith­ful to the fed­er­al­ist line? Fur­ther, ear­lier, es­pe­cially in the 1920s and 1930s, why did the pro­po­nents of the uni­tary con­sti­tu­tion fail to at­tract more ad­her­ents to join the bat­tle for a union­ist model?


A part of the an­swer to this ques­tion may be found in the his­tory of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the princely states and the gov­ern­ment of In­dia from 1858 to 1947. That re­la­tion­ship was de­ter­mined by the pro­vi­sions of the treaties, agree­ments and con­ven­tions de­vel­oped through prac­tice and diplo­matic precedence. The com­plex knowl­edge of that re­la­tion­ship sup­pos­edly resided in the so­called “For­eign Po­lit­i­cal De­part­ment” of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, staffed by of­fi­cers spe­cially trained for that pur­pose.

The Po­lit­i­cal De­part­ment was the repos­i­tory of all the rules govern­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween His Majesty’s gov­ern­ment and each princely state. The as­sump­tion was that the princely states were in­de­and

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