India is a Union of States, not a federation like USA

  • Know how States in India & U.S. came into being. Were they reorganised, purchased or conquered? Why were Linguistic States made? What is the concept of Cultural Unity & Nationhood in India? Differences between Indian and U.S. states?

Some learned believe that India is a federation of states like the U.S. Rahul Gandhi said, “India is described in the Indian Constitution as a union of states and not as a nation. One cannot rule over the people of a state in India. Different languages and cultures cannot be suppressed.” To hear Rahul speech in Parliament Click


Keep politics aside. Is India a union of states or federation and a Nation?


It is worth recalling what Ambedkar said, “India is a single geographical unit. Her unity is as ancient as Nature. This cultural unity has defied political and racial divisions.” Pg. 29 A New Idea of India Further, India is integrated by Visible, Distinct and Recognisable Binding Common Threads of Indic Civilizational and Cultural Nationhood.


Pilgrimage is a form of cultural unity. Therefore, this devotee from Rajasthan visited Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu.

Elderly man from Rajasthan in Rameshwaram. Pic 2016.

So also Indians from all over visit Kamakya Mandir in Guwahati, Assam.

Devotees from Andhra Pradesh in Guwahati. Pic 2013.   

Columnist Sandhya Jain explained the concept of cultural unity and nationhood in Daily Pioneer, “Pranabda (former President) punched a hole in the Westphalian model of nationhood, asserting that India was a state long before the European Nation State rose after 1648, based on the notion of a defined territory, single language, shared religion and a common enemy. We may highlight here the difference between Indian and Western notions of ‘universal’. The Hindu meaning is that which is applicable or can be adopted voluntarily by all (e.g. Yoga, mutual coexistence without strife, etc.). The monotheist concept is that which should be imposed upon all (religion, culture, thinking, et al).”

Also read Culture is the root of Indian Nationhood  


Actually, Indian culture exists across modern day borders. Thus, India welcomes to Bodh Gaya, devotees from Southeast Asia just like Mount Kailash Yatra in Tibet attracts Indian devotees.

Devotees from Burma in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Pic 2012. 

Devotees from Nepal at Rameshwaram. Pic 2016.  

So also Indian culture went to different places for e.g. Xinjiang, China.

Shiva and Parvati, Mural, Kizil Caves, Kucha, Xinjiang, 6th Century. Pic by Benoy K Behl

To understand the difference between Union of States and a Federation i.e. U.S. one needs to know how the countries got their present form. Let us start with India.


When British ruled there were areas administered by the British and Rulers for e.g. Baroda, Mysore, Udaipur and Travancore. In 1947 India was formed by merger of all the princely states and those areas directly under British rule e.g. Bombay Presidency.


So which were states during British rule and what happened post-Independence?

Burma became a part of India as an administrative in 1836. The Government of India Act 1935 separated Burma from India and created the provinces of Orissa, Sindh. 2 Pg. 543. Originally, Orissa was part of Calcutta Presidency and Sindh of Bombay.


Till 1905 Bengal included Bihar and Orissa and Assam, in full or part.  The princely state of Cooch Behar was included in the political map of Bengal after Independence. Earlier, the northern region of Bengal was ruled by the Koch Dynasty. Source “A separate province of Assam (administered by a chief commissioner) was created in 1874 with its capital at Shillong. In 1905 Bengal was partitioned into West and East. Assam was amalgamated with East Bengal; this created such resentment, however, that in 1912 Bengal was reunited, and Assam was once more made a separate province.Source


Bihar and Orissa were separated from Bengal Presidency to form new provinces in 1912. In 1936 Orissa got separated from Bihar. Source Princely states of Orissa got merged into it post-independence.


In India the area covered was one. Changes were made for administrative convenience amongst others. This did not involve adding new areas except Cooch Behar that was anyway part of India-The Cultural Unit.


From Assam smaller states were carved out for different reasons. Nagaland in 1963, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya in 1972 and Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh in 1987. Source  Sikkim became a state in 1975. Read Tripura Instrument of Accession


Coming to the West. Areas under Bombay Presidency were Sindh, Gujarat, Western Maharashtra and a number of princely states where indirect rule applied. Source


Sindh became a separate province in 1936. After Independence, Bombay Presidency became Bombay State which was split into Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1960. The Samyukta Movement ensured that Bombay remained with Maharashtra. The new capital of Gujarat was Gandhinagar. Since Bombay (now Mumbai) was the commercial capital large number of Gujaratis settled in Bombay.


