Geographical Basis of Indian Federalism – UPSC

In this article, You will read Geographical Basis of Indian Federalism – for UPSC IAS (Geography Optional).

Geographical Basis of Indian Federalism

  • According to Livingstone, geographical federalism emanates when the centrifugal forces & the centripetal forces within a country are in perfect balance. If the centripetal forces are greater, the unitary form of govt. and if centrifugal forces are more, confederation is the consequence.
  • Geographical federation means the inherent & genetic causes – the physiographic, socio-cultural, economic forces – and processes creating the balance between the unifying and diversifying forces. Thus, geographical federalism is the expression of Unity in Diversity.
  • Political federalism is superimposed by statutory provisions. Thus, it has top to bottom flow, but, geographical federalism has a bottom to top flow and such federal structure is everlasting
  • Political federalism has 4 criteria:
    1. Supremacy of constitution.
    2. Written constitution
    3. Independent Judiciary
    4. Division/separation of power


  • Federalism is a political institution where the population of a geographical unit comes together for a certain political objective.
  • Federalism is a system of government in which powers have been divided between the center and its constituent parts such as states or provinces. It is an institutional mechanism to accommodate two sets of politics, one at the centre or national level and second at the regional or provincial level.
  • It is also said that a federation is an institutional form of political organization.
  • Political federation has a basis in the following:
    • Two sets of governments
    • Separation of power
    • Division of power
    • Written constitution
    • Rigid constitution
    • Bicameralism at the federal level with one chamber representing the state.
    • Federal government and federating units have separate agencies to exercise their power.
  • Federation is one form of political administration (other being unitary form).
  • Federalism is needed when a political area develops two kinds of politico-administrative objectives:
    • Common Objectives: The common objectives involve the subjects of core national interests such as defence, currency, communication, etc. The execution of common objectives is the responsibility of the central government.
    • Regional interests: In the federal system, there is a hierarchy of government i.e. Central Government, Provincial Government, and local governments. The execution of works related to regional interests are done by Provincial and local governments.
  • Livingstone has theorized the geographical basis of federalism based on two factors:
    • Centripetal forces: These forces are similar to common objectives.
    • Centrifugal forces: These forces are similar to regional interests.
    • The nature of political administration depends upon the two factors:
      • If Centripetal forces in a geographical unit are greater than centrifugal forces, then it gives rise to unitary form of government. E.g. Canada.
      • If Centripetal forces in a geographical unit is less than centrifugal forces, then it gives rise to Confederation (here states have the power to secede from the union. E.g. CIS UAE, etc.)

