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Union vs Centre: Why DMK wants to use the ‘correct’ term for the government of India

Topics Covered: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Union vs Centre: Why DMK wants to use the ‘correct’ term for the government of India:


Context:

What is the accurate term to refer to the government of India that sits in New Delhi and forms, along with the states and local bodies, the Indian state?

  • Popularly – and often even in official communication – the institution is called the “Central government”. Or even just the Centre for short.
  • However, Tamil Nadu’s ruling party insists that the correct term is actually the “Union government”.

 

How did this controversy start?

Ever since the new DMK government assumed office on May 7, official statements and press releases have carried the Tamil term “Ondriya Arasu” to refer to the Union government. Earlier, the preferred term in state government communication seems to have been “Maththiya Arasu” or Central government.

  • According to its leaders, the Constitution describes India as a “Union of States” and therefore the ideal reference to the Centre would be the “Union Government”.

 

What does the Constitution of India say?

The Indian Constitution constantly uses the word “Union” to describe the entire country as well as the government that administers it.

For example, Article 53 reads, “the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President”.

  • This follows from Article 1 itself: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”.

Please note, Central government is a term not used in the original Constitution as passed by the Constituent Assembly.

 

Intent of Constituent Assembly:

Emphasis was on the consolidation and confluence of various provinces and territories to form a strong united country:

  1. This is why on December 13, 1946,  Jawaharlal Nehru introduced the aims and objects of the Assembly by resolving that India shall be a Union of territories willing to join the “Independent Sovereign Republic”.
  2. B.R Ambedkar justified the usage of ‘Union of States’ saying that the Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, it was not the result of an agreement and that therefore, no State has the right to secede from it.

 

Union vs Centre- which is better?

  1. ‘Centre’ or ‘Central government’ has a tendency of  centralising powers in one unit.
  2. The ‘Union government’ or the ‘Government of India’ has a unifying effect as the message sought to be given is that the government is of all.
  3. According to Subash Kashyap, using the term ‘Centre’ or ‘central government’ would mean state governments are subservient to it.

 

So why are there two terms at all?

The term is a carryover from colonial times.

The term was directly and indirectly used in the 1773 Regulating Act and the 1919 Government of India Act.

  • It was only in 1935, when a new Government of India Act proposed the term “Federation of India” was first used.
  • The modern term “Union” was first officially used in 1946 by the Cabinet Mission Plan, a British scheme to keep India united after transfer of power.

 

Significance of Tamil Nadu government’s decision:

The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to shun the usage of the term ‘Central government’ in its official communications and replace it with ‘Union government’ is a major step towards regaining the consciousness of our Constitution.

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

Articles 1 and 53 of the Indian Constitution.

Overview of:

  1. 1773 Regulating Act.
  2. The 1919 Government of India Act.
  3. Government of India Act 1935.

Mains Link:

Though India was to be a federation, it was not the result of an agreement and that therefore, no State has the right to secede from it. Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu.