India has a federal type of government. We have 28 full fledged states and 7 union territories which are aspiring for full fledged statehood. For the present federal set-up as well as for the united unitary type of administration that India had before independence the discredit or the credit goes to the Britishers and the pre-independence political forces in India.
It would be interesting to know that the Indian National Congress which was the only powerful political party in India before independence opposed tooth and nail the proposal of Provincial Autonomy placed by the British government before Indian leaders in 1932 based on Simon Commission Report. It was opposed by Indian National Congress as it was thought to be a scheme to divide the country into many parts.
There was a great opposition of Simon Commission and the effigies of Sir John Simon were burnt throughout the country. But the British Government published a White Paper on March 15, 1933 which became Government of India Act, 1935. It was a clear cut division of India into a number of states keeping the Princely states intact.
The Federal structure according to it was on the anvil. Although Indian National Congress opposed it yet it fought elections based on it in 1937 and formed government in seven provinces (now known as states).
In 1939 it again rejected the whole system and resigned. But the fruits of power were tasted. It gave incentive to the second line of leadership to press for a federal system later on.
A concerted effort was again made to have something like a unitary type of government by many leaders including Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President and C. Rajgopalachari, the last Governor General. Before the Constitution was framed a committee was formed to suggest the administrative set-up in the country. It had all the big guns as members. The Committee recommended almost a unitary type of set-up with five regional councils—the Western, the Southern, the Eastern, the Northern and the Central.
Two factors did not allow the recommendation to take shape. The one was the understanding given to the people of different regions by Mahatma Gandhi that the country would have linguistic provinces. The other was the mounting pressure of the second line leadership to have more say in their own areas as they had experienced what power means for two years in 1937-39.
What the British Government could not get accepted in 1932, 1933, 1935, and 1937 again through the approaches of Sir Stafford Cripps in 1942 was actually done by the allurement of power. Jawaharlal Nehru conceded to the demand of the provinces.
The country was divided first on somewhat cultural basis as the whole of the South was known as Madras; whole of the West as Bombay and whole of the North Eastern region as Assam. The Eastern region was divided into West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.
The Hindi speaking belt, being big had to be divided into four States. Finally the whole country was divided into linguistic States with the division of the South into four of Assam into seven of Punjab into three and the bifurcation of Bombay into two. The division of the new formed country into States after Pakistan had been already truncated was beyond even the expectations of the Britishers. They could secure more after their withdrawal than what they attempted to have when they ruled.
Now this federal structure has become a reality in the country. Leaving certain boundary disputes and regional chauvinism of certain linguistic groups in certain areas the set-up has been continuing quite satisfactorily. Due to certain groups of terrorists in Punjab formed on religious lines or a small group of people in Tamil Nadu who propagated secessionism long back it would be unwise to call all the people of these States anti-national.
Tamil Nadu has almost erased the impression. The border areas whether they are formed into States or not will always remain susceptible to the machinations of foreign agencies and alienated neighbours. It is not the masses of Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam or Jammu and Kashmir that are hostile. It is simply small groups working under the allurement of foreign missionaries and Pakistani and Bangladeshi Islamic governments that create problems.
Although India has a cultural unity yet the different regions have different ethos of life, different climatic conditions, different geophysical terrains, different dresses, different eating habits and different languages. All these factors go to produce different types of needs in different areas and regions. The socio-economic needs require different attention and demand a regional administration rather than a central one.
Besides national consciousness people have regional affinities and aspirations. These cannot be considered anti-national. It is rather a sub-national feeling similar to the one a person has for his family. One feels at home when he is among those who speak one’s language. A federal set-up suits such a populous country.
In a federal structure people make best of their efforts for the economic upliftment of their region. In a unitary set-up it is very difficult for the government to look after the interests of all the areas. The people have an affinity for their own area.
Punjab develops agriculture, Bengal specializes in fisheries, and Gujarat concentrates on more industries. Smaller a region is more compact is the development. Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat are rather smaller states with better development; U.P is the biggest with hardly any development in the industrial sector. The demand for smaller States is quite justified for the overall development of the country.
In the beginning of 1987 a columnist of a leading newspaper asserted the need of 40 States. It may not be practical. But two states for the tribals and one for hill tracts of U.P. have already been formed in the Hindi belt.
The fear of secession has been rather created after the ruling party started losing her forts in certain States. The concept that there should be the same party in power in the States and the Centre clearly shows party chauvinism and has resulted in the politics of expediency.
The efforts to destabilize non-Congress (I) governments in Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir did not strengthen the cause of democracy. Establishment of Akali Dal government in Punjab and Asam Gana Parishad in Assam did not make the country weak. It is rather advisable for the progress and economic development of the country that keeping defence, financial resources to some extent, big projects, national highways and foreign affairs with the centre more autonomy should be given to the States. It is this that has made the USA a strong nation with an elite culture and an egalitarian society. The 51 States with one-fourth of the population of India, enjoy full autonomy and contribute the most to the national solidarity and progress. It is of course desirable that national parties have a sway in all the States.
Regional affinity is all right but regionalism may lead to narrow feelings. Federal structure is a safety valve for democracy while a unitary government may turn into an authoritarian one. But it is necessary to have an emotional unity to save the nation from fragmentation. The dismissal of 4 BJP governments by the centre in 1992 was rather shameful.