Posted by: Vikram | July 22, 2008

Federalism and the accomodation of minorities in India

Katherine Adeney has written a book titled “Federalism and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan”, which was published in 2007. It has a total of 8 chapters which deal with the colonial history of federalism in South Asia, federal experiences in India and Pakistan and finally some future prospects.

For the uninitiated, federalism roughly refers to the division of powers between a central and local or provincial governments. Federalism is what makes the US, “the United States of America”, the name itself signifying that the country is a union of states with powers divided between the state and the federal governments. It can be safely said that the Americans pioneered federalism and today many countries including India, Brazil, Pakistan and South Africa follow their own versions of the federal model.

As you can imagine, federalism is an important tool in managing India’s linguistic and religious diversity. The language problem lent itself especially well to the federal principle, since most of the different linguistic groups in India occupied well defined geographical areas. Everybody knows that India’s states are drawn along linguistic lines, but it wasnt always so and indeed as Adeney points out, the concession of linguistic states was what initially stabilized the Indian Union. Indeed, starting out from being “quasi-federal” India has gradually federalized, with the multi-party coalitions ruling in New Delhi being examples of power-sharing and promoting stability. This is quite in contrast to what the English media in India often try to project.

Multi-party politics make up for inadequate constitutional federalism and result in some meaningful decentralization. Of course, they also result in horse-trading, weaker governments etc etc. But I personally feel they are necessary and will go away only when decentralization is thoroughly enshrined in the Constitution. Many of the internal security problems that India has faced or is facing are due to the arrogant, authoritarian actions of the Union government. Punjab simmered for a decade due to Indira Gandhi’s failure to accommodate the political demands of the Sikhs, which the Akali Dal today does. The insurgency in Mizoram subsided after the Constitution was amended to give special status to that state. Kashmir erupted in the late 1980’s mainly due to the rigging of the 1987 polls by the Union government, and its subsequent decade of “President’s rule” has made things even worse. So perhaps part of the solutions to the problems in Kashmir and Nagaland is more federalism and less “President’s rule”.

(The map of India is from the Turkish wikipedia.)


  1. […] for 40 years shared every feature with the Soviet Union, a hierarchy of bureaucrats, linguistic/ethnic federalism, socialism and Congress Party dominance. The difference was democracy and the presence of […]

  2. nice

  3. The work i have just read gave a nice analysis of the India federal structure. I must state dat it is a federal union dat can build an Indian state.

  4. […] may also want to read, Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The trouble with reading India in EnglishIf Only […]

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