Are the states too strong?

In India, assertion by states doesn't preclude, and in fact nurtures, national cohesion

Centre-state debates are back on the political agenda. Should state governments have power over the appointment of Lokayuktas? Is Delhi not free to form a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC)? Can regional parties, such as the DMK, dictate India's policy towards Sri Lanka? Should "state bosses" order cabinet ministers from their political parties to resign?

Many are asking if Delhi has become too weak. In some quarters, the question is even more starkly posed: is India becoming like the European Union, a congeries of nations with little central coordination or control?

Such concern is not new. India's British rulers often said India was a geographical construct, not a nation. Mark Twain, one of America's all-time literary giants, thought the same. After travelling in India for two and half months in 1896, he was filled with admiration for India, but also concluded that Indian unity was impossible: "India had... the first civilisation; she had the first accumulation of material wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects; ...It would seem as if she should have kept the lead, and should be today not the meek dependent of an alien master, but mistress of the world... in truth, there was never any possibility of such supremacy for her... Where there are eighty nations and several hundred governments, fighting and quarrelling must be the common business of life; unity of purpose and policy are impossible; ...patriotism can have no healthy growth."

Whether India can dominate the world, if only united, is worthy of reflection, but it need not detain us here. Whether India's diversity cripples the evolution of national feeling and unity of purpose requires commentary, especially in light of current Indian controversies.

A recent book, Crafting State-Nations (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), by Alfred Stepan (Columbia), Juan Linz (Yale), and Yogendra Yadav (CSDS), provides remarkably insightful guidance. It proposes a new concept, the state-nation, to capture the essence of the relationship between states and nationhood in India. It also puts India in comparative perspective, using materials from Spain, Canada and Belgium.

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