Federalism is a system of political organization that unites separate states or other polities and brings them under an overarching political system in a way that allows each to maintain its integrity. Federalism acts on the virtues that dispersing the powers through a central fixture safeguards the individuals and their liberties. The constitution of India enumerates various items of legislation in three lists: the union list, the state list, and the concurrent list in the VII schedule of the constitution. The judiciary is the final interpreter and a patriarchal figure in ensuring that the constitutional values and the federal structure is upheld. Federalism in the contemporary period is a notion of balancing two opposing inclinations, the demand for local autonomy and the expansion of common interests. Federalism includes tension and conflict between the interests of the Center and the many subdivisions. Conflict resolution and prevention are both vital.[1]

Analysis of Federalism in India

  • History of Federalism and its Developments

The Indian Constitution’s drafters were proponents of federalism as a practical tool for building an Indian nation and powerful, united states. The Simon Report from May 1930 is when the concept of federalism as a means of government was first articulated in India. In August 1935, the British Parliament approved the Government of India Act, 1935. With the passage of this law, the dyarchy established by the Government of India Act of 1919 was abolished, and a Federation of India was established, consisting of the provinces of British India and part or all of the Princely states. However, India’s current federal structure is quite different from the one the British introduced. The earliest indication of federalism in India can be found in the events surrounding its founding in 1947, when all of the provinces, presidencies, and princely states were united under an instrument of accession, signifying that all of these formerly independent or sovereign states had united to form one nation-state.[2]

  • Features of Indian Federalism

Post-Independent India was thriving with a Nationalistic outlook and the mood of the nation was of a unified nation bringing together everyone under the umbrella of a sovereign figure.[3] However, the word ‘federal’ is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution. Article 1 (1) of the constitution states that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of States”. Dr B.R. Ambedkar said in the Constituent.

The many political structures that identify as federal differ greatly from one another. Certain characteristics or features, however, are common to all truly federal states. These features also exist in the federal nature of India:

  • Written Constitution: Unlike the UK, Canada, and Saudi Arabia, India has a codified constitution comprising 448 articles and 12 schedules, and about 117,369 words.
  • Dual Polity: The constitution of India establishes a dual polity with the jurisdiction of making laws on different subject matters divided between the union and the state governments. The fact that the central government is in control of the remaining authorities makes this situation unique.[4]
  • Single Citizenship: In India, only single citizenship is available to citizens. This fosters togetherness despite geographical and cultural diversity, which heightens the sense of nationality.
  • Rigid Constitution: The constitution of India is both stern and elastic at the same time. The rigidity of the constitution is an indispensable feature of federalism. But the same rigid constitution has hit a century of amendments in less than 75 years of Independence.
  • Judicial trends towards federalism

A powerful judiciary is an essential element in a federal state. Judiciary has the sole authority to denounce any decision or law by the government and parliament as “unconstitutional” and declare it void. A strong judicial system allows checks on the powers of the government and enables an efficient running of the state. The Supreme Court has issued several decisions on federalism, yet its stance on the subject has been contradictory.

In, State of West Bengal vs Union of India[5], Chief Justice Sinha said that,

“The Constitution of India is not truly Federal in character. The basis of the distribution of powers between the Union and States is that only those powers which are concerned with the regulation of local problems are vested in the States and the residue, especially those which tend to maintain the economic industrial, and commercial unity of the country is left to the Union.” 

In, Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala[6], some of the judges in the case held federalism to be a part of the basic structure of the constitution and rendered it incorruptible.

Whether India should continue to be a federal state

India’s federalism has seen a noticeable transformation throughout the coalition era. There appears to be no disagreement between the Center and the states that are governed by the parties in the central alliance. However, it appears that there is no such overt prejudice when one is aware of the allocations of the Central plan cash made public by the Planning Commission on an annual basis. There has to be a wider impression of fairness and impartiality. The most effective system of government for a large and diverse nation like India is federalism. Through different structural mechanisms of “shared rule,” it aims to make it easier for two sets of identities to work together on social issues. However, due to the aforementioned factors, centre-state relations and state autonomy have emerged as the fundamental problems with Indian federalism. In 1983, the Union government established the Sarkaria Commission to investigate and assess how Indian Federalism functioned. But many recommendations of this Commission are still to be implemented properly.[7] As a result, reformulating Indian Federalism to increase its effectiveness and foster centre-state relations is acceptable.

Whether Federalism undermines state legislature and instigates inter-state discrepancies

Federalism in the present times is a vanishing act in the Indian context. Federalism stands on four pillars.  The first was a genuine concern about whether a centralized state could accommodate India’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Federalism triumphed thanks to the States Reorganization Act and the language concessions. The real allocation of political power is the second tenet of federalism. The rise of coalition governments, economic liberalization, and regional parties, seemed to provide propitious ground for political federalism. The Farmer’s Bill of 2020 is an avid example of a centre presiding over state laws. The proposal of a Central MSP and defending federalism cannot go together.

The political and institutional culture is the third factor that supports federalism. But regrettably, the BJP and the Congress shared a culture that was, to put it kindly, devoted to the most extreme version of flexible federalism, including using improper procedures to remove opponents. The fourth factor Louise Tillin so wonderfully described as “asymmetrical federalism”—special exemptions granted to specific states—was what kept federalism in place. However, three forces have always exerted pressure on unequal federalism. Asymmetrical federalism was eventually recognized as Kashmir’s security threat’s cause rather than its solution. Therefore, flexible federalism will be shaped in many different ways. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that the states and the centre did not create this situation. It was jointly created by the political cultures of the states and the centre.[8]


From the paper and its related discussions, it is clear that India is a quasi-federal country. There is no mention of the word “federal” anywhere in the constitution but rather defined as a “union of states” which is indestructible. The Supreme Court of India also describes it as “a federal structure with a strong bias towards the Centre”. If there is a transgression of powers or disputes arising out of centre-state policies the judiciary plays an important role as the apex court in protecting and guaranteeing the Constitution. The people elected government at three levels and the government at each level is accountable to their respective electorates and it is the constitutional obligation of each government to work for the welfare of the people.

The advantages can overshadow the disadvantages of federalism in a country only when it strikes a balance between both unitary and federal features of the country. States should lead autonomously within their jurisdiction and also limit their authority to avoid state tyranny and revolt in the nation. With its distinctive provisions, the Indian Constitution provides the security and defense against such things that the Indian people need. Doing this gives India a quasi-federal government structure that has, for the last 71 years, and will continue to, bring the diversity of the nation together.[9]

Author(s) Name: Fardeen Haque


[1] Chanchal Kumar, Federalism in India: A Critical Appraisal, 3 JBM & SSR 1, 9 (2014),

[2] Pragya Bansal, Federalism in India-Analysis of the Indian Constitution, IPLEADERS (Nov. 7, 2021, 1:13 PM), 

[3] Kumar, supra note 1, at 2.

[4] Bansal, supra note 2, at 2.

[5] State of West Bengal v. Union of India, AIR 1963 SC 1241

[6] Kesvananda Bharti v. State of Kerela, (1973) 4 SCC 225

[7] Clear IAS Team, Indian Federalism – 15 Issues that Challenge the Federal Structure of India, CLEARIAS (Nov. 7, 2021, 6:00 PM),

[8] Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Our misshapen federalism is not about Centre vs states, but co-produced by political culture in both, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (July 27, 2022, 7:35 PM), 

[9] Bansal, supra note 2, at 5.