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Federalism in India was adapted through the course of historic advancement. It was not a concept that was accepted and implemented over a period of time. Indian Constitution is an aid to be a federal structure only because it is said that it has a clear demarcation of boundaries between the central & the state government similar to that of the U.S. India has legislative and executive authority divided between the center and the state.

Federalism is a system of government in which powers have been divided between the centre and its constituent parts such as states or provinces. It is an institutional mechanism to accommodate two sets of politics, one at the centre or national level and the second at the regional or provincial level.

India has adopted federalism for various reasons, as India as a country contains a wide geographical area with various cultures, a huge population, and the lengthiest Constitution. Hence, there was a requirement for the division of power on various levels for the adequate administration of the country.

Through this research paper, it will be established that there is no single, best model of federalism. Most federal policies are products of mutual accommodations achieved through bargaining and negotiation. The features of a country’s federal system reflect the influences of history, circumstances, and configurations of political forces at the founding and over time. All federal polity experiences change, usually around periods of more centralization or more no centralization. The biggest example of this is India.


What Is Federalism?


The term “federal” is derived from the Latin foedus, which means, covenant, pact, or treaty. This embodies ideas of promise, obligation, and undertaking; and consequently, the federal idea draws on collaboration, reciprocity, and mutuality. Federalism is a method of segregating powers so that the central and local governments are each within a domain, harmonizing and autonomous. Federalism postulates a constitutional apparatus for bringing unity in diversity.

Federalism is both a principle and a form of government.


  • Federalism As A Principle:


As a principle, federalism is concerned with combining self-rule and shared rule ideas and linking individuals, groups, and polities in lasting but limited union so as to provide for the persistent pursuit of common ends while sustaining the integrity of each partner, thereby reflecting unity and diversity, while checking forces of centralization and anarchy. The principle of federalism aims at establishing justice among the consenting partners and ensuring liberty while working towards a common interest.

This federal arrangement is a partnership, established and regulated by a covenant. A covenant, in simple words, is a voluntary agreement, often written, between co-equals (partners) who agree to come together and form a lasting union for certain purposes such as the common defense and general welfare.

  • Federalism As A Form Of Government:


Federalism can be said to be a voluntary form of government. It is a mode of governance that establishes unity while preserving diversity by constitutionally uniting separate political communities into a limited, but encompassing, political community (e.g., the


United States) called a federal polity. Federalism may also be used to establish and organize nongovernmental organizations such as interest groups and political parties – a common practice in federal polities.

Powers in a federal polity are constitutionally divided and shared between a general government having certain responsibilities for general matters such as the common defense affecting the whole political community and constituent governments having certain local or regional responsibilities. Both the general government and the constituent governments have the constitutional authority to govern individuals directly (e.g., regulate behavior and levy taxes), and each has final decision-making authority over certain constitutionally delegated or reserved matters. Under federalism, some constitutional powers belong exclusively to the central government; others belong exclusively to the state governments. Still, others are concurrent—that is, exercised by both the general and constituent governments. Some federal constitutions contain a list of concurrent powers.

In simple words, federalism is the idea of bringing different sectors that contribute to the working of a nation (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary) to work in their sectors efficiently to achieve a common national target.

Federal System- Two Forms Of Federations


In a federal system, there are two seats of power that are autonomous in their own spheres. A federal system is different from a unitary system in that sovereignty is constitutionally split between two separate territorial levels so that each level can act independently of the other in some areas.



The following are the two kinds of federations:


  1. Holding Together Federation: In this type, powers are shared between various constituent parts to accommodate the diversity in the whole entity. Here, more powers are generally tilted towards the central authority. Example: India, Spain, Belgium.
  2. Coming Together Federation: In this type, independent states come together to form a larger pact/unit. Here, states enjoy more autonomy as compared to the holding together kind of federation. Example: USA, Australia, Switzerland.

Federalism In India


India is a federal system but with more tilt towards a unitary system of government. It is sometimes considered a quasi-federal system as it has features of both a federal and a unitary system. Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states, ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states. The word federation is not mentioned in the constitution.

Elements of federalism were introduced into modern India by the Government of India Act of 1919 which separated powers between the centre and the provincial legislatures.

India As A Quasi-Federal Government


The word “quasi-federalism” refers to a state that is halfway between a unitary state and a federation. Indian Constitution has adopted a quasi-federal system. The quasi-federal system in India is named for the fact that it combines the best elements of both a federation and a union as it combines the characteristics of a federal government with those of a unitary government. India is classified as a quasi-federal or semi-federal state. It is also described as a federal system due to its strong bias toward the Centre by the Supreme Court of India. The government’s outward structure is federal, yet its essence is united. It becomes a unitary system in times of national or economic crisis.


