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.
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