Why India's federal system holds over Pakistan's

The elite in Pakistan was not committed to pre-independence reorganization, and the lack of this linguistic federal adjustment created tensions that India survived.

Neha Aug 11, 2023
Katharine Adeney, Federalism and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2007

Comparative analysis of India and Pakistan’s federal structure is the primary topic of the present book. In this book, the author compares how Indian and Pakistani federal structures accommodate religious and linguistic identities. This book measures the degree of consociationalism in the pre-independence federal schemes and in the constitution prepared after independence. This book conducts a thorough analysis of the stability and instability of the federal system in India and Pakistan, the two largest states in South Asia. This study tries to understand the reasons why Indian federalism has been more stable than that of Pakistan, despite the fact that India and Pakistan have a similar colonial history. This book, while studying the history of both states, reveals the elements that shaped the present situation of these states and also mentions the future possibilities and suggestions to reduce the conflicts in these two states.

The book is divided into eight chapters and three supporting appendices. Chapter One makes a theoretical assessment of ethnic conflict and comparative federalism. Chapter Two briefly discusses the institutional precursors of federalism in South Asia -the Mughals as well as the East India Company and the British Raj. Its main concern is with the Congress party’s and Muslim league’s conflicting understandings of federalism. Chapter Three, explains the specific elements of federal design that the Congress and the league disagreed on, particularly those relating to consociationalism and majoritarianism. In Chapter Four, the post-independence constitutions of India and Pakistan are discussed, along with how they differ from and resemble the British constitutions. It evaluates the degree to which the differences can be attributed to India and Pakistan’s shifting linguistic and religious demography. In Chapter Five, the analysis of the post-independence constitutions is continued but this time the choices made in constitutional design are related to the characteristics of the state-sponsored articulation of national identity. It argues that the decisions taken at the time of constitution formation are a proxy for understanding the attitudes towards the management of linguistic and religious diversity. In Chapters Six and Seven, the history of federal stability in India and Pakistan is studied separately. These two chapters focus on the difficulties faced by the central governments of the two federations, the relationship between these difficulties, and the nature of the identities reflected in the constitutional framework. The final Chapter Eight examines the future prospects of Pakistan in the context of the presidency of Pervez Musharraf and the war on terror as well as the regionalisation of party politics and the rise of the Bharatiya Janta Party in India. Furthermore, the bok raises the question as to what extent can “lessons” learned from India and Pakistan be applied to the constitutional reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iran which face similar challenges.

The book, while using the institutional approach of federalism, underlines the claim that in order to understand the federal stabilization and destabilization in South Asia at present, it is crucial to examine the pre and post-independence histories of the subcontinent. From the author’s viewpoint, diversity is not the only cause of conflict in South Asia, but how the demands arising from this diversity are managed is a matter of discussion. Modes of governance premised upon territorial autonomy have a long history in the subcontinent. These systems have always been centralized, either under the Mughals, the British, or independent India and Pakistan. Despite this, they have relied on territorial co-option, often based on religious and linguistic criteria. The constitutional plans of the Congress and the Mulsim League since 1916 accepted, and often promoted federal structures. The Congress was more majoritarian than the Muslim League in terms of degrees of consociationalism within these structures.

After independence, consociational elements were limited in both constitutions. This came as a result of a decline in the effective number of religious groups in both states. In this regard, The Congress was willing to partition the country in order to secure a reduced number of effective religious groups. But the effective number of linguistic groups remained high in both states. Due to this, Congress in particular could not back down from its commitment to the linguistic reorganization of states - a consociational mechanism of segmental autonomy. Its subsequent concession of linguistic reorganization, with additional linguistic consociational mechanisms, stabilized the federation along linguistic lines. The elite in Pakistan was not committed to pre-independence reorganization, and the lack of this linguistic federal adjustment created tensions that India survived.

The author examines the structure of provincial units as a strategy to control ethnic conflicts. Various scholars believe that giving autonomy to ethnically homogeneous units within the federal system keeps the fear of destabilization in the union. The author makes a counterargument that homogeneous units by themselves are not sufficient to promote federal stability. The author's concern was to show that homogeneous provinces were not necessarily a dangerous feature of federal systems and that in India and Pakistan, homogeneous units not have been the cause of secessionist pressure. When homogeneous units such as East Pakistan have been the cause of federal instability, and indeed dissolution, lack of security and recognition and inequitable treatment have been the proximate cause. The author argued that the optimal number of units within a federation should be more than three.

The findings of the comparative study of India and Pakistan are that the number of the units in federation and the division of the dominant group (Staatsvolk) significantly contribute to the stabilization of the federal system. The author argues that the more units that make up the federation, the less likely any unit is to be excluded from the alliance or to feel like the lesser partner in a bipolar federal system. Second, that is division within the dominant group, because it may generate tensions against the federation. Its division reduces the view that a particular group has hegemony over the central authority of the state. Its division is necessary because it allows the emergence of alternative identities, increases inter-ethnic competition, and reduces the unity of a group. It also removes the disparities between provinces i.e. the low number of federal units in Pakistan where the domination of the Panjabi group over state resources and institutions (army and bureaucracy) is the main cause of tensions. On the other side, India by dividing the Hindi-speaking majority states formed new states, due to which the federal system remained stable.

The book concludes that in both India and Pakistan, the presence and absence of consociational accommodation have been essential to understanding federal (In)stability. The lack of security and recognition for any group defined on linguistic or alternative criteria explains the rise of separatists, as found in the context of India and Pakistan. The book throws light on the comparative history, politics, and federal systems of two important states in South Asia. This book can be useful for researchers and scholars doing research on comparative politics and federalism.

Katharine Adeney, Federalism and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2007, pp. 238, Price 1899 (Hardcopy), ISBN 1-40-397186-2

(The author is an M.Phil research scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, India. She can be contacted at chauhanneha278@gmail.com )

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