Holding-together federalism in action: New Indian state of Telangana to be created

India is the classic case of what Alfred Stepan refers to as a “holding together” federation. In contrast to “coming together” federations, where (more or less) sovereign states band together to create a common central government to which the states surrender some of their sovereignty,* in a holding-together federation, a larger polity is subdivided into various sub-units that enjoy sovereignty over certain policy areas. Typically holding together is a strategy used to cope with ethnic divisions, by giving groups that are minorities in the larger polity their own states in which they constitute a majority.

India is a classic holding together federation because many of its current states did not exist when the country became independent in 1947, but rather have been created over the years in efforts to resolve various conflicts.

Such is the setting in which Telangana is about to be created, from within the existing borders of the very large southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the current capital of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, is to be included in the new state. As the Hindustan Times reports:

After nearly four decades of struggle for a separate state, the Telangana issue has reached a flashpoint. Under the leadership of K Chandrasekhar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has pressurised the Centre government to set a deadline for the formation of a separate Telangana state.

The TRS is a regional party that is currently a component of the National Democratic Alliance, in which the large national party is the BJP. This alliance has been in opposition since the 2004 election and lost rather badly in federal elections earlier this year. However, the TRS was formerly part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (led by the Congress Party, and currently in power).

In 2004, the Congress party and the TRS had an electoral alliance in the Telangana region with the promise of a separate Telangana state. TRS joined the coalition government in 2004 and was successful in making a separate Telangana state a part of the common minimum program (CMP). In September 2006, TRS withdrew support from the Congress-led coalition government.

Protests and violence finally have led the UPA to accept the demands to divide Andhra Pradesh, a state that has existed since 1956.

The Hindustan Times story has some interesting detail on the history of the region. Another article discusses the political crisis that has now erupted in Andhra: 92 state legislators and several MPs are resigning in protest.

* The classic coming-together federation is, of course, the USA. Switzerland is another case. One of Stepan’s key points is that most federations are “holding together,” and thus theories of federalism based on the assumption that the units, rather than the central polity, are the original source of sovereignty (such as the classic work of William Riker) are inadequate to explain most federal countries in the world today, including newly federalizing cases such as Belgium, Iraq, and perhaps now Bolivia.

16 thoughts on “Holding-together federalism in action: New Indian state of Telangana to be created

  1. Most of the states in the US were created by Congress under its power to create new states. The original “coming together” federation consists of only 13 of the current 50 states (and 4 of those tried to leave!). You can count Hawaii and Texas as sovereign entities that applied to join the US, even though arguably a majority of the people inhabiting these places would have objected at the time of annexation.

    That leaves 35 of the 50 created purely by act of Congress, in some cases, like Nevada and the two Dakotas, as a result of gerrymandering schemes.

    The US is an interesting example of federalism because of just how little state boundaries reflect economic, cultural, and demographic realities, for example all those rust belt cities bisected by state lines. This might have not been caused by the “coming together” nature of US federalism, but the widespread belief by Americans that they live in a “coming together” federation could be preventing fixing this.

  2. Yes, Ed, that is what I tell my students in my federalism lecture: only the original 13 “came together” in the most straightforward sense of the term. But the rest do not fit the “holding together” model, either, as none were carved from within the existing US polity. Rather, they were territories of one sort or another and, I believe, all of them formally “applied” to join the union. That is not to say it was a representative process, but that it kept the legal fiction of “coming together” alive in that separate entities joined with the larger entity.

    After the original 13, the US resembles Stepan’s other model, “putting together,” in that many of the later states came from territories that were settled and/or conquered, rather than sovereign entities in any real sense.

  3. The EU is/is becoming a much neater example of a “coming together” federal structure. They don’t have any settler-oriented territorial ambitions or easily dispossessed neighbors, so they’re likely to stay that way. Unlike the U.S. they have (sometimes quite long) histories as truly separate sovereign entities, unlike the original 13, which formed Congress even before officially severing their ties with the King (and therefore their personal union). Of course, they’re learning heavily on the American example, right down to their flag.

