Republic at 70: How the framers gave India a strong Centre, by Syama Prasad Mookerjee
With the passing of the new Constitution, a landmark has been reached in the history of our country. Representative institutions for the governance of the country have emerged and the people have been given a voice in the government through universal adult franchise. About 600-odd states, which stood aloof from the current of Indian political life, have, for the first time, been brought within the framework of a common Constitution. Politically, economically and geographically, India has never been so well-knit and closely consolidated as she is today.
Historically, the phenomenon of political unity, so remarkably achieved within an amazingly short period of time, is comparable to the unification of Germany forged by Prince Bismarck in Europe, with this difference that German unity was brought about through a policy of blood and iron, ruthlessly pursued, while in our country the revolution was bloodless.
The unity and consolidation thus achieved has been sought to be preserved by the provision in the Constitution of a strong and powerful Centre. In spite of the federal type of Constitution and the guarantee of provincial autonomy, the Centre is, comparatively speaking, more powerful vis-a-vis the states.
The pattern of power distribution in the new Constitution is clear-cut and leaves no room for doubt or confusion.
All possible heads of legislative power, including powers of taxation, have been grouped together under three separate lists. The first list, called the Union List, contains subjects in respect of which the Union legislature is given the exclusive power to legislate. The second list, known as the State List, contains subjects which come within the exclusive sphere of the state legislatures. There is a third list, the Concurrent Legislative List, in which both legislatures would operate but in the event of a clash, the laws of the Union legislature will prevail.
Power is also given to the Union Parliament to make laws in respect of any matters in the State List in the event of a proclamation of emergency or if central legislation is thought necessary or expedient in the national interest.
It would be useful to make a brief historical retrospect of the nature and type of Indian polity which existed from times immemorial.
The old Indian traditions of cultural unity were there to inspire our Constitution and added to them was the inexorable force of geography as well as economy. No part of the country, however large, was self-sufficient and the fact that India possessed an internal market of, huge dimensions strengthened the arguments in favour of a single economic unit under a strong central government. It was perhaps these reasons that lay at the root of the old Hindu ideal of Rajachakravarty and no Indian ruler was satisfied until he could perform the Asvamedha sacrifice (which involved the assertion of control over all parts of the country).
To these factors of unity were added during Moghul times a new common medium of expression for administrative and cultural purposes, a common system of administration and an overmastering sense of living under the protection of a common government.
This long and unbroken tradition of one government received a temporary setback in the last quarter of the 17th century when the Moghul Empire disintegrated.
But with the establishment of Pax Britannica, there was a reassertion of the old and traditional forces of unity. British rule promoted these forces, paradoxically enough, both by the positive contributions and by its negative results. On the positive side was the establishment of a strong central government, a common system of administration and laws over a wide area and the opening of new and increasing facilities of safe and swift travel. On the other hand the desire to end foreign domination helped in the organisation of national forces and further strengthened the bonds of affinity among our people.
The national leaders tried to bring home to the people that as inheritors of a rich body of cultural traditions, they must not remain under the thraldom of a foreign power but should unite on the basis of these traditions and resist any domination.
(Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the first minister of commerce and industry, and founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh.)