ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rethinking Indian Federalism

Consequences of Diversity-promoting Governing Practices

India is considered as a successful federation in resolving most of its ethno-regional and linguistic problems in favour of a relatively durable political order and stability through territorial as well as non-territorial recognition of identity. On the basis of a distinction between what has been termed “diversity claims” and “equality claims,” it is argued that India’s democratic success has remained a very poor match to its federal success. Democracy here has been pressed into the service of a kind of federalism that has privileged “diversity claims” over “equality claims.” Although India’s experiment with state creation within federalism remains ongoing, with Telangana being the latest one carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, given the shifts in priorities since the onset of India’s reforms in 1991, political incentives for demanding more states do not appear to be as attractive as before. While equality claims played second fiddle to diversity claims, the scope of the former has become further restricted today.


Indian federalism is much credited for resolving most of its ethno-regional and ethno-linguistic conflicts in conditions of democracy, which has served to ensure a relatively enduring political order and stability in the country over the last seven decades. The most distinctive method of doing so has been the territorial reorganisation since the early 1950s (Bhattacharyya 2019a: 8199). This territorial reorganisation entailed the political recognition of ethnic identities mostly through statehood. The latest addition to the process is the creation of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh as the 29th (now 28th)1 state of India in June 2014. In cases involving indigenous people in North East India, statehood and sub-statehood within the state have worked to manage conflicts among and between the indigenous people on the one hand and other ethnic groups on the other.

In both the cases, democracy in the sense of selecting the representatives as well as the mobilisation of the ethnic groups to demonstrate popular support for statehood and sub-statehood has added legitimacy to the process. It is beyond doubt that Indias is a success story in ensuring self-rule, to a significant extent, at many layers of federation. However, the same cannot be said to be true in the shared-rule part of federalism, whether at the national or the subnational levels, and better democratic delivery. There is today a global consensus that a federation is a compound polity that combines appropriately shared rule (national purposes) and self-rule (regional purposes) (Watts 2008).

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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