From the above, it is clear that the Constitution of India has deviated from the traditional federal systems like US, Switzerland and Australia and incorporated a large number of unitary or non-federal features, tilting the balance of power in favour of the Centre. This has prompted the Constitutional experts to challenge the federal character of the Indian Constitution. Thus, KC Wheare described the Constitution of India as “quasifederal”. He remarked that “Indian Union is a unitary state with subsidiary federal features rather than a federal state with subsidiary unitary features.”
According to K Santhanam, the two factors have been responsible for increasing the unitary bias (tendency of centralisation) of the Constitution. These are: (i) the dominance of the Centre in the financial sphere and the dependence of the states upon the Central grants; and (ii) the emergence of a powerful planning commission which controls the developmental process in the states. He observed: “India has practically functioned as a unitary state though the Union and the states have tried to function formally and legally as a federation.”
However, there are other political scientists who do not agree with the above descriptions. Thus, Paul Appleby characterises the Indian system as “extremely federal”. Morris Jones termed it as a “bargaining federalism”. Ivor Jennings has described it as a “federation with a strong centralising tendency”. He observed that “the Indian Constitution is mainly federal with unique safeguards for enforcing national unity and growth”. Alexandrowicz stated that “India is a case sui generis (i.e., unique in character). Granville Austin called the Indian federalism as a “cooperative federalism”. He said that though the Constitution of India has created a strong Central government, it has not made the state governments weak and has not reduced them to the level of administrative agencies for the execution of policies of the Central government. He described the Indian federation as “a new kind of federation to meet India’s peculiar needs”.
On the nature of Indian Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar made the following observation in the Constituent Assembly: “The Constitution is a Federal Constitution in as much as it establishes a dual polity. The Union is not a league of states, united in a loose relationship, nor are the states the agencies of the Union, deriving powers from it. Both the Union and the states are created by the Constitution, both derive their respective authority from the Constitution.” He further observed: “Yet the Constitution avoids the tight mould of federalism and could be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances”. While replying to the criticism of over-centralisation in the Constitution, he stated: “A serious complaint is made on the ground that there is too much centralisation and the states have been reduced to municipalities. It is clear that this view is not only an exaggeration but is also founded on a misunderstanding of what exactly the Constitution contrives to do. As to the relations between the Centre and the states, it is necessary to bear in mind the fundamental principle on which it rests. The basic principle of federalism is that the legislative and executive authority is partitioned between the Centre and the states not by any law to be made by the Centre but by the Constitution itself. This is what the Constitution does. The states are in no way dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority. The states and the Centre are co-equal in this matter. It is difficult to see how such a Constitution can be called centralism. It is, therefore, wrong to say that the states have been placed under the Centre. The Centre cannot by its own will alter the boundary of this partition. Nor can the judiciary”.
In Bommai case(1994), the Supreme Court laid down that the Constitution is federal and characterised federalism as its ‘basic feature’. It observed: “The fact that under the scheme of our Constitution, greater power is conferred upon the Centre vis-a-vis the states does not mean that the states are mere appendages of the Centre. The states have an independent constitutional existence. They are not satellites or agents of the Centre. Within the sphere allotted to them, the states are supreme. The fact that during emergency and in certain other eventualities their powers are overridden or invaded by the Centre is not destructive of the essential federal feature of the Constitution. They are exceptions and the exceptions are not a rule. Let it be said that the federalism in the Indian Constitution is not a matter of administrative convenience, but one of principle—the outcome of our own process and a recognition of the ground realities”.
In fact, the federalism in India represents a compromise between the following two conflicting considerations17:
(i) normal division of powers under which states enjoy autonomy within their own spheres; and
(ii) need for national integrity and a strong Union government under exceptional circumstances.
The following trends in the working of Indian political system reflects its federal spirit: (i) Territorial disputes between states, for example, between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belgaum; (ii) Disputes between states over sharing of river water, for example, between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery Water; (iii) The emergence of regional parties and their coming to power in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc.; (iv) The creation of new states to fulfil the regional aspirations, for example, Mizoram or recently Jharkhand; (v) Demand of the states for more financial grants from the Centre to meet their developmental needs; (vi) Assertion of autonomy by the states and their resistance to the interference from the Centre; (vii) Supreme Court’s imposition of several procedural limitations on the use of Article 356 (President’s Rule in the States) by the Centre.