July 6, 2021
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What’s in a name?

To: either/view subscribers

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War of words: Is it the ‘Central’ or ‘Union’ government?

Recently, a controversy erupted in Tamil Nadu after Chief Minister MK Stalin referred to the government of India as ‘Union government.’ By not using the term ‘Central government,’ his party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was suspected of having an ulterior motive. However, DMK claimed that the term ‘Union government’ was constitutionally correct and the party did not have any ill intentions.


On June 4, MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu government addressed the Centre as ‘Ondriya Arasu’ (Union Government) instead of the age-old practice of calling it ‘Madhiya Arasu’ (Central Government). This small linguistic change sparked controversy between the state political parties. 

As per the Constitution,

  • The usage of the term ‘Union government’ originates from Article 1 (1) of the Indian Constitution – “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” Article 53(1) reasserts that – “The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President.”
  • Alternatively, the term ‘Central government’ does not find a definitive place in the original Constitution. However, in the General Clauses Act, 1897 it has been mentioned that –

“Central Government shall, in relation to anything done or to be done after the commencement of the Constitution, mean the President.”

Hidden agenda behind the usage of ‘Union government’

Opposition parties suspected that the DMK was playing a political game by making this verbal change. BJP MLA Nainar Nagendran from Tirunelveli asked if there was any hidden agenda behind this. He alleged that the present government had suddenly invented a new term that none of its late leaders like Arignar Anna or M Karunanidhi had used.

Following this, the state unit of BJP and allied parties accused DMK of trying to separate the state from India. K Krishnaswamy, Puthiya Tamizhagam leader alleged that by using ‘Union Government,’ the DMK aimed to undermine the position of the Centre.  

BJP leaders condemned that using ‘Ondriya arasu’ was DMK’s confrontation approach against the government of India. The party’s state General Secretary KT Raghavan questioned why DMK started using ‘Union’ only after May 2, 2021. He alleged that they had been using the term ‘Centre’ before elections and changed track after coming to power.

Raghavan pointed out that there was no need to reintroduce an out-of-practice phrase. The motive behind using the term was to instil the idea of a separate Dravida Nadu in people’s minds. He stated that the country is an entity, and the states are merely administrative units. He also urged the CM to revert to the use of ‘Central government.’

There were pleas lodged in front of the court to direct the CM and other ministers to refrain from using the phrase ‘Union government.’ The petitions implored the Centre to educate people of Tamil Nadu about the need to respect the country by calling its official name in writings.

‘Union Government’ is the ideal phrase  

The DMK government strongly believes that ‘Union Government’ is the right term of reference. Chief Minister MK Stalin cited Article 1 of the Indian Constitution and justified that the government was only using the correct constitutional term for the Centre.

He clarified that the word ‘ondriyal’ or ‘union’ was based on the principles of federalism, which was why the officials would continue to use the term. Accordingly, he claimed that it should not be seen as a social crime to refer to the Centre as the Union government.

The CM also mentioned that union simply meant that the states were united. The term was not coined recently to create issues. It had been used by the DMK in their Election Manifesto as early as during 1957 elections.

Manuraj Shanmugasundaram, the national spokesperson for DMK asserted that if the opposition found the term Union wrong, it was their misreading of the Constitution. The supreme law of the land continuously used the term ‘Union’ to refer to both the country and the government that governed it.

Historian Rohit De elucidated that the Constituent Assembly which passed the original Constitution did not include the term ‘Central Government.’ It was only added through amendments in the Constitution. In his opinion, the phrase ‘Union Government’ should be emphasized as its legal interpretation was more significant when spelt as such.

Subash Kashyap, a constitution expert added that ‘centre’ was a point in the middle of a circle, as opposed to ‘union’ which constituted the entire circle. As per the Constitution, the relationship between the Centre and the States was a relationship between the whole and its parts. Therefore, ‘Union government’ would be the correct phrase to refer to the federation of the Union and States.


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