Indian Political System
Unlike the American and British political systems which have existed in their current form for centuries, the Indian political system is recent and dates from India’s Independence from Britain in 1947 and proclamation of India’s Constitution in 1950.
In contrast to the constitution of Japan that has seen no amendments, the constitution of India is a much-amended national document. The last 104th amendment enforcing OBC reservations was carried in 2006. Arising from disagreements between the Parliament and the Supreme Court or under pressure from political interest groups and compulsions of a modernizing society or the process of change within the society, each constitutional amendment has had implications for India’s politico-social system.
A political system is, after all, a set of institutions, interest groups (such as poli-tical parties, trade unions, lobby groups) and provides dynamics of interaction among those institutions and bases for political norms and rules that govern their functions, say, Constitution and the Law. Foremost, it consists of the members of a social organisation (group) who are in power but also of interdependent components and peripheries of the milieu with which it interacts.
Theoretically, a political system is regarded as the way a government makes policy and organizes administration. A political system, if sound, ought to ensure the maintaining of order and harmony in the society and provide institutions for addressing grievances and complaints of citizens at large.
The Lok Sabha, the most important element of India’s political system, modelled on the British House of Commons, is the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. The Rajya Sabha or the Council of States too is partly modelled on the British House of Lords or Upper House of Parliament but India’s federal system of government has many features similar to federalism as practiced by the United States, Canada and Australia.
The Head of State in India is the President, mostly a ceremonial position derived from the concept of constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom, and like the British monarch is expected to “advise, encourage and warn” the elected government on constitutional matters. The President can return a Parliamentary Bill once for reconsideration and, in times of crisis such as a hung Parliament, President’s role becomes pivotal. The President can declare a state of emergency which enables the Lok Sabha to extend its life beyond the normal five-year term.
As members of an electoral college, around 4,500 members of the national parliament and state legislators are eligible to vote in the election of the President. The Indian Presidency has recently attracted special attention because for the first time a woman, Pratibha Patil, occupies it.
The head of the government is the Prime Minister, appointed by the President on nomination or election by the majority party or coalition of political parties in the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister has to be a member of either House or get elected within six months if not a member at the time of appointment. The Ministers are then appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
The Lok Sabha or House of the People, is composed of representatives of the people directly elected on the basis of adult suffrage. The maximum strength of the House provided by the Constitution is 552 that includes up to 530 members to represent the States, 20 members to represent the Union Territories and two members of the Anglo-Indian Community nominated by the President, if that community is not adequately represented in the House. The ratio between the number of seats allotted to each State and the population of the State, as far as practicable, is kept the same for all States.
Currently, the size of the house is 545—made up of 530 elected from the States, 13 elected from the Territories, and two nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Uttar Pradesh with 80 members has the largest number of Lok Sabha members, being the most populous among all Indian states. Three states have only one representative each; certain constituencies are reserved for candidates from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The upper house in the Indian political system is the Rajya Sabha or Council of States which has up to 250 members, 12 of which are nomi-nated by the President for their accomplishment in art, literature, science, or social services. The remainder of the house—currently comprising 238 members—is elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in proportion to the unit’s population. Uttar Pradesh has 31 members.
The method of election followed by legislatures is ‘single transferable vote’. Term of office is six years, with one-third of the members seeking election every two years. The Rajya Sabha meets in continuous session. Unlike the Lok Sabha, it is not subject to dissolution.
The two houses share legislative powers, except in the area of Money Bill where the Lok Sabha has overriding powers. In the case of conflicting legislation, a joint sitting of the two houses is held. If there is a conflict which cannot be resolved even by the joint committee of the two houses, it is solved by vote in a joint session of the Parliament, where the will of the Lok Sabha, which is twice as large as Rajya Sabha, almost always prevails.
Though not mentioned in the Constitution, political parties are a most vital element of the Indian political system. The Indian National Congress (INC) since its inception in 1885—and its successor—has been a dominant political party in India. Until 1947, it campaigned for Indian independence from Britain. Since independence, it has competed for power and for considerable period governed the country either as the largest party in Parliament or, as currently, head of a 16-party coalition called UPA (United Progressive Front).
Originally socialistic, it followed policies of moderate socialism, planned, mixed economy but now supports deregulation, privatisation, foreign investment, and from non-alignment it has shifted to pro-American foreign policy.
A peculiar feature of Congress Party is its one-family leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister for 17 years; his daughter Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; his grandson Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ; currently Rajiv’s widow, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi Congress President but more powerful than the Prime Minister; and her son Rahul Gandhi, Member Parliament being projected as a future Prime Minister.
The other major political party in India is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Formed in 1980, it champions the socio-religious cultural values of the country’s Hindu majority and advocates strong national defence. The BJP-led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government between 1998-2004. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) founded in 1998, then had 13 parties in the coalition but currently has nine.
The Indian Political System, like the USA’s, is based on the principal of checks and balances of power and has a strong and independent judiciary with the Supreme Court as the highest judicial authority in civil, criminal and constitutional cases.
Demographically and geographically, India is big and highly diverse; it operates a federal system of government. Besides the Central government, there are governments and administrative set-ups in 28 States and seven Union Territories.
India has been changing from a highly centralized. one political party-dominated system to an increasingly discrete polity with regional parties pulling in different directions. Political norms have been declining and politics in India is much rougher and much more corrupt than in the democracies of Europe and North America. Likewise, Judiciary and bureaucracy are steeped in corruption.
Unfortunately, the Indian political system has been unable to incorporate the multiple stakeholders of the complex Indian society even though it has lent stability and continuity to Indian democracy. As a result, after sixty years of Indepen-dence, our experiment with demo-cracy is in peril. Currently, Indian democracy finds itself reduced to the ballot box, vote banks and
populism. A constitution can provide only a framework; it is its institutions that infuse life into a democracy.
The Indian political system was expected to produce accountable governments, conscientious ruling elites and democratically aware citizens. All this has not happened and as Galbraith’s put it, Indian demo-cracy is a functioning anarchy.