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revolutions of the 18th century have created the way governments
exist today. French Revolution inspired the idea of Nation-State with monopoly
sovereignty and American Revolution to materialize the idea of federal form of
government with shared and popular negotiated divided sovereignty between and
among the federal government and constituent units. Federalism is the mode of
political association and organization that unites separate polities within a
more comprehensive political system in such a way as to allow each to maintain
its own fundamental political integrity. Political science has identified three
basic ways in which polities come into existence: conquest, organic development
and covenant. Direct manifestation of conquest is when a conqueror gains
control of a land or people and in subsidiary way revolutionary conquest of an
existing state, a coup d’état or conquering a market and organizing control
through corporate means. This way of organizing a polity produces hierarchical
structures of governance which are ruled in an authoritarian way.

evolution of polities involves development from its beginning in families,
tribes, and villages to larger polities. These polities tend to produce a
single centre organized in one or several ways. The third type of polities are
based on Covenant emphasize the deliberate coming together of humans as equals
to establish self and shared rule. The polities founded by covenant are
essentially federal in character. This paper analyses the historical
development of Indian federalism and the innovations worked out by the founding
fathers of Indian constitution and the developments after that which were
necessary to maintain unity and integrity of the nation.

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Historical Development of Indian

development of federal polity in India has been a product of devolution of
powers to the British provinces by the central government to ensure ‘provincial
autonomy’ under the Government of India Act, 1919 and 1935. It further evolved
as part of the Cabinet Mission Plan and in final shape it emerged as a part of
the present constitution. Though India’s democratic federal system is new, its
pattern of socio-cultural federalism is age-old with distinctive heritage of
rich diversity. In its latent form this socio-cultural federalism has not only
survived, but has matured by the passage of time despite the vicissitudes of
India’s political destiny. Developing from its embryonic form since the Vedic
age, it continued to acquire new forms and substance in the ancient period
(during the rise and fall of Mauryas, the Satavahanas, the Sakas, the Kushans,
the Guptas, the Rashtrtakutas, the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Pandyas etc.)
and came to acquire distinct characteristics by the medieval times, in the span
covered by the hegemony of the Delhi Sultanate, the Bahmanis of the Deccan and
the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Subhas
and Sarkars considerably coincided
with socio-cultural identities. This normal and rational process of development
of well-knit socio-cultural communities was only disrupted by the policy of
annexation and arbitrary formations of sprawling provinces (like the original
United Provinces of Agra and Oudh: a gigantic amalgamation of disparate
regions) under the British colonial rule. Even in the hoary past, India’s
federal socio-cultural pattern was recorded with amazing clarity in Puranas. Particularly Vishnu and Vayu-Purana throw light on the primordial mosaic of India’s
socio-cultural diversity. Bharatvarsha (covering the territory today comprising
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afganistan) is repudiated to have in its fold
165 Janapadas, of which probably
about 120 may be located within the confines of the present day Republic of
India.  These Janapadas were the territorial communities identified by an
admixture of ethnicity, dialect, social customs, geographical location and
political characteristic. Western writers on India, however, have tended, by
and large, to picture India as a continent with a bewildering variety of races,
creeds and languages incapable of being fused into a nation but Jawaharlal
Nehru has rightly observed that “the diversity of India is tremendous; it is
obvious; it lies on the surface and anybody can see it. What superficial
observers from abroad have often found more difficult to perceive is the unity
that underlies India’s variety. More careful observers have, of course, shown a
commendable awareness of the fact that there is “an essential unity in
diversity in the Indian peninsula regarded as a whole”