The federal government in India makes the central government more powerful than state and local governments. The Indian federation is the result of a long and winding process. Due to the fact that India was a subcontinental country, the Government of India Act, of 1935, introduced the concept of federalism since India is a nation that is multi-religious, multi-racial, and multilingual. Federalism in India was adopted in the framework keeping this reality in mind.

The essence of the Indian federal system is mentioned in Art.1 of the Indian Constitution stating, “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states.”Indian federalism is known for the character of conflict and cooperation between the two levels of government. This character was established by the Indian constitution’s author to construct a strong centre in order to maintain the country’s unity and integrity. This is the essence of federalism in India.

In conclusion, it can be said that India is unitary in spirit and federal in the Constitutional aspect. Therefore, making it a Quasi-federal government.

Features Of The Federal System In India


  1. Dual government polity: The Constitution establishes a dual polity with the Union at its core and the states at its periphery. Each is provided with sovereign powers to be exercised in the respective fields assigned to them under the Indian Constitution.
  2. Division of powers between various levels: The division of power refers to sharing of power among different levels of the government - union, state, and local government.
  3. Rigidity of the Constitution: The Indian Constitution is neither rigid nor flexible, but rather a mix of the two. As some provisions can be amended by a special majority of the Parliament, which is defined as a two-thirds majority of the members of each House present and voting, as well as a majority (more than 50%) of the total membership of each House.


 Other provisions may be amended with a special majority of the Parliament and ratification by half of the total number of states. Simultaneously, certain provisions of the Constitution can be amended by a simple majority of Parliament in the manner of the ordinary legislative process.

  1. Independent judiciary: The judiciary is given complete independence in its sphere, relating to matters of carrying out justice.
  2. Bicameralism: it is known as the practice of having two Houses of Parliament is known as bicameralism. The Indian Constitution establishes a bicameral legislature with an Upper House (Rajya Sabha) and a Lower House (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha represents the states of the Indian Federation, whereas the Lok Sabha represents the entire population of India.

Federal Features Of The Indian Union


  • Governments are broadly divided into two levels:
  1. Centre
  2. State
  • There is a clear demarcation of the division of powers between the Centre and the state governments, mentioned in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution which gives the subjects each level has jurisdiction:
    1. Union List
    2. State List
    3. Concurrent List
  • Basic structure of the constitution: The basic structure of the constitution is indestructible as stated by the judiciary often. The constitution is the supreme law in India.









Unitary Characteristics Of The Indian Union


  • The flexibility of the Constitution: The Indian constitution is a blend of flexibility and rigidity. Certain provisions of the constitution can be easily amended. In case the amendments seek to change aspects of federalism in India, the provision to bring about such amendments is not easy.
  • More power vests with the Centre: The constitution guarantees more powers with the Union List. On the Concurrent List of subjects, the parliament can make laws that can

override the laws made by a state legislature on some matters. The parliament can also make laws regarding certain subjects in the State List.

  • Unequal representation of states in the Rajya Sabha: The representation of the states in the upper house is based on the states’ populations. For example, Uttar Pradesh has 31 seats, and Goa has 1 in the Rajya Sabha. According to an ideal federal system, all states should have equal representation.
  • The executive is a part of the legislature: In India, the executive in both the center and the states is a part of the legislature. This goes against the principle of demarcation of powers between the different organs of the government.
  • Control of Emergency powers: In India, the centre is provided with emergency powers. When an emergency is imposed, the centre has increased control over states. This undermines the autonomy of the states.


Comparative Study Of Federalism In India And Canada




In India, as stated above, there are broadly two classifications of government, at Central and State levels. The two governments do not subordinate each other but rather cooperate with each other while working independently. In simple words, the demarcation of power in the Indian Constitution is not water-tight in nature, it is rather flexible. Though the


Indian constitution has the traits of being a federal constitution, in its strict sense, it is not as there are certain provisions in the Constitution that give more power to the Union government in comparison with the State government.

Henceforth, the Indian Constitutional structure is a quasi-federal structure and it was made like this in the Government of India Act 1935.

This Act laid down the foundations of the federal form of government in India. It provided for the distribution of legislative powers between the Union and the provinces. The need for creating a cooperative relationship between the provinces was felt even before the independence since there was a lack of unity amongst them. The Indian Constitution has incorporated the principles in a detailed form which were actually laid down under the 1935 Act. It is a well-designed, and more importantly, a well-functioning system of the federal government as it plays a key role in promoting the stability and prosperity of nations at the heights attained in development by the leading federations of the world, for example, the USA, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland demonstrate.



What makes the Indian federation ‘quasi-federal?’


No doubt, India has a political and constitutional structure in which federal features are evident. There is sharing of power between the Centre and the States but the Constitution provides the central Government with supreme powers (for example Emergency powers) and concentrates administrative and financial powers completely in its hands.

It is observed that there was some deficiency that made the constitutional framers incorporate features that worked against the federal principle. The conclusion is, the Indian political system has federal features that are established in a unitary form of government spirit.

