Tamil Tribune

Indian Government and its Broken Promises
(Federalism and Linguistic States)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 2011 (ID. 2011-02-01)
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1. Introduction

2. Broken Promise 1: Linguistic States

3. Broken Promise 2: Federal Form of Government


IAS - Indian Administrative Service

INC - Indian National Congress

IPS - Indian Police Service

SRC - States Reorganization Committee


Hindian: People whose mother tongue is Hindi (similar to Tamil speakers are sometimes referred as Tamilans or Tamilians).

1. Introduction

Indian National Congress (Congress Party) led the movement against British rule. It was formed in northern India and many in the upper leadership positions were north Indians. In order form an united front of people from all regions of South Asia, the Indian National Congress (INC) made some important promises to allay any fear that North Indians would dominate the post-British government. This worked and people from all regions unitedly demanded the end of British rule. Once the British government decided to leave South Asia, tone of the Congress Party leadership, dominated by north Indian, Hindi-belt politicians, changed and the promises were reneged. We discuss here two such reneged promises.

2. Broken Promise 1: Linguistic States

One such promise made by the Congress Party was the formation of language-based linguistic states so that people of different major languages could use their own languages for most business and government affairs.

Well before the end of British rule, the 1928 Nehru Committee stated that India would be reorganized on the basis of languages into linguistic states (Motilal Nehru, chairman and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, secretary). Congress Party accepted this recommendation. But, once the British left and Congress Party (Indian National Congress) came to power with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, the Indian government tried its best not to form linguistic states. Most people outside the Hindi belt wanted linguistic states and the Hindian-dominated Indian government and Congress Party tried to squash it. There were protests in many regions demanding linguistic states.

Telugu speakers demanded a state of their own and the Indian government opposed it. One leading politician against linguistic states was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the same man who was secretary of the Nehru Committee that recommended linguistic states in 1928. There were massive protests in Telugu speaking areas. Protests peaked with the death of Mr. Potti Sreeramulu on the early morning hours of December 16, 1952; he fasted to death against Indian government's refusal to form a Telugu state. Unable to contain the resulting angry protests, Indian government relented and the Telugu state of Andhra Pradesh was formed the next year (1953).

There were marches and protest demonstrations in Malayalam, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali and other language areas also. In some areas police resorted to shooting and many unarmed protesters were injured and some killed and many crores of Rupees worth of properties was damaged. Finally the Indian government set up the States Reorganization Committee (SRC) and it recommended linguistic states. This resulted in the formation of today's linguistic states. Even after the creation of linguistic states, Indian government put obstacles to people using their mother tongue to the fullest extent in the linguistic states, except in the Hindi states. How the Hindi-dominated Indian government is obstructing the very intent of linguistic states will be the subject of another article. Just 2 examples here: IAS and IPS officers who do not know the state language are posted in senior positions so the state language cannot truly become the official language of states (except in Hindi states because all non-Hindi IAS/IPS officers must pass Hindi examinations). Out-of-state judges are often posted at State High Courts and refuses to allow the use of state language in State High Courts (except in Hindi states). (1 crore = 10 million)

3. Broken Promise 2: Federal Form of Government

Another promise the Congress Party made before the British left and later reneged was federal form of government. On December 13, 1946, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India's first prime minister, moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly that "States shall possess and retain the status of autonomous units, together with residuary powers and exercise all powers and functions of government and administration, save and except such powers and functions as are vested in or assigned to the Union, or as are inherent or implied in the Union or resulting there from." This resolution was accepted by the Constituent Assembly on January 22, 1947 just a few months before British rule ended. This resolution states in no uncertain terms that the states would be autonomous units with residual powers. This is a truly federal form of government structure. However when the constitution was adopted in 1950 after the British rule ended on August 15, 1947 and the Hindi-dominated Indian government took power, the form of government was not federal; states were not autonomous units and residual powers rested with the Indian central government. Section 356 of the Indian constitution empowers the central government (union government) to dismiss any state government. The federal government in countries like Canada, United States of America and Switzerland cannot dismiss state governments. More power to Indian government means more power to Hindi politicians because the Indian government is dominated by Hindi politicians.

Here we give a few quotes from the Indian constituent assembly proceedings of November 22, 1949 to emphasize our point that Indian government is not federal in nature.

"Our Constitution is more unitary than federal, and from that point of view I think it is a much greater improvement from the time we set about this task." - P.S. Deshmukh (This member is obviously for a unitary constitution and is happy that what started as a federal constitution ended up as mostly a unitary constitution.)

"Situated as we are, we wanted to have a federal constitution but we have produced a constitution that is mostly unitary." - M. Thirumala Rao

"This constitution envisages a kind of federo-unitary system of government, leaning largely towards the unitary system." - Syamanandan Sahaya

Not only politicians, but political scientists also point to the unitary nature of the Indian constitution. P. Krishna Mukherjee wrote in 1954, "the constitution that emerged out of the August deliberations of the constituent assembly of India in January 1950 is a definitely unfederal or unitary constitution." (P. Krishna Mukherjee, "Is India a federation?", The Indian Journal of Political Science, July-September 1954.)

[Note: Jawaharlal Nehru was sometimes spelled as Jawahar Lal Nehru


1. Democracy in India

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Thanjai Nalangkilli

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