The newly created states in the West were part of India-The Cultural Unit and did not involve buying or conquering new areas.


Next South. “The Madras Presidency, during the British, covered a vast expanse of the southern part of India that encompasses modern-day Tamil Nadu, the Lakshadweep Islands, Northern Kerala, Rayalaseema (Andhra Pradesh), Coastal Andhra, districts of Karnataka and various districts of southern Odisha.” Source  


Freedom fighter Potti Sreeramulu’s 56 day hunger-strike and death to draw attention to demand for a state of Telegu speaking regions of Madras resulted in the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1953. Note Hyderabad became part of India in 1948.


Eventually, a States Reorganization Commission was formed in 1955 and the States Reorganisation Act (SRA) passed in 1956.  


The state of Kerala was formed in 1956 when, “Travancore-Cochin state was merged with Malabar district of Madras and Kasaragod taluk of South Canara district. Parts of Southern Travancore-Cochin on the other hand went to Madras state.”  Source


In 1956 Madras was divided further, with some areas going to the new state of Kerala and other areas becoming part of Mysore. What remained of Madras state was renamed Tamil Nadu in 1968.” Source Mysore was renamed as Karnataka in 1973.


Back to North. Punjab in 1947 consisted of modern day Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Dogra Kings ruled over Jammu and Kashmir. The linguistic state of Punjab was created in 1966. Himachal became a Union Territory first and then a State in 1971.


Also read Merger of Princely States into Punjab, Language controversy


Uttar Pradesh got its name around 1949. The province was called United Province of Agra and Oudh since 1902. It was changed to United Province in 1937. Source Uttarakhand was carved out of U.P. in 2000.


Madhya Pradesh got its name in 1956. MP was earlier divided into several small kingdoms which were captured by the British and incorporated into Central provinces and Berar and the Central India Agency by early 18th century. Source


“The Central Provinces was formed in 1861 by the merger of the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories and Nagpur Province. Administration of the Berar region of the Hyderabad princely state was assigned to the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces in 1903, and for administrative purposes, Berar was merged with the Central Provinces to form the Central Provinces & Berar on 24 October 1936.” Source


In 1913 it was known as the Central Provinces Legislative Council. After Independence a number of princely states merged with the earlier Central Provinces and Berar to form Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal State (ruled by the Nawab), merged with India in 1949.


“After independence, MP state was created with Nagpur as its capital: this state included the southern parts of the present-day Madhya Pradesh and north-eastern portion of today’s Maharashtra. In 1956, the state was reorganised by excluding the Maratha speaking areas (that became part of Bombay State) and its parts were combined with the states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh and Bhopal to form the new MP state with Bhopal as its capital.” Source and Source Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP in 2000.

Devotees from Thailand in Pushkar, Rajasthan.

This organization and re-organization met regional aspirations by creating linguistic states and making bigger states smaller. These states have allowed regional languages to blossom.


How were Linguistic States born?

The seeds were sown when the Nagpur Congress of 1920 accepted linguistic provinces. Thus, were created provincial Congress Committees by linguistic zones.  


Also read Linguistic Provinces are the foundation of India’s Federalism and Unity  And Formation of Linguistic States


Some think that linguistic states would weaken India.

Freedom-fighter, historian and founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Dr K M Munshi wrote in Foreword to Volume 11, “In India the greatest danger is the formation of sub-nation States and linguistic chauvinism. Formation of states based on language was an administrative necessity and after Independence some adjustments were made but it was impossible to draw the boundaries of a state in such a manner as to totally exclude linguistic groups from the adjacent States. Nor is such a boundary necessary. We are citizens of India, not of any State, though the present trend is to identify oneself with his State rather than India.”


“This tendency has to be dealt with firmly without weakening the Centre or the federal bonds in any way. It has been the experience of history, that this subcontinent has fallen a prey to foreign invasion in the absence of a strong central authority. This lesson of history we had in mind when we adopted a quasi-federal constitution of India.” 1


What did Ambedkar say about India being a Union of States?

