Desk Brief: Indian Framers Deliberately Chose ‘Union of States’

05 February 2022

On 2 February 2022, in Parliament, a leader of the Congress Party referred to India as a ‘Union of States’. This has offended the BJP and triggered political controversy. A BJP MP has now filed a breach of privilege notice against the Congress MP. The notice expresses a concern that the manner in which the Congress MP invoked ‘Union of States’ suggested that ‘any state could be easily separated from our nation’ and that India ‘came into existence by means of a negotiation between and among various states’.

On 4 November 1948, Drafting Committee Chairman B.R. Ambedkar presented the Draft Constitution of India to the Constituent Assembly. The Draft Constitution distributed power between the Centre and the States – the States enjoyed significant autonomy over certain matters. And so, some members expected India to be described as a ‘federation’ of States. They would have been surprised then to find that Article 1 of the Draft Constitution opened with a declaration of India as a ‘Union of States’ and not as a ‘federation’.

Anticipating questions from his fellow members, Ambedkar told the Assembly that ‘the use of the word Union is deliberate’. He and his Drafting Committee colleagues wanted to signal that even though India was a ‘federation’ this was ‘not the result of an agreement by States to join the federation…’. Therefore, States did not have the right to secede. He added that the Indian ‘Federation is a Union because it is indestructible’.

It appears that the Drafting Committee feared that declaring India as a ‘federation’ allowed space for States to secede. The specific historical example that was taunting Ambedkar was the United States of America. He said:

The Americans had to wage a civil war to establish that the States have no right of secession and that their Federation was indestructible. The Drafting Committee thought that it was better to make it clear at the outset rather than to leave it to speculation or to dispute.

If our Constitution framers were alive, they would have assured the BJP MP that they chose ‘Union of States’ precisely to indicate that Indian States could not separate from India and that India did not emerge from any negotiation or agreement with the States.

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