Analysis of Centripetal And Centrifugal Forces in Indian Scenario

  • Centripetal forces: Following are the centripetal forces which operate in the Indian scenario considering India as a geographical unit:
    • Sub-continental geographical region: The continental characterizes to India is given by the geographical layout of India which is characterized by the following:
      1. Himalayas in north
      2. Ocean on three sides in south
      3. Mountain tough terrain in the northeast.
      4. Desert land and religiously dissected land in west and east.
    • Rhythm of monsoon: Monsoon binds India as a climatic region. Between 1st June and 15th September, It engulfs the Indian subcontinent. Related to rhythm of the monsoon is the evolution of various songs-ragas, dance forms, music which brings peculiar bonding to the country as a whole.
    • Linguistic unity Cultural Identity:
      • Linguistic groups have regional concentration which has become the basis of the emergence of linguistic states in India. There is hidden linguistic unity and its success shows that language can’t be the dividing line in India.
      • Indic Culture: It refers to the culture related to India and the people living thereof.
      • Professor Chisholm has mentioned, “There is no part of the world better demarcated by nature as region by itself than Indian sub-continent”.
      • Karl O Sour ha mentioned, “The geography of any country leads to the cultural regionalization”.
      • English has emerged as a link language; there is the commonness of the Devnagari script in Northern languages and in South Indian language, the common Brahmini script. Indian federalism is further strengthening by the Hindustani language as people’s language. Indian films, Indian railways have contributed towards the emergence of the Hindustani language.
    • Religo-cultural unity: There is hidden linkages and hidden religious and cultural unity in India. For example, coconut produced in Kerala is used in worship throughout India. Rama and Ravana are worshipped in different parts of India by Hindus. There is great amount of religious tolerance here. Although India is partitioned on the basis of two-nation theory but there is a large number of Muslims in India because of an inherited attribute of religious tolerance. Hindus visiting mosques and Muslims visiting temples in India is unique in the world. So when India adopted federalism only few resisted.
    • Historical factors: Every ruler wanted to rule India from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. As quoted by Chanakya in Arthashastra “Aryavarta is to be protected not janapad” which shows that there was a federal feeling in India from time immemorial. All invaders came to invade India and not just a province.
    • British colonial rule: British administrative unification further gave boost to centralizing force in India.
    • National Movement: National movement proved to be the most significant unifying force leading to the interaction of people and the emergence of INC also acted as a common force
    • Post Independence forces: Several changes in the post-independence era have further strengthened the centripetal forces which are;
      • Common defense and military organization.
      • Trade and transportation and communication.
      • Constitution of India imparting the feeling “ India belongs to Indians”
      • All India services.
  • Centrifugal forces: Following are the centrifugal forces that operate in the Indian scenario considering India as a geographical unit:
    • Physiographic diversity: In terms of plains, plateaus, hills, coastal locations, deserts, have led to diversity with respect to cultural elements. Also in the larger countries for e.g. Australia, Canada, India, USA, USSR, it is not possible to look into day-to-day economic affairs of bigger states from the center thus mandating healthy federalism as necessary.
    • Monsoon: Although monsoon links the whole country but annual variability, spatial and temporal variations in rainfall has created regional diversity in terms of agricultural pattern, food habits, diversity in terms of Industrial regions.
    • Diversity of population: Indian society is a storehouse of sub-nationalists, linguistic groups, regional groups, cast groups. So there is strong regionalism in India. There is long history of regional governance in India. Even the British realized the geographical reality and started governing India by developing Presidencies. Government of India Act 1935 laid the foundation of federalism in India. Factors of diversity include 744 languages and dialects that are there in India, 97 percent of the population speaks only 14 languages. India has the largest number of Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis in the world and the second-largest population of Muslims in the world.
    • Historical factors: There was regional autonomy for the kings- they just needed to give revenue to the rulers (or the king at the center)
    • British colonial rule: Princely states were recognized; Zamindars functioned independently under the Zamindari system.
    • Economic factors: Natural resource base at different places mandated the need of a strong federal structure for equitable distribution of resources.
    • National Movement: British policy of divide and rule and greater regard to Princely states and Zamindars made them to act as the safety valves.
    • Large size of population: India’s population is 17% of the world’s total. Only 4 counties have more population than that of UP. Even the provincial governments are having a large size of population.
  • Due to centripetal factors, Indian federalism had emerged and rather survived with increasing health. After 2nd world war, most of the states have faced the breaking of the federal government. For example Yugoslavia, USSR, and Czechoslovakia. Indonesia is currently facing the danger of disintegration.
  • Indian federal state is strengthened and regional forces are only for regional demands and not for disintegration. It is proven more than once:
    • During the Khalistan demand, Langawal Accord fulfilled the basic needs of the Punjabi people and therefore Khalistani movement is almost over.
    • Laldengo accord solved the problem of Mizoram.
    • The autonomous territory of Gorkhaland, Ladhakh, and with many new states, India has been able to fulfill reasonable demands and they have further strengthened the Indian federalism.
  • Federation is compromise between common interest and regional interest. So the federal governments hold the key to the success of federalism. Centre should be neither too rigid nor too flexible towards the regional demands. In both extremities, federal system is endangered.
  • What is important for the federal government is to cultivate the federal feeling and gradually eliminate extreme regionalism and divisive feelings. If regional demands are genuine, it should be immediately being fulfilled to pacify regionalism. If regional demands are not genuine, they must be immediately pacified, discouraged and if needed they must be eliminated. India has been able to meet these essential needs and that is why Indian federalism has been successfully survived till now.
  • The under-development and economic disparities can be reduced substantially in a federal structure in which the respective governments of the backward areas can formulate and implement their own regional plans.
  • The small states of long historical past are by and large ethnically based. Such states generally have unitary form of governments. As opposed to this the countries with large area and large population with numerous, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups can be governed in a better way by a federal government.
  • The above description of the physico-cultural, social and historical factors leads us to conclude that geography has played a very vital role in the development of regional units with distinct identity and thus helped the cause of Indian federalism.
Geographical Basis of Indian Federalism - UPSC

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