Article 1 of the Constitution states, “India i.e. Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”


Narayan Ramachandran quoted Ambedkar in the MINT, “the use of the term ‘Union’ is deliberate. The Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, the federation was not the result of an agreement by the states to join a federation and that the federation not being the result of an agreement, no state has the right to secede from it. It also explains the fact that the Union is indestructible but not the States; their identity can be altered or even obliterated."

Ten U.S. states that were once part of Mexico.


Now how did the U.S. become the United States of America?

1. The United States emerged from the Thirteen British Colonies established along the East Coast. Disputes with Great Britain representation led to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which established the nation's independence. Source Land acquired from France by the Louisiana Purchase (1803) nearly doubled the country’s territory.


2. U.S. bought Florida east and west from Spain, annexed Texas in 1845, acquired Oregon Territory from Britain in 1846,  Mexican Cession purchased from Mexico following military victory in 1848, Gadsden purchased from Mexico in 1853, Alaska purchased from Russia in 1867, Annexation of Hawaiian Islands in 1898 and Midway Islands in 1867 and so on. Source

Also read Annexation of Texas  And Annexation of Hawai 1898


3. 10 U.S. States that were once part of Mexcio Source 

California was under Mexican rule from 1821, when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, until 1848. Nevada and New Mexico are states that was once under Mexican control. Arizona came under U.S. control in 1848 and didn’t become a state until 1912. Before 1848, Arizona was part of the Mexican state of Sonora. Texas was part of Mexico, from 1821 to 1836. Read more Here


Also, “Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until 1898, when the U.S. gained control of it, as part of the terms ending the Spanish-American War.  Puerto Rico is one of 5 inhabited U.S. territories where People are U.S. citizens, pay federal taxes such as Social Security and Medicare – but not federal income tax. To read more and Source


India did acquire miniscule areas from Portugal and France. These were either merged with neighbouring states or given status of union territories. Goa became a state in 1987. However, they were part of India Cultural Unit before conquest.


It is not my intent to evaluate the circumstances under which these states became part of the U.S. The nature of any Constitution is a consequence of the historical moment when drafted.


The point being made is that unlike India which was always one geographical and cultural unit, U.S.A. increased its land mass through war, purchase, agreements etc. Indian states were re-organised to meet regional aspirations and for administrative purposes. India had cultural unity for centuries.


Also read Medical geography of India in Charaka Samhita

 Map in Charaka Samhita. Credit AYU Journal, Oct-Dec 2014 issue.  

A few key differences between U.S. and Indian States

In the U.S. every state has its own flag unlike India.


A Governor in the U.S. is “chief officer in their state. They function as the head of State government, therefore overseeing the proper functioning of the state. Additionally, many governors have significant influence over the legislature and judiciary, being able to veto state bills, appoint judges and in some states having either some or complete control over the ability to pardon a criminal sentence.” Most have terms of four years. Governors are elected as also the attorney generals. Source


In India the Governor is appointed by the President, does not have a fixed term and the powers as in the U.S. It is a titular post. Read Constitutional and Statutory Duties of the Governor of Texas


Each U.S. state has its own written constitution unlike India that has one constitution. Source


Powers not granted to the Federal government are reserved for States in the U.S. Source unlike India where there is State, Union and Concurrent List.


Concluding, author-lawyer J Sai Deepak wrote, “Bharat civilization may be understood as a federal civilization with multiple sub-identities that are free to retain their identities but have remained culturally and politically bound for millennia.” 2 Pg. 185.  Each state in the Union shall have the right to have its own regional language as its state language.


Just like every soul, every country is different. Whilst comparing India with other countries keep in mind that its culture, thought and evolution are unique.


Also read   Comparing Indic faiths vs Abrahamic religions-A Primer


Author does not claim to know it all. In case of any errors, please email edits with source document reference, shall change.



1. The History and Culture of Indian People

2. India that is Bharat by J. Sai Deepak

3. 26 districts of Madras Presidency


Also read

1. Names of Buddhist sites in Xinjiang-Sanskrit on the Silk Route

2. Scholar Pilgrims from India to China

3. Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is eternal

4. Ramayana in Southeast Asia

5. Samskriti, Sanskrit and Indonesia

6. Hindu Deities in Japan

7. Federalism Forms in India – informative

8. Union, State and Concurrent Lists

9. Formation of New States

Receive Site Updates