The Formation of the Indian State

The main aim of the reorganisation at that stage was to build political unity in a culturally diverse country.


This article looks into the following questions:

How was the state formation process in India affected by the twin processes of partition and states reorganisation?

How did the existing state-society interactions and relationships impact upon the formation of the Indian state soon after Independence?

the formation of the indian state
Members of the Constituent Assembly in the process of making India’s Constitution.

Various complex historical, political, social, economic, and ideological factors were responsible for shaping the Indian state. All these factors shaped the kind of institutions we created, the kind of constitution we adopted and the kind of state we formed soon after independence. Understanding the Indian state thus requires an understanding of particularly the historical and political contexts in which it evolved. It is through the lens of this historical and political trajectory that we can analyse the state formation process in independent India.

Significant factors among others that hugely affected the state formation process in India were the twin processes1 of partition and states reorganisation. On the other hand, the existing state- society interactions and relationships also impacted upon the formation of Indian state in the aftermath of independence. The aim of this essay is to provide a critical and empirical response to how and in what ways these factors affected and impacted upon the state formation process in India, and to enquire if these were the only factors that had an impact upon the state formation process in India in post-independent era.

I take into account the term ‘processes’ of partition in this inquiry. This term here is supposed to imply that the question we are discussing is not just the partition as a historical incident that happened in one day; rather it was an ongoing process that was taking place for many days. This distinction will enable us to avoid the misleading assumption that partition took place in one day. Even though it legally happened in one day, the real picture was different. It was intertwined with so many things, so many issues, so many lives.

The Twin Processes of Partition and States Reorganisation, and How They Affected the State Formation Process in India

The independence of the subcontinent was marked by the century’s one of the most unfortunate events of partition of India and Pakistan. There are different historical as well as fictional narratives of partition, and there are variations in these narratives. But what was certain about Partition was the communal violence that resulted from it. There were unending rampant communal violence, mass migration, large influx of refugees coming from Pakistan, the problem of resettlement of these refugees, and the fear of insecurity, instability and disintegration in the country.

In India’s context, the historical and political context of partition played a significant role in and affected the state formation process soon after independence. For the first time in the sub-continent’s history, territorial expression of the newly independent state became essentially important. India could no longer be a territorially vague state. This is substantiated by the fact that India has been strongly trying to secure its borders since independence. Though there have been incidences that it has lost its territory to neighbouring countries during the two wars, India has been constantly trying to defend and secure its border. Today, we cannot understand what India as a sovereign state is without its territorial expression. What we understand India because of its distinct culture, tradition, people, etc. is different from understanding India as a sovereign state; and territory is one important aspect of understanding State. For both India and Pakistan, Gilmartin insists, ‘it was partition … that irrevocably fixed the territorial definition of the nation-state as the colonial era ended.”

Some scholars say that India is not a territorial expression, rather it is an idea, a tradition, and/or an aspiration. What I want to say is that the territorial expression of State is very obvious after India’s independence. Territory is something that the Indian state has been constantly taking into consideration in almost its policies and a single step into its territorial boundary by external forces without its consent is officially considered a national security threat. Today, India is a territorial expression. This might not be true before independence, but this is what it is today. And, I find the use of such terms as idea, tradition and aspiration to denote India anachronistic. Is India still an idea, a tradition, or aspiration? Can we see India as such today? Does not India exist other than an idea, a tradition, or an aspiration? The idea of India that is constructed without keeping into consideration its present territorial expression is a mere utopia.

It was just nine years after the independence and the Partition that the reorganisation of states was carried out in India following the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission (1956). Consequently, the Partition and the states reorganisation had to significantly affect the state formation process in the newly independent India.

I strongly believe that the Partition affected the process of states reorganisation in India in a huge manner. The constant reminding of security and stability of the country as well as the economic development of the country when the process for reorganisation of states was initiated was in many ways the impact of Partition. No one wanted another partition in the country; no one wanted any disintegration in the country. This was something that the national leaders constantly kept in mind when they initiated the process of states reorganisation in India soon after independence.

Amidst discussions, debates, agreements and disagreements, the process of reorganisation of states began in India in 1956. The reorganisation of states had the difficult task of integrating the princely states and other regions. The main aim of the reorganisation at that stage was to build political unity in a culturally diverse country. During this period, demands for regional and territorial recognition of cultural identities by various linguistic and social-ethnic communities and groups had already begun to affect the broader process of state formation in various parts of the country. One major factor in the process of reorganisation of states was language. In fact, language became the main criteria for the reorganisation of states in independent India. This is a big debate and it will take a long discussion, therefore, I do not intend to discuss it here.

Asha Sarangi in one of her writings points out the ‘moral dilemma’ that Nehru had to confront on how to build an economically and politically strong and durable state, within a culturally plural and socially diversified social order, by cohabiting the ideology of political democracy and cultural secularity in a mutually sustainable manner.