    I think West Virginia probably counts as “carved out”, but that’s kind of a special case.

  4. I the last sentence of the first paragraph “they’re” means “the EU is”. I added some stuff and the antecedent got lost. I wish the edit feature still worked.

  5. This is probably as good a place as any here to post a link showing how state boundaries are actually adjusted in the US. It covers the Congressional hearing on a very minor adjustment between Utah and Nevada, which apparently both states have agreed to:


    I’ve not found a comprehensive list of these historical cases on the internet, though I recommend Mark Stein’s book “How the States Got Their Shapes” for a hard cover treatment. Also Akhil Amar’s history of the Constitution was eye opening to the extent to which the US government, even after the Articles of Confederation, was first conceived as a union of sovereign entities.

    Ever since seeing Etzel Pearcy’s 38 state proposal I’ve been a big fan of comprehesively redrawing US state boundaries (particularly putting the New York city metropolitan area in one state and detaching it from the current upstate NY counties), but I’ve become convinced that this can only be done by a constitutional amendment abolishing the current states and setting up a process to create new ones. And if you abolish the states, you effectively abolish the Senate. Though maybe this wouldn’t be a bad effect.

  6. If they hadn’t agreed to it, it couldn’t be done. Under the Constitution, changes to state boundaries are by agreement of every interested state legislature and of Congress.

    I think I’ve seen the 38-state proposal you’re talking about. Wasn’t it partly based on population? It may not fit anymore, which would be a problem: states need to be more permanent than legislative districts for a variety of reasons, including some degree of clarity about which legal precedents apply where. Not that I’m entirely against changing state lines.

    It doesn’t seem that a comprehensive change is only possible through an amendment, unless you mean that it would be easier to get the agreement of three-fourths of state legislatures than all of them. But it’s easier to get a majority in each House of Congress than two-thirds. And anyway they’re both impossible, as concerns this particular reform. I don’t see any plausible path to the sort of major movement you’d need. On the other hand, individual changes as needed may well be possible, since the locals involved might be motivated to change their own particular arrangements. If it catches on, you might get an almost-comprehensive redrawing, one piece at a time.

    Isn’t redrawing states different from abolishing them? If these new states are states, the original 13 would remain the paradigmatic states, even if they don’t exist anymore. You’d need something else to abolish the Senate, I think.

  7. Friday’s and Saturday’s news from India shows a Congress Party leadership backing off on its commitment to form the state, at least right away. They apparently did not expect the reaction from elsewhere (including within their own party) within Andhra Pradesh.

  8. «I think West Virginia probably counts as “carved out”, but that’s kind of a special case.»

    And Maine?

  9. Here is Pearcy’s 38 state proposal: http://www.tjc.com/38states/. Of course there are others, a fifty state redrawing can be found here: http://www.rev.net/~aloe/region/county.html.

    A change to a state boundary in the US needs the agreement of both houses of Congress, plus the state legislatures of both states involved. This requires the agreement of four separate legislative bodies, which means that even a very minor adjustment is time consuming and difficult.

    In addition, a state legislature will presumably never agree to abolish itself, which effectively rules out consolidation. Nor will a state agree to give up territory unless it gets an equivalent amount (and tax revenue) back. I don’t see how any meaningful reorganization can be accomplished under these conditions.

    To take one obvious example, Delaware, one of the original thirteen states, is unusually small by both geography and population. It exists south of Philadelphia in the northeast, and except for the Delaware river isn’t marked off by any obvious geographical features or cover a distinct area. Not surprisingly, it functions largely as a tax and regulatory haven, sort of the American version of the Jersey Isles. But its simply impossible to fix this because the Delaware legislature will never agree to abolish itself.

    Likewise, the existance of New Jersey, to the north, splits two major metropolitan areas, New York and Philadephia, with some huge and mostly negative administrative consqeuences. But most of the people in New Jersey live in the New York metropolitan area. You simply can’t put most of the metropolitan area into one state without effectively abolishing New Jersey, which obviously the New Jersey state government will never agree to.

