Constitution And Article-3

Statehood Movement–A Political Process

Swatahisddha Sarkar

The demand of separate state is ostensibly a political claim. The articulation of such a claim or for that matter the collective effort aimed at achieving a separate state in most cases is rooted in what may be labelled as 'transcendental politics' in which cultural idiom based political activism is considered as a valued objective in its own right or else such claims appear as a handy tool of 'transactional politics' to further the material interests of the regional activists. In both the situation the political claim of a separate state—whether it follows the path of a 'transcendental politics' or 'transactional politics1 draws its strength from the instantly recognizable constitutional arrangements. The Article 3 of Indian Constitution, for example, maintains in unambiguous terms that the Parliament may by law create a state. Hence the idea of units of Indian Union, unlike the USA is not indestructible. In fact, the notion of destructibility of the constituting states of Indian Union leaves open the room for political maneuvering. Political permutations and combinations, which in fact helped appropriate the notion of destructibility of Indian states and thereby the politicking of federal principles has been a live current of Indian federal governance since independence.

The flexible constitutional arrangements have added additional political pace within the otherwise democratic process of contestation between the regional elites and provincial elites. Though the two major political protagonists of federal polity are represented by the Union and the provinces, the Indian federal realpolitik puts the regional claimants as the potential players of an additional third front. By registering difference from the mother state and demanding a separate state of their own the regional outfits either resulted into sub-state level regional/ district autonomous councils or were continually tarnishing the connotation of federalism as a contested purchase unless they were granted separate statehood. All said and done, the praxis of federalism in India grants the opportunity to adjudicate regional aspirations against the backdrop of the destructibility propositions of the Indian Constitution.

Quite expectedly, all these concerns lead towards a political process in which regional aspirations based upon cultural difference and distinctiveness were articulated in political terms. The terms of this political process are fixed according to the flexible constitutional arrangement heading for a full fledged statehood status. In some cases however, this political process also led towards the formation of a third tier structure (viz. autonomous regional/ district councils) somewhat atypical of the so-called federal arrangement. The courses of this political process are apparently intimidating and conflictual. This has practically been the case whenever the demands of separate statehood were raised by regional outfits. The initial reaction of either the Union or the mother state is the same. As if something detrimental to India's national integrity is going to happen. Political parties of all hues whoever had headed the centre or the state showed more or less the same attitude of renouncing such demands of a separate state. On the other hand, it is also not possible to rule out such demands by bracketing them as 'anti-constitutional' as long as Article 3 of Indian Constitution stands as it is. The immediate fallout of this contradictory positioning is a political process that is not beyond the reach of the norms of parliamentary democracy. However, it must be noted that the adherence to Parliamentary democracy more often than not gets reflected through electoral palliatives designed to reinstate political hegemony in all the three segments—the Union, the state and the aspirant state. Procedural democracy gets surely affirmed through such a process but it is doubtful how much 'demos enabling' such processes are in reality. The popular movements based upon the claims of cultural distinctiveness, preservation of identity against the forces of internal colonialism and right to self-determination have to meet the challenges of political hegemony maintained by the Centre or by the state in the name of parliamentary democracy. In most cases however, such people's initiatives fail to attain their desired goal and whenever they succeed they at the same time become a party of the ruling cohort or an ally of the said political hegemony. The moot point is that the process of negotiating statehood movements in India, no matter whether it results into a new state, a regional council, or nothing at all, ultimately leads towards a 'demos constraining' situation. Whether successful or unsuccessful the statehood movements cannot foster people's aspiration any further in the given federal democratic arrangement of India. They actually reinstate the same paradox that has given birth to the claim they are championing. It is perhaps that is why one can experience that the newly established states had to fall prey to the national political parties in order to overcome the all ensuing political instability, although at one point in time they articulated their locus standi through raising voice against the hegemony maintained by the national political parties both at the centre or at the level of provinces.

The argument is that if the claim of separate state is not anti-constitutional then one must have an alternative code of politics that would not unnecessarily complicate the whole process by throwing the baby out of the bath itself. The situation becomes far precarious if the political parties, those who represent these three hubs of power (i.e. centre, state and region), vary. In situations where the state and centre are represented by the same political party and the regional outfits were by another political party the immediate response of the political process is of discrediting the regional outfits by all possible means including forceful repression even. If the centre and the regional outfits were represented by the same political party then the political process is relatively smooth and the feasibility of statehood is perhaps greater even though the state (led by a different political party) might have clamoured vigorously against such a step. In situations where all the three haves were led by three different political parties the political process is prone to create a political vacuum to be filled-in by all-round instability, chaos and ambivalence where all the three incumbents will try to maximize their political benefits out of securing the future vote bank even by risking to neutralize the statehood move. Throughout these processes what gets secured is possibly the sordid claim of party politics that is neither directed towards a healthy federalism or a genuine nationalist rejuvenation nor even they are truly reflective of the regional aspiration and concerns. Looking through all these it may not be too immature to comment that the creation of new states in India has been the result of accidents of political timing. Anecdotes of a new state is articulated on the premise of an antidote against hegemony but more often than not such attempts end up in a politics that ran without intent or ideology and thereby creating another hegemony that has been grafted on the basis of short-term gains and appropriation of particularistic interests accruing from the intent of what may be called as electoral match making necessary to reinstate the interlocked balance of power between centre, state and region.


  • The notions of 'transactional politics' and 'transcendental politics' were drawn from Mitra (1995). See for details Mitra, Subrata K. 1995. "The Rational Politics of Cultural Nationalism: Subnational Movements of South Asia in Comparative Perspective", British Journal of Political Science, 25 (1): 57-77.

Vol. 46, No. 21, Dec 1 - 7, 2013

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