Naturally, the twin processes of Partition and states reorganisation affected the state formation process in India. Nehru and other Congress leaders’ strong concern for unity, integrity, security and stability of the newly independent India could be basically due to the prevailing rampant communal conflict and the fear of further disintegration of the country left by the unexpected Partition. The support for a strong and centralised government at the centre both by Nehru and Ambedkar as well as other national leaders was to ensure that the independent India did not disintegrate, that there was stability, and that there could be faster economic development in the country. At the same time, the Indian state was designed as a ‘loose federal state’ where a cordial relationship between the Centre and the states could be maintained with the Centre having the upper hand. To repeat, having a strong Centre was felt necessary to maintain a secured and stable India which was already shaken by Partition.

(Various expressions are given to define the kind of federalism that India has adopted. I don’t want to subscribe to any of such expressions since I believe that the type of federalism we have is one that we formulate to suit our political context. However, I think that there is some unclear and Centre-dominated relationship between the Centre and the states in terms of power sharing and this is what I do mean by ‘loose federalism’.)

It is said that the Partition made it possible for Nehru to realise his vision for an Independent India, with a strong central government capable of planned development.

Thus, what form of state the newly independent India would take or become was hugely influenced and affected by the twin processes of Partition and states reorganisation.

Existing State-Society Interactions and Relationships, and Its Impact upon the Formation of Indian State soon after Independence

Other than Partition and states reorganisation, one important factor that significantly impacted upon the state formation process in India soon after independence was the existing state-society interactions and relationships.

The existing social structure of India in the aftermath of Independence and Partition was characterised by various problems of social and economic inequalities. There were problems of caste, poverty, low income, communal mistrust and hatred, resettlement of refugees, and many other problems at national as well as local levels. Economically, India was having a very low per capita income, huge population with poverty. Socially, there were social hierarchies, social fragmentation and other forms of social inequalities and backwardness such as the lack of education. To put it short, socially, politically and economically, India was never considered to be ready for the Western model of parliamentary democracy that its leaders eagerly wanted to install.

The newly independent Indian state, thus, required to get involved in the existing political, economic and social problems. There was the need for constant interaction between the state and the society at various levels. The form of the existing state-society interaction and relationship was such that the social problems could not be seen separately from the problems of the state and vice versa. The newly independent state and the existing society had to evolve side by side. And, this state-society interaction and relationship hugely impacted upon the state formation process in India. The Indian state had to be designed keeping in view the social and cultural reality of the existing society.

Therefore, the Indian state was modelled to be an inclusive and democratic state. “Adjustments were made that reflected indigenous cultural and behavioural patterns.”

Because of its religious, cultural and linguistic heterogeneity, the Indian state was designed to express all this diversity with political unity. We find such expressions in the basic features of our Constitution such as secularism, socialism, democracy, and other constitutional provisions such as uniform civil code, different schedules for minority communities as well as minority languages to name a few.

Towards Conclusion

What we can critically analyse in this topic of discussion is whether the form of Indian state that we have today is a result of compromise between the factors of Partition, states reorganisation and the state-society interaction that existed soon after independence. And, whether all these factors were kept in mind and responded satisfactorily by the then political leaders is still questionable. If that is the case, it is also questionable how far these factors influenced the state formation process in India.

On the other hand, as Partha Chatterjee asked, was not the Indian state just an inherited stock of the colonial empire?

The political ideology of the national leaders, particularly Nehru, hugely influenced the state formation process in the newly independent India. However, we cannot also neglect the impact of Partition, states reorganisation and existing state-society interaction prevalent in that era in the state formation process in India.

Further, many features of the Indian state were inherited from the colonial empire. But, it was not copy and paste. These features were debated, discussed, analysed, examined, contested and modified or, in other words, made to suit the existing social, political and economic reality of our society. That was why, when Western democratic system was considered to become a failure in the Indian society, it actually transformed it and India succeeded in becoming a democratic state despite limitations still.

One may not be able to give satisfactory answers to all queries regarding the state formation process in India which happened to be a herculean task. The state formation process in India or elsewhere could not be done in one day, one month, one year, or ten years. It had to be a continuing and evolving process. However, there are certain features of the Indian state that tells about its evolution and the possible factors for taking such form. The features of strong centre, loose federalism, secularism, and many other socially inclusive provisions in our Constitution are few examples. All these features reflect the factors that shaped the formation of the Indian state, i. e., the Partition, states reorganisation and the existing state-society interactions in the aftermath of independence.


1 Sarangi, Asha and Sudha Pai, 2011, Interrogating Reorganisation of States: Culture, Identity and Politics in India, Routledge.

2 Brass, Paul, 1990 (2008), The Politics of India since Independence, Cambridge University.

3 Rudolph and Rudolph, Federalism as State Formation in India: A Theory of Shared and Negotiated Sovereignty, International Political Science Review, 31 (5), 2010.

This article was written as part of my Masters paper.

Published by

Heigrujam Premkumar

I love to read. I love to write. On all things I am passionate about. Tweet me at @heigrujampk

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