Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A "union of states"

A "union of states"

 (First Post, 12 Feb 2022)

According to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, “India is described in the Indian Constitution as a union of states and not a nation. One cannot rule over the people of a state in India. Different languages and cultures cannot be suppressed. It is a partnership, not a kingdom.” Let’s see about that.

The terms “union” and “state” (in the Hindi text: rājyon kā saṅgh) are quite vague, especially for a juridical document: both can have several interpretations. A "union" can mean a federation, which is a sovereign state dividing itself in autonomous provinces; or a confederacy, a permanent alliance of sovereign states; and everything in between, with history often showing an evolution from the one to the other. Thus, Switzerland is effectively a federation but called itself at its founding Confederatio Helvetica. An effective confederacy at present is the political structure of the Eurasian landmass's western subcontinent, the European Union. As the Brexit has demonstrated, though to much surprise, a member state of the EU retains its sovereignty, including the defining right to secede. By contrast, the Indian Republic does not confer on its lower political units this right of secession.

A "state" usually means a sovereign country, but it can also mean a province within a country. It is very common for this class of words not to have a fixed meaning in regard of its dimension of sovereignty, e.g. "land" in German means a province, in Dutch a sovereign country, and in English it has no political meaning, merely signifying any non-maritime region. When appearing in a legal text, such words first require a definition. From the wording in India's Constitution, one can deduce that here the word “state” (rājya) means the political level below full sovereignty.



Trivially, today's Indian Republic is geographically the sum total of its states. Yet historically it is not correct to imply that India has come about by uniting pre-existing states, as "union of states" might suggest. It came into being as a successor-state to British India. Yes, much of its present territory consisted of theoretically independent states before the Transfer of Power in 1947,  the Princely States. But these did not negotiate with British India as equal partners who then decided to merge. Instead, by signing the Instrument of Accession, they gave up their (already theoretical) sovereignty to be absorbed into the Republic.


For better understanding, consider the contrast with the European Union. The EU consists of sovereign member states with their own political history, mostly with active nationalist movements that went as far as to foment war against each other. It took the horrors of two World Wars and the common fear of the Soviet Bloc to make them water down their sovereignty step by negotiated step in a common ever-closer union. Each state retained the right to veto common decisions, so that these required a consensus. In India, by contrast, in vital matters the centre can overrule the states.


A great advantage of having a united federation of semi-autonomous states rather than a conglomerate of sovereign states is that it dedramatizes what would otherwise become a cause for war: the redrawing of boundaries between the states. The reorganization of the Northeast into the "Seven Sisters", the creation of Andhra Pradesh in the 1950s or the Panjabi Suba in the 1960s, or the more recent bifurcation of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are the stuff that elsewhere wars are fought over. Yet under the umbrella of India, they became mere administrative procedures. Though pooh-poohed by Rahul Gandhi, the existence of a national level above the affected states is highly beneficial.


One thing Eurasia's southern and western subcontinents have in common is that in their founding statements they avoid the term "nation" to refer to themselves. In Europe this would be a denial of history, where nationalist passions and considerable blood-letting were needed for the unification of Italy and Germany, the independence and unification of the Yugoslav states followed later by this federation's disintegration, etc. The project of countering these old nationalisms with a new EU nationalism has only lived in a small Rightist fringe; the “nation” counts as but a relic from history. In India, by contrast, the idea of defining the Subcontinent's population as a nation has been alive in the Freedom movement, which was influenced by the contemporaneous European nationalisms, most explicitly through VD Savarkar's translation of Italian nationalist thinker Giuseppe Mazzini.


Indians have debated whether they form a nation, and if so, what kind of nation. The Nehruvians claimed India was a new nation, with Mahatma Gandhi as "father of the nation", and in need of "nation-building". This is in complete denial of history, when a sense of Indianness existed for millennia. So Gandhi himself had considered India an ancient nation with himself as its grateful son. The Muslim League applied the Ottoman division into millets, "nations", meaning religious communities treated as political units. The Left mostly preferred a fragmented India and invoked the European equation of nation with national language, e.g. the Bengali nation. Prakash Ambedkar thought that the attributes of nationhood apply to the castes: "Every caste a nation."

The present Sangh Parivar effectively espouses Gandhi's view (the asli Gandhi, not the naqli Gandhi who triggered this debate) that India is an ancient nation which includes every Indian. Nowadays it downplays its original Hindu identity and emphatically calls itself nationalist, forever intoning the mantra “unity”. But in an earlier stage, under MS Golwalkar, it taught that only Hindus (in the broad sense) form the nation, while the Muslims and Christians are mere guests. The reason was that only Hindus could boast of a civilizational continuity, whereas Christians and Muslims had historically rejected the culture they found here, or from which they converted, explicitly wanting to replace it with their own.


The main problem with asserting an Indian nationhood, as per Rahul Gandhi, is its diversity. This is a false problem, merely a higher magnitude of what every country has to deal with. Moreover, it is part of the genius of Hindu civilization that it can deal exceptionnally well with diversity. While there is always room for improvement, the present federal structure takes care rather well of the needs of its diverse demographics. All the way from Brussels, I dare say that in terms of a political structure doing justice to its own motto of "Unity in diversity", the European Union had better learn some lessons from the Indian Republic.




Arindam M said...

Dr. Elst has put it perfectly. It shows that shallow dynasts like Rahul Gandhi have no connection with reality, and parrot whatever their mala fide advisors feed them. Currently, he seems to be under the spell of tukde tukde gang leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who defected to Congress recently.
All patriotic, and responsible Indians should be aware of such developments, and reject all anti national ideas. Congress mukt Bharat is the need of time.

Sagar M said...

What I noticed over the last decade is that Congress is increasingly supporting secessionism (as evident by its overt and covert support for secessionist of various hues). Prophecy of Savarkar is unfortunately turning true - that Congress is Muslim League of future and Jana Sangh (forerunner of BJP) is the Congress of tomorrow.

Nualgi said...

Good to know that RG has read the Constitution.

How did India become Bharat?
Perhaps because of the knowledge in the Rig Veda.
I doubt if RG has read the Rig Veda.

I recall him saying a few years ago that he is reading the Bhagavat Gita to understand Hinduism, Hindutva and RSS and BJP ideology.

The constitution may say that India is an union of states,
but in my view Bharat is an union of people.
Sometime in the post Vedic times all the people of India came together and agreed to accept each other's religions, customs, language, etc., and thus India became Bharat.