Explained: ‘Union’ or ‘central’ government?

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Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Understanding of subtle differences between often used terms is what will make your preparation meaningful and worthy. You can use this knowledge in essay and in your GS answers too.

Synopsis: In Tamil Nadu, a controversy erupted recently over the new DMK government referring to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the ‘union government’ (ondriya arasu) instead of ‘central government'(madhiya arasu).

Rationale given by Tamil Nadu govt

As per the Tamil Nadu govt, the word ondriyam (union) stands for the principles of federalism.

  • The word signifies federal principles underlined in the Constitution which describes India as a “union of states”.
Also Read: Union govt has a unifying effect
Centre vs Union – Does it matter?

The question in the ‘Union or Centre’ debate is about the nature of the Indian state. While it often said what’s in a name but usage of the word ‘Union’ does have a kind of unifying effect, while the word ‘Centre’ does have centralistic overtones. Also we need to consider the following ground realities:

  • Nature of Indian state is federal with a unitary bias: In the Government of India Act, 1935, provinces had more power and the Viceroy had only the minimum. But the Indian constitution changed this equation, and the federal government was made more powerful. Presently, the actual power is vested with the Union of India in all respects. So, the debate over using Centre or Union is of no consequence.
  • Language issue: There’s a language issue too. More than 70 years after Independence, there is no authorized Tamil translation of the Constitution of India. Hence, Tamil Nadu has seen consistent efforts to present words in a better form of Tamil, especially after the DMK came to power in the mid-1960s.
What is the constitutional position on the issue?
  • Under Article 1 of our, Constitution India is clearly described as a Union of States. Article 1 mentions that India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.
  • While submitting the draft Constitution in 1948, Dr B R Ambedkar, chairman of the drafting committee, had said that the committee had used the world ‘Union’ because (a) the Indian federation was not the result of an agreement by the units, and (b) the component units had no freedom to secede from the federation.


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