Editorial Analysis for 17th September 2020

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Nationalism and the crisis of federalism


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • Unless the attack on coalescent, democratic nationalism is curbed, cracks might appear in a distinctive Indian project
  • This editorial talks about problems that lies in a flawed understanding of nationalism and the government’s disregard for democratic principles.

Three nationalisms

Two broad conceptions of nationalism were developed in the subcontinent before India achieved Independence.

  1. The idea that a community with a strongly unified culture must have a single state of its own, bifurcated into two nationalisms.
  2. One defined culture in ethno-religious terms and was articulated by the curiously similar Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.
  3. Hindus and Muslims were separate nations and needed states of their own.
  • For the Hindu Mahasabha, Indian nationalism simply had to be Hindu nationalism.
  1. This primacy of Hindu identity potentially had adverse consequences not only for religious but also linguistic minorities, including those Hindus who viewed their mother tongue as important as their religion.
  2. Manifestation of the same conception was articulated by sections of the Congress party which too saw the nation as defined by a common culture whose adherents must have a state of their own.
  3. this common culture was not ethno-religious.
  4. It was defined instead by shared historical experience, the struggle against British colonial rule, and developed through an interpenetration of ideas emanating from different cultural sources.
  • A civic Indian identity, shaped at best by a thin composite culture, trumps other public identities, including linguistic ones.
  1. A third nationalism accepts that communities nourished by distinct, territorially concentrated regional cultures have the capacity to design states of their own as also educational, legal, economic, and other institutions.
  2. They possess self-governing rights. Yet, they eschew independent national aspirations, seeing themselves as constituents of a larger, equally significant common culture with another state that belongs to everyone.
  3. Indeed, they build on this shared culture and come together to consolidate the nation.
  • Occasional conflicts between the common culture of the central state and distinct cultures of constituent states are admitted but mechanisms to prevent them are also created.

Being linguistically federal

  • In the 1930s, all three conceptions circulated among political elites in India.
  • By the 1940s, however, coalescent nationalism was submerged by the other two.
  • After Partition, India rejected ethno-religious nationalism but its ruling elites, obsessed about the dangers of further fragmentation, began to view with suspicion the political expression of even linguistic identities.
  • Second, like religious identities, it might ‘freeze’ linguistic identities and increase the likelihood of inter-ethnic violence, encourage separatism and eventually lead to India’s break up.
  • Thus, when the Constitution came into force in 1950, India adopted unitary, civic nationalism as its official ideology.
  • Though a federal arrangement was accepted, the second tier of government was justified in functional terms not on ethical grounds of the recognition of group cultures.
  • The security and unity of India were cited as the primary reason.
  • A unitary mindset shaped by the experience of a centralised colonial state was resurrected and it seemed that the idea of a coalescent nationalism with multi-cultural federation was lost forever.
  • A special commission to examine this issue concluded that language-based provinces were ‘not in the larger interests of the Indian nation’.

How The third nationalism is on the backburner

  • This happened when the fledgling Indian democratic state was forced to encounter mass politics.
  • Demands for autonomy, for sharing political power were immediately made by regional leaders.
  • The issue of linguistic States became the focus of popular agitation forcing the creation, in 1953, of the State of Andhra for Telugu-speaking people.
  • Soon after, a commission to reorganise States on a linguistic basis was set up.
  • The committee argued that justice requires the creation of partially self-governing States that recognise all major linguistic groups.
  • A robust democratic arena allows the play of complementary multiple identities, and through dialogue, discussion and negotiation, helps to resolve disputes.
  • Following the Committee’s recommendations, States were reorganised in 1956.
  • In 1966, Haryana was separated from Punjab to become an independent state. Much later, States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand were carved out.
  • India slowly became a coalescent nation-state, moving from the ‘holding together’ variety to what is called the ‘coming together’ form of (linguistic) federalism.
  • This meant that regional parties were stronger than earlier in their own regions and at the centre.
  • This sowed seeds of a more durable centre because it was grounded more on the consent and participation of regional groups that, at another level, were also self-governing.
  • Indian federalism also attempted to remove its rigidities by incorporating asymmetries in the relation between the Centre and different States.
  • Treating all States as equals required the acknowledgement of their specific needs and according them differential treatment.

Various Committees for state reorganization:

Dhar Commission:

  • The Linguistic Provinces Commission under the chairmanship of S K Dhar was set up by the central government in June 1948.
  • The commission recommended that the formation of provinces on exclusively or even mainly linguistic considerations is not in the larger interests of the Indian Nation.

JVP committee:

  • The Congress set up the JVP Committee comprising of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya to study the recommendations of the Dhar Commission.
  • It too rejected language as the basis for the reorganization of states for the time being but also acknowledged that overwhelming public sentiment could necessitate this in the future.

Fazl Ali Commission:

  • The three-member states reorganization commission under the chairmanship of Fazl Ali was appointed in 1953 to re-examine the issue.
  • It recommended the abolition of the existing four-fold classification of states. Consequently, the States Reorganization Act was passed in 1956.

New order in west Asia


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • The Abraham Accords, signed in the White House on Tuesday by the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, under U.S. President Donald Trump’s mediation, clearly mark a new beginning in the relations between the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdoms and the Jewish state.
  • Under the agreement, the UAE and Bahrain would normalise ties with Israel, heralding better economic, political and security engagement.

Backing of Saudi Arabia

  • More Arab countries are expected to follow suit, say U.S. and Israeli officials.
  • The agreements have the backing of Saudi Arabia, arguably the most influential Arab power and a close ally of the UAE and Bahrain.
  • Riyadh has opened its airspace for commercial flights between the UAE and Israel.
  • The accords, the first between Israel and Arab countries since the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty, also offer a rare diplomatic win to Trump, whose other foreign policy bets, be it Iran or North Korea, were either disastrous or stagnant.

Impact on West Asia’s myriad conflicts

  • Though historical and geopolitical significance, it is too early to say whether the accords will have any meaningful impact on West Asia’s myriad conflicts.
  • Unlike Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively, the Gulf countries are not frontline states in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • They had established backroom contacts with Israel years ago; what is happening now is their normalisation.

The agreements leave the Palestinian question largely unaddressed:

  • With Arab countries signing diplomatic agreements with Israel bilaterally, the Arab collective support for the Palestinian movement for nationhood, which has been the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, is crumbling.
  • But it does not mean that the Palestinian question would fade away.
  • The vacuum left by the retreat of the Arab powers from the Israel-Palestine conflict is being filled by the non-Arab Muslim powers – Iran, Turkey and their allies.

The UAE-Bahrain agreements are in fact endorsing the region’s emerging order:

  • With the U.S. in retreat and Turkey and Iran pursuing more aggressive foreign policies, there is a three-way contest taking shape, in which Sunni-ruled Arab kingdoms, all American allies, are realigning their geopolitical interests with Israel.
  • The Abraham Accords are likely to sharpen this contest.
  • If Trump and the signatories to the accords want to bring peace here as they have claimed, they should address the more structural issues, which include the unresolved question of Palestine.

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