Political scientists have classified governments into unitary and federal based on the nature of the relationship between the national government and regional governments. By definition, a unitary government is one in which all powers are vested in the national government, and regional governments, if they exist, derive their authority from the national government. On the other hand, a federal government is one in which powers are divided between the national government and regional governments by the Constitution itself, and both operate independently within their own jurisdictions.
Britain, France, Japan, China, Italy, Belgium, Norway. Sweden, Spain etc. have a unitary model of government whereas America, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Argentina etc. have a federal model of government. In the federal model, the national government is known as the federal government, central government or union government, and the regional government is known as the state government or provincial government.
The word ‘Federation’ is derived from the Latin word fedus which means ‘treaty’ or ‘agreement’. Thus, federation is a new state (political system) formed through a treaty or agreement between different units. The units of a federation are known by various names such as state (as in the US) or canton (as in Switzerland) or province (as in Canada) or republic (as in Russia).
A union can be formed in two ways, namely through amalgamation or through dissolution. In the first case, several militarily weak or economically backward states (independent) come together to form a larger and stronger union, for example, the US. In the second case, a large unitary state is transformed into a federation by granting autonomy to the provinces to promote regional interests (for example, Canada). America is the first and oldest union in the world. It was formed in 1787 after the American Revolution (1775–83). It consists of 50 states (originally 13 states) and is taken as the model of federation. The Canadian Federation, consisting of 10 provinces (originally 4 provinces), is much older, having been formed in 1867.
The Constitution of India provides for a federal government system in the country. The makers adopted the federal system because of two main reasons, the large size of the country and its socio-cultural diversity. He felt that the federal system not only ensures efficient governance of the country but also harmonizes national unity with regional autonomy.
However, the word ‘Federation’ is not used anywhere in the Constitution. Instead, Article 1 of the Constitution describes India as a ‘Union of States’. According to Dr BR Ambedkar, the phrase ‘Confederation of States’ is preferred to ‘Federation of States’ to indicate two things: (i) The Indian Federation is the result of an agreement between the states like the American Federation and (ii) the States have no right to secede from the Union. The federation is a union because it is indestructible.
The Indian federal system is based on the ‘Canadian model’ and not on the ‘American model’. The ‘Canadian Model’ differs fundamentally from the ‘American Model’ in that it establishes a much stronger centre. The Indian federation resembles the Canadian federation in its formation (i.e., through dissolution) (i); (ii) in its preference for the term ‘federal’ (the Canadian federation is also called ‘the Union’); and (iii) in its centralizing tendency (i.e., vesting more powers in the Center than in the states).