The similarity between the federal system of India and Canada is that India, like Canada, constitutes an asymmetrical federation in the sense that some states have constitutionally guaranteed demarcation of power, setting them apart from the other states of the federation. However, in the case of India, rather unlike Canada, affording special status to a group or territorial entity never came easy.

Division Of Powers:


In a federal form of government, the Distribution of powers is the fundamental and the most essential characteristic of the federation. The powers of the State are divided into federal as well as unit governments at national and local levels. The Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution lays down 67 items that are attributed to the State list upon which State Governments can make a law, whereas the Union list contains 97 items upon which only Union Government can make a law. This makes clear that there is a structure made to fit the federal essence but the powers are divided in such a manner that ultimately ends up being a quasi- federal state.

  • Federalism In Canada


In Canada, the system of federalism is defined by the separation of powers between the federal parliament and the country's provincial governments.





Levels Of Government In Canada:


  1. Canadian federalism has two constitutionally recognized levels of government: Federal
  2. Provincial.


The country also has two further forms of government, territorial and local, which are not constitutionally given importance. The following section introduces each level of government and its status within Canada’s federal framework:

  1. Federal/national Government: This level is responsible for enacting and implementing laws for the whole country. In its application, the federal government is provided with its own constitutional powers and jurisdictions, which it may exercise independently from the provincial level of government.
  2. Provincial government: There are 10 provinces in Canada, each with its own provincial government- British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. These provincial governments create and implement laws within their demarcated provincial territory, and are provided with their own constitutionally allotted powers, which they may exercise independently from the federal government, and from each other.
  3. Local Government: This final type of Government includes municipal, county/parish, and semi-regional councils, boards, and agencies. Local governments are not constitutionally recognized entities and do not have their own autonomous powers and jurisdictions. Instead, local governments fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, which are responsible for the creation of local governments.






Is The Federal System Successful In India?


Federalism has benefited India in various ways. Due to the diversity and the vast population of this nation, federalism has helped in the distribution of power at every level to reach every part of the country for the purposes of welfare and governance.

The following are some of the benefits obtained by federalism in India:


  1. It has helped in keeping the country together by preventing regional disputes among the citizens.
  2. It has ensured that governance is available to the people. State governments handle various issues relating to the daily life of people and such governments are established to be easily accessible to people.
  3. Federalism has helped in preserving the culture of lingual diversity in India and minimized the possibility of violence between people of different cultural groups.


Merits And Demerits Of Federalism In India


The federal system in a diverse country like India has both merits and disadvantages. Division of power helps in the easy governance of the 7th largest country but then a country with the second largest population needs a united government to govern people of almost every possible religion that exists which results in the existence of a vast variety of different cultures, identities, and languages. The established and independent judiciary is surely merited for the nation as it helps in proper remedy for the rights of the citizens. On the other hand, a written constitution with the kind of flexibility and rigidity contained by the Indian constitution is a boon when it comes to the codification of rights but the same rigidity can stand as a merit if amendments need to be made to the Indian




Therefore, it can be stated that federalism, like any other form of government, has both its advantages as well as challenges that come with adopting it.



The motto of “Unity in diversity” has always been very crucial to India and Federalism provided the idea of tolerance and cooperation between various organs of the government which would ultimately help in achieving the said motto.

However, for a country like India which is divided on not just a linguistic and communal basis, but on a very vast scale of differences of ethnicity and culture, a pure federal structure would lead to disruption and division of states amongst the nation. Having given extreme power given to a state, it will demand to shift away from the union and establish its own government. I think that is the reason why Jammu & Kashmir’s special powers were in question in public time and again.

To overcome all this and the above-mentioned demerits the government needs to strike a balance between both unitary and federal features of the country. States should be autonomous in their own sphere but they can’t be wholly independent to avoid a state of tyranny in the nation. The people of India should be provided protection and security from such things and that is what the constitution of India with its special provisions provides. It establishes a state which is both a union and a federal at the same time and thus gives India a structure of a quasi- federal government that has united the diversity of India for a long period of time and continues to do so.






Articles referred:


  1. https://blog.ipleaders.in/federalism-in-india/
  2. http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/686/Federalism-in-India.html
  3. https://federalism.org/about/what-is-federalism/
  4. https://prepp.in/news/e-492-blend-of-rigidity-and-flexibility-indian-polity-notes
  5. https://www.academia.edu/43751542/_Federalism_in_India_a_Comparative_Study_


Blog referred:


  1. https://blog.forumias.com/answeredwhat-is-quasi-federalism-is-india-a-quasi-federal- state/
  2. https://aishwaryasandeep.com/2021/07/29/india-as-a-quasi-federal-state/


Website referred:


1.    https://byjus.com/question-answer/how-did-federalism-benefit-india-br/


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