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Government in India, Today
India’s present constitution went into effect on Jan. 26, 1950. At that time, the nation changed its status from a dominion to a federal republic, though it remained within the Commonwealth. A president, chosen by an Electoral College replaced the governor-general, appointed by the British Crown. The president is the official chief of state, but the office is largely ceremonial.
In parliamentary government, the people in a country elect members of at least one house of the legislature (by any variety of means: proportional representation as in Israel, single member districts as in Britain). The party or coalition of parties (coalition means a group working together) whose members together form a majority (more than one-half) of the legislature form the government. This means that they select the Prime Minister (the leader of the government) as well as members of the Cabinet (the PM and the Cabinet are known collectively as the government; the parties not in power form the loyal opposition). A key aspect of the parliamentary system is that the executive (the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) is elected by the legislature. This contrasts with our own system with its separation of powers. In the US, the president (leader of the executive branch) and Congress (the legislature) are elected separately by the people.
The Lower House of the legislature is called the Lok Sabha. Currently, up to a week or two ago, the Congress Party held a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, so its leader was the Prime Minister of India. The other house of the legislature is the Rajya Sabha and like the English House of Lords it has less power than the Lower House. The other parties in the Lok Sabha form the opposition. These parties include: the Bharatiya Janata Party (a Hindu nationalist party), Janata Dal as well as a whole host of regional parties.
Parliamentary government is distinguished from presidential government by the following:
- Voters only vote for a legislature;
- The legislature then selects the executive from the party or coalition of parties that have the confidence of a majority of the legislature;
- The executive will then govern until it finishes its fix term (I believe India it is 5 years), OR until it loses in a vote of confidence in the legislature, usually or some important legislation.
Laws are enacted by a Parliament consisting of two chambers–the popularly elected Lok Sabha, or House of the People, with not more than 545 members and the Rajya Sabha, or Council of States, with not more than 250 indirectly elected members. The Prime Minister is elected by the majority party or coalition in Parliament and then formally appointed by the president. The appointed Council of Ministers, or cabinet, under the leadership of the Prime Minister exercises executive power. Elections to the Lok Sabha are held at least every five years; if there is a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister’s government, the president must call for new elections. The Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of federal laws, handles disputes between the central government and the states or between the states themselves, and judges’ appeals from lower courts.
The federal constitution includes a lengthy list of fundamental rights. It guarantees freedom of speech and religion, among many other rights, and abolishes untouchability. It also specifies a set of Directive Principles of State Policy, designed to guide the government in the interests of the people. In periods of national emergency, which only the president can declare, the government may legally suspend certain rights for a limited period. Such an emergency was in force in India from June 1975 to March 1977.
In foreign affairs India tried to maintain a policy of nonalignment in the political rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It supported independence movements in areas subject to colonial rule, opposed racism in South Africa and elsewhere, and championed the nations of the Third World in their economic dealings with the affluent countries of Europe, North America, and Japan. India has played a prominent role in the United Nations and in many of its specialized agencies.
India consists of 25 states and seven union territories. The governments of the states are organized in much the same way as the central government. The federal constitution gives the states control over certain issues, such as agriculture, and retains control over almost 100 others, such as foreign affairs. There is a third list of subjects, such as price control, on which both the central and state governments may pass laws. The union territories are controlled directly by the central government. The most important of these territories is Delhi, which includes the capital, New Delhi, and the rest of the Delhi metropolis.
Village government is in the hands of a democratically elected council, known as a panchayat, presided over by a village headman. In former days virtually all panchayat members were men of the upper castes, usually those who owned the most land. Now many states require that a certain number of women and members of scheduled castes are included. Increasingly, elections are held by secret ballot. The panchayats are expected to work closely with the government-sponsored Community Development Program, which has divided the entire country into community development blocks, averaging about a hundred villages each. Village-level workers within each block are the chief links between the government and the villagers. They bring news to the villagers of developments that might benefit them and report back the sentiments of the people.
