Languages and Eighth Schedule

Nationalism and the crisis of federalism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Reorganisation of States

Mains level: Paper 2- Federalism in India

The article analyses the challenges federalism in India faces and the important role played by the division of states based on the languages.

Three conceptions of nationalism in India

  • Following three conceptions of nationalism were prevalent in India before independence.
  • The first, the idea that a community with a strongly unified culture must have a single state of its own.
  • The second saw the nation as defined by a common culture whose adherents must have a state of their own.
  • But this common culture was not ethno-religious.
  •  It conceives common culture in terms of a strong idea of unity that marginalises or excludes other particular identities.
  • A third nationalism accepts that communities nourished by distinct, territorially concentrated regional cultures have the capacity to design states of their own as also educational, legal, economic, and other institutions.
  • This may be called a coalescent nationalism consistent with a fairly strong linguistic federalism.
  • The central state associated with it is not multi-national.
  • At best, it is a multi-national state without labels, one that does not call itself so; a self-effacing multi-national state.

Suspicion of linguistic identities

  • After Partition, the Indian ruling class began to view with suspicion the political expression of even linguistic identities.
  •  It was feared that federation structured along ethno-linguistic lines might tempt politicians to mobilise permanently on the basis of language.
  • The second fear was about an increase in the likelihood of inter-ethnic violence, encourage separatism and eventually lead to India’s break up.
  • Thus, when the Constitution came into force in 1950, India adopted unitary, civic nationalism as its official ideology.

Formation of states on linguistic basis and its implications

  • A unitary mindset shaped by the experience of a centralised colonial state was resurrected.
  • The second tier of government was justified in functional terms, not on ethical grounds of the recognition of group cultures.
  • Following the Committee’s recommendations, States were reorganised in 1956.
  • India slowly became a coalescent nation-state, moving from the ‘holding together’ variety to what is called the ‘coming together’ form of (linguistic) federalism.
  • This meant that regional parties were stronger than earlier in their own regions and at the centre.
  • This let to more durable centre because it was grounded more on the consent and participation of regional groups that, at another level, were also self-governing.
  • Indian federalism also attempted to remove its rigidities by incorporating asymmetries in the relation between the Centre and different States.
  • Treating all States as equals required the acknowledgement of their specific needs and according them differential treatment.


Coalescent nationalism has served India well, benefiting several groups in India. True, it has not worked as well in India’s border areas such as the North-east and Kashmir. But their problems can only be resolved by deepening not abandoning coalescent nationalism.

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