India is a federal union comprising 29 states and 7 union territories, for a total of 36 entities. The states and union territories are further subdivided into districts and smaller administrative divisions. The Constitution of India distributes the sovereign executive and legislative powers exercisable with respect to the territory of any State between the Union and that State.

The Indian subcontinent has been ruled by many different ethnic groups throughout its history, each instituting their own policies of administrative division in the region.

During the 'British Raj', the original administrative structure was mostly kept, and India was divided into provinces that were directly governed by the British and princely states which were nominally controlled by a local prince or 'raja' loyal to the British Empire, which held 'de facto' sovereignty (suzerainty) over the princely states.

Between 1947 and 1950 the territories of the princely states were politically integrated into the Indian Union. Most were merged into existing provinces; others were organised into new provinces, such as Rajputana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, and Vindhya Pradesh, made up of multiple princely states; a few, including Mysore, Hyderabad, Bhopal, and Bilaspur, became separate provinces.

The new Constitution of India, which came into force on 26 January 1950, made India a sovereign democratic republic. The new republic was also declared to be a "Union of States".

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