Party politics are energetically pursued at both the national and state levels. There are many parties, and their orientations are diverse. The Indian National Congress, or its dominant faction, has governed India since independence except for the three years from 1977 to 1980 and now (1997). It has been committed to a form of democratic socialism, with a mixture of private and state enterprise. Several other Socialists and Communist parties are ideologically to the left of Congress, while other parties are to its right. In addition, there are a number of parties that represent the interests of particular regions, language groups, and religions. With so many parties contesting parliamentary elections, independent candidates have a fairly good chance of being elected. Despite the high level of illiteracy, voter turnouts in Indian elections are normally large.
India’s Economy and People, Today
Economically, India often seems like two separate countries: village India, supported by primitive agriculture, where tens of millions live below the poverty level; and urban India, one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the world. Although the traditional textile industry is still important, the emphasis is on heavy industry, which produces iron and steel, machine tools, transportation equipment, and chemicals. Cut gems, jewelry, and, increasingly, computer software are important exports.
About 70% of the work force are engaged in agriculture, growing rice, wheat, peanuts, corn, and millet for subsistence; cash crops are sugarcane, tea, oilseeds, cotton, tobacco, and jute. The opium poppy is also grown both for the legal pharmaceutical market and illegal drug trade; cannabis is produced as well. Improved irrigation, the introduction of chemical fertilizers, and the use of high-yield strains of rice and wheat have led to record harvests, and by the late 1970s India was self-sufficient in grain, becoming an exporter in the early 1980s. India has perhaps more cattle per capita than any other country, but their economic value is severely limited by the Hindu prohibition against their slaughter.
Among the country’s rich mineral resources are coal, zinc, iron, manganese, mica, bauxite, and lead. India is the world’s second most populous country (after China). The ethnic composition is complex, but two major strains predominate: the Aryan, in the north, and the Dravidian, in the south.
More than 1,500 languages and dialects are spoken; Hindi (spoken throughout the north) and English (used in politics and commerce) are the official languages, and 14 other languages are recognized by the constitution. The population is overwhelmingly Hindu, but there are significant numbers of Muslims (more than 10% of the population), Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis. About 80% of the population are rural. The caste system, under which people are socially classified at birth, is an important facet of Hinduism, and thus a dominant feature of Indian life; the 1950 constitution abolished the lowest caste, known as untouchables.
Today’s Indian Government – How It Came Into Being?
The Indus Valley Civilization (2500-1500 B.C.) was the first to flourish on the Indian subcontinent (in present-day Pakistan). It fell c.1500 B.C. to Aryan invaders from the northwest, which dominated the area for 2,000 years and developed Hinduism, the socioreligious system that is the basis of India’s institutions and culture.
Under the Maurya dynasty (325-183 B.C.)-Especially Asoka (323 B.C.), who established Buddhism as the state religion-Indian culture had its first great flowering. A golden age of Hindu culture was achieved under the Gupta dynasty, in the 4th-5th century A.D. considered India’s classical period. By the 10th century, Muslim armies from the north were raiding India, and in 1192 the Delhi Sultanate, the first Muslim kingdom in India, was established.
The small Muslim kingdoms that succeeded it were swept away by Babur, a great Muslim invader from Afghanistan, who established the Mogul Empire in 1526. Portugal, which captured Goa in 1510, was the first European nation to gain a foothold in India, but the British, French, and Dutch were soon vying with the Portuguese for Indian trade. With the weakening of the Mogul Empire in the 18th century, the struggle was renewed-this time between France and Britain, with the British East India Company emerging dominant.
In 1857, after the bloody Indian Mutiny against the British, the East India Company was abolished and control of India was transferred directly to the British crown. Discontent with British rule became intense during the early 20th century, and the Indian National Congress (founded 1885), led by Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, mounted a movement for independence. The British instituted a program of gradual power-sharing, but Congress leaders, frustrated by the slow pace, organized the Quit India movement during World War II. The desire of the Congress to maintain a united front against Britain was frustrated, however, by the Muslim League, which demanded the partition of India into separate Hindu and Muslim states.
