Challenges to Federalism and Secularism

by Kumar Ketkar

My comments

My class notes

Summary from the Program

The story of the Republic of India is at once an experiment and an adventure. India became independent just two years after the Second World War. Independence came with the trauma of Partition. The wound still bleeds.

The Freedom Movement in India was against Fascism, Nazism, Racism and Colonialism. Though India was seeking freedom from the British Empire, the Congress leadership had not sympathised with Hitler, Mussolini or Hirohito or General Franco. The fight against the British Rule did not mean India joining the Fascist Axis.

It is necessary to understand this background of idealogical foundation of the Indian Republic. The concepts of (a) secularism, (b) federalism, (c) democracy and (d) mixed economy evolved during the course of the Freedom Movement.

India is a truly multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious, i.e. a magnificent, plural country. In a sense, it is the first "melting pot" of cultures in the world. The Freedom Movement was a mass movement, in which people from all religions, castes, creeds, sects, provinces and language groups participated. Mahatma Gandhi could not have woven this fantastic fabric without a secular, conceptual framework.

The mosaic of India has survived because of this secular foundation. That religion cannot hold a country together has been seen and proved in the case of Bangla Desh, which was part of Pakistan. Islam could not keep the unity of Pakistan. Even today the centrifugal tendencies are threatening the unity and integrity of Pakistan.

Similarly, if various states from Tamil Nadu to West-Bengal and from Kerala to Punjab or Karnataka to Kashmir have to live together in one national union, there could have been no option to the structural form of Federalism.

India is a Federal Republic, because it wants to respect the various peoples within the country, having different cultural milieu and speaking many languages and many more dialects. By and large the states are carved out on the basis of language, culture and economy. The Federal form is still evolving and every few years, new states are formed, so that the emerging identities of the regional people are respected.

During the last decade, this secular, federal edifice has been receiving shocks. But that will require more elaboration which is not part of this synopsis.

Such a secular and Federal Republic cannot be sustained by one-party rule, by dictatorship or by the authoritarian model. A deviation from the democratic model, which had become inevitable because of the anarchic forces let loose in the period 1975-1977, could not hold itself. The Emergency regime was defeated. However, at that time, the choice was between the devil and the deep sea. Emergency or Anarchy - that was the dilemma before the Indian State. Barring that deviation, India has remained democratic. Every political crisis has been resolved by elections and not by resorting to military rule or other form of dictatorship.

Lastly, the mixed ecomony model has let the spirit of enterprise and capitalism thrive. Yet the intervention of the state has also sometimes helped to balance the economy and contain the wild market forces.

My Notes


Challenges to Federalism and Secularism - Kumar Ketka

- strain on the country is similar to Soviet when Gorbachev took power 
  (1989-1991 Glasrost, Perestroika)
- disintegration of India a possibility
- some commentators said of 1947, "That was the first Partition.  There 
  will be others."
- 1984 Hindu-Sikh riots
	- triggered by two Sikhs killing Indira Gandhi
- since 1989, Kashmir has been a problem (always been a problem, a bigger 
  one now)
- if Kashmir leaves, it will be seen not as "Kashmir state breaking away" 
  but "Muslims causing India problems"
- seven states in the north, where there used to be one
	- allowing areas autonomy reduced tensions
- technique didn't work with Soviet Union Baltic States - they got autonomy, 
  then demanded more
- RSS:  "One nation, one people, one religion."  Hindu, specifically.
- BJP (political party) took power in 1996

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Last modified 2006-05-18 by giles