Federal Structure, Diversity and Insurgency in India

Our country has been hailed as a triumph of democracy. India is known as largest functioning democracy in the world and also a beacon of democracy to the world. The cornerstone of success of democracy is the way the power has been distributed by the constitution. Further, the success of democracy also must be qualified the various armed challenges that we have seen in last seven decades.

India is a Union of States. Our constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, which is federal in structure but with certain unitary features. The Constitution distributes legislative powers between parliament and states legislative assemblies. We also have centrally administered Union Territories.

The framers of our constitution adopted the federal system with many objectives. One of them was that such system will emerge as a means of managing ethnic and linguistic diversity. The rationale behind such idea was that the demand for autonomy can be more easily accommodated in a federal structure in comparison to unitary structure. The federal system of our country has been broadly a success, defying many prevailing theories that stipulate preconditions. In 1950s and 1960s, the mitigation of the linguistic conflicts in southern parts of India can be attributed to the federal system to a large extent.

However under the federal system, the states have to rely upon the centre for largest chunk of its financial resources. Indian states vary dramatically in their languages, social structures, economies, and politics. The federal system has institutionalized these differences but has largely failed in homogenizing them. Any diversity and heterogeneity is not conflict-producing by itself but it carries the hazards of conflict. While on the one hand, we are bound together by strong bonds of culture, common objectives, friendship and affection, on the other hand, unfortunately, there are inherent in India, separatist and disruptive tendencies.

The basic premise of India being a “Union” of states is that states can not by themselves separate themselves from the Union.  They States have to retain loyalty to India while acting with significant autonomy within them.

But the federal system demands a careful balance between the local autonomy and central authority. In most circumstances, this balance has been manageable but is threatened while dealing with the ethnic and linguistic groups which have access to the support of the external elements that see themselves distinct from India. In some cases, the local actors, with significant external and internal support engage in separatist sentiments. Their goal is either to create a new autonomous unit in the Indian Union or outright formal independence. In several parts of our vast country, this has resulted in armed rebellion against the authority leading to Insurgency.

The emergence of insurgencies in India is closely linked to various problems at home; the problems of centre-state relations and of relations among the states. India’s geopolitical location is such that most of her neighbours have been willing to provide guns, money, sanctuary, and training to insurgent groups.


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