During World War I Indian troops served the British loyally, but nationalist agitation increased afterward. The British Parliament passed a reform act in 1919, providing for provincial councils of Indians with some powers of supervision over agriculture, education, and public health. Far from satisfied, the extreme nationalists, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, gained control of the Congress. Gandhi preached resistance to the British by “noncooperation” Hundreds of thousands joined his civil disobedience campaigns. The Congress party quickly gained a mass following.
Rioting broke out when Parliament placed no Indians on the Simon Commission appointed in 1927 to investigate the government of India. The British imprisoned Gandhi and his associates. In 1929 Jawaharlal Nehru was elected president of the Congress. Like Gandhi, Nehru was passionately devoted to the cause of freedom. He had absorbed Western ideas at Harrow and Cambridge, however, and, unlike Gandhi, wanted to bring modern technology and industrialization to India.
After three “round-table” conferences in London had considered the commission’s report, Parliament passed a new Government of India Act in 1935. It provided for elected legislatures in the provinces, but property and educational requirements restricted the number of voters to about 14 percent of the population. To protect the interests of minorities, voting was by communal groups. Upper-caste Hindus, Untouchables, Muslims, Sikhs, and others voted for their own candidates. The system perpetuated religious strife. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, charged that Congress ministries mistreated their Muslim minorities. He agitated for the separation of the Muslim provinces from India and the creation of a state called Pakistan, which means “country of the pure.”
When World War II broke out, the Congress demanded complete and immediate freedom for India as the price for India’s active participation. In 1942 Sir Stafford Cripps went to India with a plan for granting dominion status after the war, but Indian leaders could not agree on the terms. The Congress insisted on a unified India. The Muslim League demanded a separate Pakistan. The princes were determined to preserve their states.
Finally, in 1947, British India was divided into two independent nations: India, with Nehru as Prime Minister, and Pakistan, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah. More than 1 million people died in the ensuing disorder. Hostile relations between the nations led to the India-Pakistan Wars (1947-48, 1965, 1971). A specific dispute was jurisdiction over Kashmir, which both countries claimed. India was also involved in a border conflict (1962) with China. A sovereign republic from 1950, India became a leader of the nonaligned nations.
Indian National Congress (Largest Political Party)
The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, demanded a larger government role for Indians. The Indian National Congress became the spearhead of the Indian movement for independence from Great Britain. Its membership became overwhelmingly Hindu, as most Muslim members left it for the Muslim League. In 1919, led by Mohandas Gandhi, it adopted a policy of Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) toward the British. The party was outlawed during World War II for refusing to support the British war effort, and most of its leaders were jailed. After India achieved independence (1947), Jawaharlal Nehru headed both the government and the party. Its dominance continued after Nehru’s death (1964) under Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri and Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi.
In 1969 the party split: the conservative wing became the Old Congress party; Indira Gandhi’s followers became the New Congress party, winning a landslide victory in 1971. But this party was also to split. After its electoral defeat in 1977, Mrs. Gandhi withdrew and in 1978 formed a new faction, the Congress-I (for Indira) party, which brought her back into power in Jan. 1980. Her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her as Prime Minister (1984-90) and leader of the party until his assassination in 1991. P.V. Narasimha Rao succeeded him as party leader.
Leaders of the Indian National Congress
NehRu, Pandit Motilal, 1861-1931, Indian nationalist politician who was an associate of Mahatma Gandhi and an influential leader in the years leading to India’s independence. His son Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), also greatly involved in the movement for self-governance, was the political heir to Gandhi and the first Prime Minister of independent India (1947-1964).
Patel, Vallabhbhai, 1875-1950, Indian political leader. A longtime leader in the Indian National Congress, he helped negotiate India’s independence in 1947 and served as deputy Prime Minister until his death.
