Politics of India


Politics of India

Politics of India takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary multi-party representative democratic republic modelled after the British Westminster System. The Prime Minister of India is the head of government, while the President of India is the formal head of state and holds substantial reserve powers, placing him or her in approximately the same position as the British monarch. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Parliament of India. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

According to its constitution, India is a "sovereign socialist secular democratic republic." India is the largest state by population with a democratically-elected government. Like the United States, India has a federal form of government, however, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and its central government is patterned after the British parliamentary system. Regarding the former, "the Centre", the national government, can and has dismissed state governments if no majority party or coalition is able to form a government or under specific Constitutional clauses, and can impose direct federal rule known as President's rule. Locally, the Panchayati Raj system has several administrative functions.

Constitution of India

The Constitution of India lays down the basic structure of government under which the people are to be governed. It establishes the main organs of government - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The Constitution not only defines the powers of each organ, but also demarcates their responsibilities. It regulates the relationship between the different organs and between the government and the people. It thus forms the basis of politics in India. The Constitution is superior to all other laws of the country. Every law enacted by the government has to be in conformity with the Constitution.

The governance of India is based on a tiered system, wherein the Constitution of India appropriates the subjects on which each tier of government has executive powers. The constitution uses the Seventh Schedule to delimit the subjects under three categories namely the union list, the state list and the concurrent list. The central government has the powers to enact laws on subjects under the union list, while the state governments have the powers to enact laws on subjects under the state list. Both the central as well as the state governments can enact laws on subjects under the concurrent list. However, the laws enacted by the central government under the concurrent list overrides the laws enacted by the state government when a conflict arises between those laws.

Central and State Governments

The central government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the President, whose duties are largely ceremonial. The president and vice president are elected indirectly for 5-year terms by a special electoral college. The vice president assumes the office of president in case of the death or resignation of the incumbent president.

The constitution designates the governance of India under two branches namely the executive branch and the legislative branch. Real national executive power is centered in the Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister of India. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The President then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. In reality, the President has no discretion on the question of whom to appoint as Prime Minister except when no political party or coalition of parties gains a majority in the Lok Sabha. Once the Prime Minister has been appointed, the President has no discretion on any other matter whatsoever, including the appointment of ministers. But all Central Government decisions are nominally taken in his name.

Legislative branch

The constitution designates the Parliament of India as the legislative branch to oversee the operation of the government. India's bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is held responsible to the Lok Sabha.

The government can enact laws and ordinances as required for the governance of the country. However, laws and ordinances have to be passed by the legislative branch in order to be effected. Parliament sessions are conducted to discuss, analyse and pass the laws tabled as Acts. Any law is first proposed as a bill in the lower house. If the lower house approves the bill in current form, the bill is then proposed to be enacted in the upper house. If not, the bill is sent for amendment and then tabled again so as to be passed as an Act. Even if the bill is passed in the lower house, the upper house has the right to reject the proposed bill and send it back to the government for amending the bill. Therefore, it can be said that the governance of India takes place under two processes; the executive process and the legislative process. Ideally, the governance cannot be done through the individual processes alone. After the Acts are passed by both the houses, the President signs the Bill as an Act. Thus the legislative branch also acts under the name of the President, like the executive branch.

Ordinances are laws that are passed in lieu of Acts, when the parliament is not in session. When the parliament is in recess, the President assumes the legislative powers of both the houses temporarily, under Part V: Chapter III - Article 335 of the Constitution of India. The government has to propose a law to the President during such periods. If the President is fully satisfied with the bill, and signs the bill, it becomes an ordinance. The powers of ordinances are temporary, and each ordinance has to be tabled in the parliament when the houses reassemble. The President also has the right to withdraw an ordinance.

tate Government

States in India have their own elected governments, where as Union Territories are governed by an administrator appointed by the central government. Some of the state legislatures are bicameral, patterned after the two houses of the national parliament. The states' chief ministers are responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to parliament.

Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the tates, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local state governments in India have less autonomy compared to their counterparts in the United States and Australia.

Judicial branch

India's independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The constitution designates the Supreme Court, the High Courts and the lower courts as the authority to resolve disputes among the people as well as the disputes related to the people and the government. The constitution through its articles relating to the judicial system provides a way to question the laws of the government, if the common man finds the laws as unsuitable for any community in India.

Local governance

On April 24, 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions. This Act was extended to Panchayats in the tribal areas of eight States, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan from 24 December 1996.

The Act aims to provide 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj for all States having population of over 2 million, to hold Panchayat elections regularly every 5 years, to provide reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women, to appoint State Finance Commission to make recommendations as regards the financial powers of the Panchayats and to constitute District Planning Committee to prepare draft development plan for the district.

Powers and responsibilities are delegated to Panchayats at the appropriate level:
*Preparation of plan for economic development and social justice.
*Implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects given in Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
*To levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.

Role of political parties

As like any other democracy, political parties represent different sections among the Indian society and regions, and their core values play a major role in the politics of India. Both the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government are run by the representatives of the political parties who have been elected through the elections. Through the electoral process, the people of India choose which majority in the lower house, a government can be formed by that party or the coalition.

India has a multi-party system, where there are a number of national as well as regional parties. A regional party may gain a majority and rule a particular state. If a party represents more than 4 states then such parties are considered as national parties. In the 61 years since India's independence, India has been ruled by the Indian National Congress (INC) for 48 of those years. The party enjoyed a parliamentary majority barring two brief periods during the 1970s and late 1980s. This rule was interrupted between 1977 to 1980, when the Janata Party coalition won the election owing to public discontent with the controversial state of emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Janata Dal won elections in 1989, but its government managed to hold on to power for only two years. Between 1996 and 1998, there was a period of political flux with the government being formed first by the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) followed by a left-leaning United Front coalition. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance with smaller regional parties, and became the first non-INC and coalition government to complete a full five-year term. The 2004 Indian elections saw the INC winning the largest number of seats to form a government leading the United Progressive Alliance, and supported by left-parties and those opposed to the BJP.

On 22 May, 2004, Manmohan Singh was appointed the Prime Minister of India following the victory of the INC & the left front in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. The UPA now rules India with the support of the left front. Previously, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken office in October 1999 after a general election in which a BJP-led coalition of 13 parties called the National Democratic Alliance emerged with a majority.

Formation of coalition governments reflects the transition in Indian politics away from the national parties toward smaller, more narrowly-based regional parties. Some regional parties, especially in South India, are deeply aligned to the ideologies of the region unlike the national parties and thus the relationship between the central government and the state government in various states has not always been free of rancour. Disparity between the ideologies of the political parties ruling the centre and the state leads to severely skewed allocation of resources between the states.

References

Further reading

* Subrata K. Mitra and V.B. Singh. 1999. "Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the National Electorate". New Delhi: Sage Publications. ISBN 81-7036-809-X (India HB) ISBN 0-7619-9344-4 (U.S. HB).


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