Why The Idea of A Union Of States Doesn't Go Against The Idea Of A Nation

Rahul Gandhi evoked BJP's ire when he said India is described as a union of states as opposed to a nation.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi evoked sharp reactions from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when he claimed that India was a union of states and could never be ruled by a king—a veiled reference to the "authoritarian" style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi made these comments on Wednesday, while participating in the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address to both the houses of parliament.

"If you read the constitution, you'll find that India is described as a union of states. India is not described as a nation but a union of states. That means my brother from Tamil Nadu should have the same rights as my brother from Uttar Pradesh," Gandhi had said in his 45-minutes long speech.

This "union of states" Gandhi said was a "partnership" and not "a kingdom". The Gandhi scion added that one could never "rule over the people" and that historically the only way the country has ruled is by "conversation and negotiation".

"The idea of the king has come back...Now there is a 'Shahanshah'. Now the instruments of the conversations between our state, people are being attacked by one idea. Farmers protested for one year, the King doesn't listen," Gandhi asserted.

The comment drew heavy criticism from BJP leaders and supporters who called it "deeply problematic and dangerous"

Even as Amit Malviya, BJP IT Cell in-charge said Gandhi's statement lacked understanding and "seeds the idea of India's balkanization", BJP Vice President Baijayant Jay Panda mocked the Congress leader saying, "king of comedy is increasingly turning out to also be the prince of darkness".

"Yes, of course the Constitution defines India as a union of states. No issue there, but to extrapolate from that to say India is 'not a nation' is not merely ludicrous, but downright sinister," Panda said.

But is India a Union of states, and if it is then how is it a nation?

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India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States: Constitution

When Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India is described as a union of states, he was not wrong.

Article 1 of the Indian Constitution says that "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States".

"According to the constitution, we are a Union of States", former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary told BOOM. "Nation is just a political term," he explained. "When you think of India, it is as a nation, but constitutionally it is a union of states," Achary added.

India's federal structure, though similar to that of the United States of America, is quite different in several other aspects. Though states in India could be considered to be federal units, each of them must adhere to one single constitution and are answerable to the Central government in power; whereas in the USA the power is shared between the federal and state governments.

Shiju M V, Professor of Law at Sai University adds that Gandhi's statement must be seen in the context of the constitution.

"At the time of independence, the provinces in British India became independent. Princely states had the option of joining either the Indian Union, Pakistan OR remain independent. They joined the Indian Union by signing the instruments of accession. It was representatives of British provinces and princely states who formed the Constituent Assembly that framed the Constitution," Shiju said.

"But even the drafters of the constitution were aware that nation-building must take place. And this is clearly outlined in articles 2, 3, and 4 of the Indian constitution which gives the Parliament the power to divide the states, change their names and alter the boundaries...," Shiju added.

Article 2 of the Indian constitution states that the "Parliament may by law admit into the Union, or establish, new States on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit" while Article 3 empowers the Parliament to alter areas, boundaries and names of the states.

India not a federal state in traditional sense of term: Supreme Court

A litany of Supreme Court judgments has recognized India's federal structure. In its 1984 Pradeep Jain judgment, the Supreme Court gave a pragmatic opinion to explain the federal concept of India with respect to its unified legal system.

"Moreover, it must be remembered that India is not a federal state in the traditional sense of that term. It is not a compact of sovereign states which have come together to form a federation by ceding a part of their sovereignty to the federal states. It has undoubtedly certain federal features but it is still not a federal state and it has only one citizenship, namely, the citizenship of India. It has also one single unified legal system which extends throughout the country. It is not possible to say that a distinct and separate system of law prevails in each State forming part of the Union of India," the judgment read.

"The Indian Constitution is basically federal in form and is marked by the traditional characteristics of a federal system, namely supremacy of the Constitution, division of power between the Union and States and existence independent judiciary," the top court reiterated in its 2001 Ganga Ram Moolchand v State of Rajasthan judgment.

"From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the country is one and there is no intelligible differentia which distinguishes," the 2001 Moolchand judgment added.

During the November 1949 Constituent Assembly, Dr BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, not only defended the draft constitution but also outlined the path India must take to truly become a nation. At the time, he had argued that the newly independent India was not a "nation in the social and psychological sense of the world...", rather it was for the better for us because only then we "shall realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of ways and means of realising the goal."

"Without social union, political unity is difficult to be achieved. If achieved, it would be as precarious as a summer sapling, liable to be uprooted by the gust of wind. With mere political unity, India may be a state. But to be a state is not to be a nation and a state which is not a nation has small prospects of survival in the struggle of existence," Ambedkar had once said.

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State versus Nation

There is an international distinction between a 'nation' and the 'state'. Political scientists say that there is a stark difference between the two. The word 'State' was first mentioned by Renaissance period historian Niccolo Machiavelli in his work titled the "Prince".

"One is a constitutional term and the other a political one," PDT Achary, the former Lok Sabha general Secretary said referring to the 'State' and the 'Nation' accordingly.

According to English philosopher and economist Henry Sidgwick, "State is a combination or association of persons in the form of government and governed and united together into a politically organised people of a definite territory".

Nation, on the other hand, is derived from the latin word 'natio' which means birth or race. Canadian political scientist Stephan Leacock said a nation is a body of people united by common descent and language.

The term 'state' is a relatively modern and western concept that simply refers to geographical boundaries, and territories which contain people, a political scientist told BOOM. "A nation on the other hand is associated with people who share a common culture, or language. A nation was often used while referring to the indigenous population like the Cherokee Indians in America, the Tamilians, people of Southern India, people from the hills etc, he added while wishing not to be named.

The idea of a state did not exist among the world's oldest people, the political scientist added.

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Diversity is the crux of India as a nation

Referring to Rahul Gandhi's remarks in his motion of thanks, Prof Shiju MV said the Parliament exercised the flexibilities of Articles 2-4 by enacting the States Reorganisation Act in 1956. States were created based on languages, he said.

However, language is not the only criterion used by Parliament in the formation of new states, Shiju said referring to the bifurcation of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. "The needs of the people are considered while making states," he added.

"The diversity in our culture and languages is the very crux of India's nationhood," Shiju added. The union of states doesn't go against the idea of the nation, he said.

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Updated On: 2022-02-03T19:38:57+05:30
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