Nehru, Jawaharlal, 1889-1964, Indian statesman, first prime minister of India (1947-64). He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and practiced law. After the British massacre of Indian nationalists at Amritsar (1919) he became a nationalist. He was a leader of the Indian National Congress and an associate of Gandhi, although unlike Gandhi he favored industrialization and socialism. He participated in the negotiations that created an independent India in 1947 and served as its Prime Minister until his death. Although an advocate of nonviolence and neutralism in foreign affairs, he did not hesitate to employ force in opposing Pakistan in Kashmir, in seizing (1961) Goa from the Portuguese, and in resisting (1962) Chinese border incursions. He was the father of Indira Gandhi
Gandhi, Indira, 1917-1984, Prime Minister of India (1966-77, 1980-84), Daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. After serving as her father’s aide and rising through the ranks of the Congress party, she became Prime Minister on the death of Shastri. India’s defeat of Pakistan in 1971 assured Indian dominance of the subcontinent. Gandhi’s administration, increasingly authoritarian, was marked by stress on social programs and government planning. Faced with opposition, she declared an “emergency” in 1975, jailing opponents and suspending civil liberties. Forced from office in 1977, she made a triumphant return in 1980, stressing agricultural development and stronger international relations. She was assassinated (1984) by Sikh members of her bodyguard unit following an attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as Prime Minister.
Singh, Vishwanath Pratap, 1931-, Prime Minister of India, (1989-1991); previously defense minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet; has a reputation as an honest man determined to rid India of corruption
Rao, P (amulaparti) V(enkata) Narasimha, 1921-, Indian politician, prime minister of India (1991-). He served as a minister (1962-71) and chief minister (1971-73) in Andhra Pradesh state before his election (1972) to the Indian parliament. A member of the Congress-I party, Rao held (1980-89) various ministerial posts in the governments of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Rao was chosen to lead the Congress party and became Prime Minister upon winning (1991) a plurality of seats in parliament. He moved decisively to reduce the government’s economic role and encourage foreign investment, but was confronted with religious unrest incited by the Hindu religious parties.
Current Politics in India
In India, the Congress party, no longer in a majority, was expected to make a bid for power after withdrawing its support for the minority government. Then it agreed to continue to support the minority United Front government after the Front chose a new prime minister, 77-year-old Inder Kumar Gujral, a former foreign minister, to replace Deve Gowda, the former Prime Minister. The United Front is a group of separate small political parties. In India, the largest democracy in the world, there are more than 12 national political parties including communist and socialist parties.
Facklman, F. A. “Good government? Fairness? Or Vice Versa, Or Both…” Economist, 5/1/96.
Mastrull, Diane “An India That Still Says no.:” Economist 8/12/96.
Holly, Susan “The Fever in India” Economist 12/12/96.
“India, Prime Minister” Sound Clip, National Public Radio, 5/19/96.
“Fragmented Parties in India Begin to Form Coalitions” Sound Clip, National Public Radio 5/12/96.
“India’s Prime Minister Resigns His Office” Sound Clip, National Public Radio 5/28/96.
“Election Leaves India’s Political Future In Doubt” Sound Clip, National Public Radio 5/13/96.
John-Thor Dahlbutg “India’s Ex-Premier Faces Corruption Charges” Los Angeles Times 9/22/96
Sheldon I. Ausman “New Leader, Old Woes in India:” Los Angeles Times 5/17/96
“Laloo Yadev to be Prosecuted” India Abroad 5/2/97
“New Prime Minister Begins Work on a Quiet Note” India Abroad 5/2/97
“Fodder Case Could Spell Trouble for UF Government” India Abroad 5/2/97
“Former MP Turns Approver in Bribery Case Against Roa” India Abroad 3/28/97
(Many other articles from India Abroad)
“India” Compton’s Living Encyclopedia. Compton’s Learning Company, 1996. Online. America Online. (7
“M. K. Ghandi” Compton’s Living Encyclopedia. Compton’s Learning Company, 1996. Online. America
Online. (7 June 1996).
“Indian National Congress” Compton’s Living Encyclopedia. Compton’s Learning Company, 1996. Online.
America Online. (7 June 1996).
“Nehru Ghandi” Compton’s Living Encyclopedia. Compton’s Learning Company, 1996. Online. America
Online. (7 June 1996).
“India” Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright 1994, Columbia University Press.
“East India Company, India” Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright 1994, Columbia University Press.
Note: I changed my topic slightly, because as I did more research I found that India has an appropriate amount of corruption in the government, considering its size.
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