may be said have always possessed the natural ‘imperatives’ of federalism. The
structure of the Mauryan Empire- ‘a feudal-federal state’- provided the
archetype of a federal polity. In Medieval period the Mughals attempted to
create a centralized administration in India was partially successful but they
wisely respected provincial feelings and interfered little in the day to day
life of the Provinces. The British, started with marked Unitarian predilections
but were compelled gradually to ‘federalize’ the Centre-Province relations.
Centralization, in short, was found to be ‘against the genius of the race’.
During the British period, though in the beginning from Regulating Act of 1773
till Charter Act of 1833 there was policy of increasing centralization adopted
by them but the new social and political factors reinforced the effects of the
natural imperatives of federalism which were evident after the Mutiny of 1857
in the Indian Councils Act of 1892. This federalization was further developed
in the subsequent acts and culminated in the Constitution of 1950. Several
jurists, political scientists, public men have questioned the federal character
of the Indian constitution and have sought to pin it such labels as
‘quasi-federal’, ‘fedro-unitary’, or ‘a decentralized federal state’, due to
the wide endowment of authority vested in the Centre especially during the
Proclamation of Emergency and the incompatibility of the Article 3 of the
Constitution of India with the federal principle. Though the incompatibility of
the Article 3 may be conceded but it is necessary to take into account the
extraordinary circumstances in which a flexible procedure for the territorial
reorganization of the states had to be incorporated in the constitution,
however, the emergency power is not quite as unique a feature of the Indian
federal system as it is made out to be Judicial interpretation of ‘war power’
in the United States has given to the federal government there an amplitude of
authority hardly less sweeping than the emergency powers of the Centre in
India. There exist divergent views whether the Indian Federalism meet
adequately the needs of national solidarity and economic development without
rendering state autonomy nugatory, critics complain that the constitution has
not worked according to the intentions of the framers and the powers of the
Centre have been augmented to such an extent that India has virtually become a
decentralized unitary state. They point out the impact of national planning
which is alleged to have suppressed the federalism and to the growing dependencies
of the States on the Centre.

Innovations in Indian Federal

Historical legacies are undoubtedly important in the
shaping of any polity. Indian federalism is an outcome of its history and the
way in which British unified the country under their rule and later the way in
which the territories under the direct control of the British and various
principalities were integrated in the Indian Union. Traumatized by the
unprecedented horrors and dislocation of partition, the Constituent Assembly of
India devised a system which seemed most suited to the needs of the time and requirements
of a federal society. Owing to India’s multilingual, multiethnic,
multicultural, socio-economic diversities and historical legacy, asymmetry in
status and powers among states was reluctantly accepted by the founding fathers
in the 1950 Constitution. Indian Constitution started with the assumption of
asymmetry in the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir in Article 370
and innovative
constitutional arrangements for autonomous district councils for the tribal
areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram under the Sixth Schedule, and
tribal population of the nine other states under Fifth Schedule. But beginning
with the Thirteenth Amendment, 1962, asymmetrical provisions were gradually
added to the constitution mainly as clauses to Article 371 and term “Special
Provision” was added to the title of part XXI of the Constitution which
previously read “Temporary and Transitional Provisions”. Special Provisions with respect to the states of
Maharashtra and Gujarat were added by the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act,
1956. Similarly Article 371A was inserted by the Constitution (13th
Amendment) Act, 1962 to provide special provisions with respect to the state of
Nagaland. Article 371B by the Constitution (22nd Amendment) Act,
1969 was included with respect to the State of Assam. Article 371C with respect
to the State of Manipur was inserted by the Constitution (27th
Amentment) Act, 1971. Article 371D and E was added with respect to the State of
Andhra Predesh, by 32nd Amendment Act, 1973. Article 371F was added
with respect to the State of Sikkim, by the Constitution (36th
Amendment) Act, 1975. Article 371G was included with respect to the State of
Mizoram, by 53rd Amendment Act, 1986 and Article 371H was inserted
with respect of the State of Arunachal Pradesh, by 55th Amendment
Act, 1986. Lastly special provision with respect to the State of Goa was added
in the Constitution by the Constitution (56th Amendment) Act, 1987
under Article 371-I.