    Likewise, proposals to retrocede most of the District of Columbia to Maryland, which would give the residents there voting Congressional representation, are non-starters because Maryland politicians don’t want the extra voters (usually, the political base of Maryland politicians powerful in state politics is in the Baltimore area). The standard proposal to fix the problem of the lack of representation of DC voters in Congress is to make the district a state, which would mean you would have a state that would not even cover an entire city -a significant part of downtown Washington is in Virginia. At least Congress could fix this unilaterally, as there is nothing in the Constitution which makes having a federal district mandatory. Congress could just abolish the federal district on its own.

    If US state boundaries are to be redrawn, it really would be simpler to pass an amendment wiping all the states off the map, then setting up a new process to create new states. In fact, since the Constitution already gives Congress authority to create new states out of territories, you really only need an amendment reducing all the existing states to territorial status. Of course, there is the same problem of getting state legislators to agree to their own abolishment.

    Such an amendment would abolish the Senate. Each state is entitled to two Senators, so the size of the Senate equals the number of states times two. If the number of states were reduced to zero, then the size of the Senate would be zero times two, or zero. There would be no Senators. This wouldn’t even run afoul of the provision guaranteeing all states equal reprsentation. The House of Representatives and the President would have to work around there being no Senators, maybe the Vice President could serve the Senate’s function (by breaking all the 0-0 tie votes) if absolutely necessary.

    Abolishing the states would be the US equivalent of abolishing the monarchy in some other countries. Their existance is so embedded in how the US is administered that everything would be reset. This would be more radical than a new constitutional convention.

  10. West Virginia was created by the agreement of the Virginia state legislature. Of course, the Virginia state legislature was a puppet legislature set up by the federal government, what most people would regard as the actual Virginia state legislature having voted for seccession one year earlier. The puppet legislature became the new West Virginia state legislature. The boundaries were drawn largely to make sure a critical railroad supplying Washington was in the new state.

    The state of Maine was carved out of Massachusetts with the agreement of the Massachusetts state legislature, as part of a one of the series of political compromises patching over the slavery question, and this time there was no funny business.

    Maine and West Virginia have much lower populations, are much poorer, and are much more rural than the remainder of Massachusetts and Virginia, so neither original state really misses the lost territory. But the legality of the existance of West Virginia rests on very thin grounds, its just no one has been upset enough by the existance of that state to contest it.

  11. One more note, the two biggest problems with the current map of US state is the splitting of the metropolitan areas of the capital and the largest city into several jurisdictions. This disenfranchises part of the population of Washington, and creates a huge amount of administrative redunancy and regulator arbitrage. Its not been addressed because through most of its history the US has been wealthy enough to afford this sort of thing.

    It would be possible to pass a constitutional amendment just addressing this problem, by creating two new states consisting just of the NY and DC metropolitan areas. No more than six states would be affected (NY, NJ, MD, VA, and PA and DE depending on what is done with the rump of New Jersey), so they could be bypassed by the other 44, but the other states would have to care enough to pass any such amendment.

    There have been proposals to split up California, and I’m surprised no eccentric billionaire has sponsored an initiative to that effect. If Calfornians voted on an initiative to split up their state they could do so, pending agreement from Congress.

  12. If we are going to redraw boundaries so that (as the second website notes) “Broadcasting markets are united,” then yes, State borders would be not that much more permanent than Congressional districts. (“Well, we’ve finally completed, in this year 1996, the State Borders Revision project commenced in 1981… Internet? What’s that?”). This would in turn play havoc with the political balanced in the Upper House – which often is ensured by devices such as proportional representation (Australian Senate) or admitting new States in pairs, one slave and one free (USA pre-1860). People may tolerate unequal apportionment if it’s deliberate and beyond any hint of gerrymandering (at least by present-day politicians).

