"Central" or "Union" Govt.
● Recently, In Tamil Nadu, a controversy erupted over the new DMK government referring to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the 'Union government' instead of 'central government'.
1. “The term ‘Union government’ has a unifying effect”. In light of this statement, Analyze the difference between the terms Union government and central government and its impact on Federalism.
Meaning of Union & Centre:
● Constitution expert Subash Kashyap said, 'centre' indicates a point in the middle of a circle, whereas 'Union' is the whole circle.
➢ In India, the relationship between the so-called 'Centre' and States, as per the Constitution, is actually a relationship between the whole and its parts.
● Both ‘Union’ and ‘States’ derive their respective authority from the Constitution. The one is not subordinate to the other in its own field and the authority of one is to coordinate with that of the other.
● In very common parlance, Union gives a sense of Federal while centre gives more of a sense of unitary government.
➢ But practically both are the same in the Indian political system.
The constitutional position on the issue:
● Under Article 1 of the Indian Constitution: It is clearly described as a Union of States. Article 1 mentions that India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.
● While submitting the draft Constitution in 1948, Dr B R Ambedkar, chairman of the drafting committee, had said that the committee had used the world ‘Union’ because
(a) the Indian federation was not the result of an agreement by the units, and
(b) the component units had no freedom to secede from the federation.
What was the intent of our constitutional makers:
● The objective resolution: It wanted to create India as a Union of territories willing to join the “Independent Sovereign Republic”.
● The opinion of the members regarding the principles of the British Cabinet Mission Plan (1946) is adopted. It intended a Central government with very limited powers whereas the provinces had substantial autonomy.
● Effect of The Partition and the violence of 1947 in Kashmir: It forced the Constituent Assembly to revise its approach and resolve it in favour of a strong Centre. The possibility of the secession of states from the Union weighed on the minds of the drafters of the Constitution and ensured that the Indian Union was “indestructible”.
● Hence the term “union of states” was chosen. The members wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, it was not the result of an agreement and that therefore, no State has the right to secede from it.
● Criticism from members like Hasrat Mohani:
➢ The usage of the words ‘Union of States’ would obscure the word ‘Republic’
➢ It might create India into a despotic union like Germany at the time of Adolf Hitler
➢ It would undermine federalism and bring all the units, the provinces and the groups of States under the thumb of the Centre.
Concerns related to the Term Central Government:
● Discarded By Constituent Assembly: The word ‘Centre’ is not used in the Constitution; the makers of the Constitution specifically discarded it and instead used the word ‘Union’.
● Colonial Legacy: 'Centre' is a hangover from the colonial period because of the bureaucracy in the Secretariat, New Delhi who are used to using the word ‘Central Laws,’ ‘Central legislature,’ etc, and so everyone else, including the media, started using the word.
● Conflict With Idea of Federalism: India is a federal government. The power to govern is divided between a government for the whole country, which is responsible for subjects of common national interest, and the states, which look after the detailed day-to-day governing of the state. According to Subash Kashyap, using the term ‘Centre’ or ‘central government’ would mean state governments are subservient to it.
Centre vs Union – Does it matter?
The question in the ‘Union or Centre’ debate is about the nature of the Indian state. While it is often said what’s in a name, usage of the word ‘Union’ does have a kind of unifying effect, while the word ‘Centre’ does have centralistic overtones. Also, we need to consider the following ground realities:
● The nature of the Indian state is federal with a unitary bias: In the Government of India Act, 1935, provinces had more power and the Viceroy had only the minimum. But the Indian constitution changed this equation, and the federal government was made more powerful. Presently, the actual power is vested with the Union of India in all respects. So, the debate over using the Centre or Union is of no consequence.
● Language issue: There’s a language issue too. More than 70 years after Independence, there is no authorized Tamil translation of the Constitution of India. Hence, Tamil Nadu has seen consistent efforts to present words in a better form of Tamil, especially after the DMK came to power in the mid-1960s.
The members of the Constituent Assembly were very cautious of not using the word ‘Centre’ or ‘Central government’ in the Constitution as they intended to keep away the tendency of centralising of powers in one unit. The ‘Union government’ or the ‘Government of India’ has a unifying effect as the message sought to be given is that the government is of all.