The Constitution of India is regarded as a federal constitution but, interestingly, the word federation’ has not been used. Instead, the word ‘Union’ has been used.
Dr. Ambedkar himself described the Draft Constitution, which he was placing before the Constituent Assembly, as ‘federal in structure’.
The Indian Constitution provides a federal system of government with clear division of powers between the Centre and the states. It grants significant power to the states in legislative, administrative and financial matters. Some political scientists and experts view Indian polity as “quasi-federal” as they argue that the system may be federal in form but unitary in substance.
Unitary features include single citizenship, a common judicial system with the Supreme Court at the top, Common Comptroller and Auditor General, election commission etc. The evolution of Indian federalism in its present form owes something to geographical factors as well as historical changes.
Federalism is born when the political units in a region possess strong identities which create in them a genuine desire to maintain their separate existence even as they share certain vital features which call for a strongly co-ordinated and united existence. Thus, federalism can be viewed as a response to the enormous diversities that exist within the state.
An important reason for the development of a federal type of political structure is the large size. The extensive geographical spread of the country is conducive to the growth of regional diversities in the social milieu. Even with modern developments in transport and communications, it is difficult to administer such large territories with a unitary system. In India, there are 28 states and 7 union territories.
The diversity of natural physiographic features has contributed to the emergence of different forms and patterns of interaction between human beings and nature in the different regions of India.
India shows remarkable variations in physical features: senile topography in the Deccan, youthful contours of the Himalayas, the highest peaks of the world, monotonous plains, an intricate weaving of channels in the Bengal Delta, an almost complete absence of surface flow in the Thar, some of the wettest regions of the world as well as some of driest areas, dense growth of tropical forests in the North-East, extensive tracts devoid even of a blade of grass in some regions.
The people of India have, for aeons, interacted and come to terms with these different environments. As a consequence, their responses to the specific landscapes have distinct regional flavours. The food habits, styles of clothing and shelter, economic activities, dialects, festivals, all acquire a regional stamp.
India has been a home to immigrants from various regions over time. They have come by different routes—by sea to the west and the south, and though the mountain passes in the northwest and in the north-east. They have concentrated in different regions and given rise to distinct cultural aspects
In the circumstances, a federal system becomes necessary if the regional diversity is to be accommodated in governing the country.