    My impression from here is that India’s regular revisions (which seem to be the most frequent of any polity that can call itself a federal constitutional democracy… Germany and South Africa are a very distant second) are tolerated because the Rajya Sabha is already weighted heavily (not, of course, 100%) by population and is not particularly powerful (overrideable by majority in joint sitting – Lower House twice the size – no requirement for referendum, intervening election, super-majority, etc). Like Canadian Provinces, India’s States seem to view their best protectors as the premiers rather than the federal Senator.

    Having lived near the Canberra/ Queanbeyan border, and the Gold Coast/ Tweed Heads border (the latter being exacerbated by New South Wales using Daylight Saving but Queensland not. I was once told by a Tweed-based public servant that he had lined up his work computer for repairs with a Queensland-based tech someone recommended, four blocks to the north, but found that his designated repair centre was in New South Wales … at Coffs Harbour, six hours’ drive away!), and having observed DC-area cabbies put the cellphone down while they drive through the District and pick it up when they emerge into Maryland or Virginia)…

    One way to resolve this dilemma might be to separate the two functions of that existing States serve and have “provinces” for sub-national governments (somewhere between the four of Nigeria and the 80 of Russia), with their own elected legislatures and executives, but base representation in the federal Upper House on larger “regions” – say, five for Australia, 10 for the US – with all, or a large percentage, of the Senate seats being divided equally among the regions before those remaining (if any) are apportioned by population.

    Analogous to the setup in, say, Western Australia where the State is divided into Legislative Council regions with relatively fixed borders (and per capita representation with only semi-regard for population), and also into separate local governments which don’t necessarily fit within the regions. I am not in favour of this at subnational level, but for the Upper House of a federation

    States are smaller in area, and more homogenous, so there is less risk of one section being utterly disregarded by another (Sydney – and Melbourne-based federal MPs sitting at Canberra would be more blasé about locating a nuclear waste dump near Perth than Perth-based State MPs would be)

    Canada, interestingly, was ahead of this in 1867 with the Senate being set up to “represent” (insofar as Canadian Senators “represent” anyone except deceased or superannuated Prime Ministers) the four regions rather than the ten Provinces per se – obscured by the fact that the Big Two, Ontario and Quebec, are both a Province and a Senate region at once.

    The important point is that Regions would not have any governmental structure. They would be electoral districts only (unlike, eg, the two levels of subnational government – 50-60 provinces and 17-20 Regions – in Spain and Italy).

    • The problem is that Canada, where senators in theory represent equal divisions 9f the country, has seen the divisions harden into artificial entities just as sclerotic as the states in other federations. Canadian divisions have no government structure, as you advocate for regions, and should, if your proposal were workable, be getting rationalised at regular intervals.

      Virginia showed identical behaviour in the nineteenth century.

      Virginia Constitution 1830, Article III, Section 2:

      2. One of these shall be called The House of Delegates, and shall consist of one hundred and thirty­four members, to be chosen, annually, for and by the several counties, cities, towns and boroughs of the Commonwealth; whereof thirty­one Delegates shall be chosen for and by the twenty­six counties lying West of the Allegheny mountains; twenty­five for and by the fourteen counties lying between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge of mountains; forty­two for and by the twenty­nine counties lying East of the Blue Ridge of mountains and above tide­water ; and thirty six for and by the counties, cities, towns and boroughs lying upon tide­water, that is to say:[…]

      The great districts were never reapportioned and in fact the 1830 constitution prohibited any reapportionment of them, while requiring decennial reapportionment within the great districts.

      The state was organised into ‘great divisions’ for the senate and ‘great districts’ for the house of burgesses that were designed to ensure that the Tidewater would always dominate both houses. Several other states followed similar practices that allowed the early-settled area of the state to dominate later settled areas, but Virginia is the best known. West Virginia largely corresponds to one of the great districts that was denied fair representation throughout the entire antebellum period.

      And let’s not even mention the zonal scheme in Queensland.

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