371A which provides for special provisions for Nagaland allowing for
non-applicability of acts of parliament to the state unless decided otherwise
by the state legislative assembly in respect of religion or social practices of
Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure and criminal justice involving decisions
according to Naga customary law, and ownership and transfer of land and its
resources. The Governor was also given special responsibilities with respect to
law and order in the state and for the administration of Teunsang district. The
Fourteenth Amendment, 1962, enabled the Union Territories of Himachal Pradesh,
Manipur, Tripura, Goa, Daman and Diu, and Pondicherry to have Legislature and
Council of Ministers on the same pattern as in some of the Part C States before
1956. In 1969, an autonomous state of Meghalaya was created within Assam
comprising certain areas specified in the Sixth Schedule by the Twenty-Second
Amendment by inserting Article 371 B, 244 A and l(A) in Article 275. The
experiment was, however, short-lived; Meghalaya was made a full-fledged state
in 1972. Another, even more short-lived, experiment began in 1974 when Sikkim
was made an associate state by introducing a Tenth Schedule into the
Constitution which detailed the terms and conditions of its association. In
1975, full statehood was granted to Sikkim by the Thirty-Sixth Amendment which
also inserted certain special provisions for the state in the form of Article

            Special provisions have also been
made for Manipur in the form of Article 371 C inserted by the Twenty-Seventh Amendment,
1971, which provides for a committee in the Legislative Assembly to look after the
interests of the hill areas of that state. Article 371 G looks after the
special circumstances of Mizoram and was added by the Fifty-Third Amendment
when it attained statehood in 1986.

            These provisions together can be
said to constitute a special status for the Northeastern states. However, in
case of Andhra Pradesh also special provisions in the form of Articles 371D and
371E were introduced by the Thirty-Third Amendment, 1974, in order to solve the
Andhra-Telengana issue. They provide for equitable distribution of (education
and employment opportunities between the two regions. Article 371E provides for
the establishment of a central university in Andhra Pradesh. The Constitution
also provides for asymmetry below the state level (between districts or
regions) through such provision as the Sixth Schedule (for North-Eastern
states) and the Fifth Schedule for other states.

            The Sixth Schedule of the
Constitution of India made all the Hill Districts of erstwhile Assam autonomous
with respective District Councils. Such autonomies were given to the tribal
people of Assam in social, religious, cultural and economic fields. The tribal
areas which were put under the Sixth Schedule were declared autonomous region
and separate regional councils were provided for them.


functioning of federalism in a country like India makes development of many
asymmetrical features inevitable despite strong pressures for centralization
and homogenization. However, recognition of asymmetry in many cases is not
without problems. Asymmetry connotes an uneven distribution of power along a
common axis. Federalism is to do with the institutionalization of particular
arrangements, and asymmetric federalism is in essence a calibrated
institutional response to the diversity of constituent units, permitting

            While there was a unitary bias in
the original design of the Indian federalism, a remarkable degree of
flexibility and pragmatism has been worked into it. From the early days, in
India there was marked absence of homogeneity among the federating units. For
instance, the princely states had a separate political entity, and had little
in common with the British provinces. The people of North-East India,
especially the tribal people, differ from the plains people of India in respect
of culture, customary behavior, faith and race. Unprotected free interaction
between plain and hill people has resulted into exploitative relationship
structures between plain and hill peoples. The comparative backwardness,
simplicity of the tribes invariably resulted into a relationship which was
against their interests. On the demand of leaders of these tribal groups the
colonial government brought different measures of protection for these people
and their homeland. Different mechanisms were introduced by the colonial regime
to control and regulate access and interaction of plain people to these areas
to maintain peace and security and stability in these border regions. To keep
them satisfied and pacified the extension of the institution of private
property and uniform all India civil and criminal laws were made exceptional
not routine as in the case of rest of India. Institutions of autonomous self
government in the sphere of socio-cultural affairs were created which protected
their traditional pattern of community ownership of land its resources and
their customary laws.

            In these conditions, the framers of
the constitution had to bring about innovations to accommodate all the units of
the federation. The framers of Indian constitution recognized the virtues of
‘asymmetry’ or asymmetric federalism in the context of bringing about and maintaining
the union, particularly in integrating states and people who had enjoyed
considerable amount of autonomy under the British.

Thus we find in India there are as many as 10 States
apart from Jammu and Kashmir out of 28 which enjoy some special privileges. No
doubt there were political, economic and social compulsions in each case for
granting special status; but it is a unique way of dealing with the problem.
India is Union of States and the degree of unity within the country varies from
state to state. The nature and scope of the two different types of special
status is different not in contents but also in category. So to grant special
status to a state within Union of India is not an exception rather a matter of
policy in case of India based upon innovation and pragmatism.






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