Politics in India take place within the framework of its constitution, because India is a federal parliamentary democratic republic, in which the President of India is the head of country and the Prime Minister of India is the head of the government. India follows the dual policy system, i.e. a double government which consists of the central authority at the center and states at the periphery. The constitution defines the organization powers and limitations of both central and state governments, and it is well-recognized, rigid and considered supreme; i.e. laws of the nation must conform to it.
There is a provision for a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House, i.e. Rajya Sabha, which represents the states of the Indian federation and a Lower House i.e. Lok Sabha, which represents the people of India as a whole. The Indian constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which is headed by the Supreme Court. The court's mandate is to protect the constitution, to settle disputes between the central government and the states, to settle inter-state disputes, to nullify any central or state laws that go against the constitution, and to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, issuing writs for their enforcement in cases of violation.
Governments are formed through elections held every five years (unless otherwise specified), by parties that secure a majority of members in their respective lower houses (Lok Sabha in the central government and Vidhan Sabha in states). India had its first general election in 1951, which was won by the Indian National Congress, a political party that went on to dominate subsequent elections until 1977, when a non-Congress government was formed for the first time in independent India. The 1990s saw the end of single-party domination and the rise of coalition governments. The elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, held from April 2014 to May 2014, once again brought back single-party rule in the country, with the Bharatiya Janata Party being able to claim a majority in the Lok Sabha.
In recent decades, Indian politics has become a dynastic affair. Possible reasons for this could be the absence of party organizations, independent civil society associations that mobilize support for the parties, and centralized financing of elections. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated India as a "flawed democracy" in 2016.
Political parties and alliances
For other political parties, see List of political parties in India. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in India.
Main articles: Indian general election, 2009 and Indian general election, 2014
Compared with other democratic countries, India has a large number of political parties. It has been estimated that over 200 parties were formed after India became independent in 1947.
Some features of the political parties in India are that the parties are generally woven around their leaders, the leaders are actively playing a dominant role, and that the role of leadership can be transferred, thus tending to take a dynastic route. The two main parties in India are the Bharatiya Janata Party, also known as the BJP and the Indian National Congress, commonly called the INC or simply Congress. These two parties dominate national politics. On the left-right political spectrum, the Indian National Congress is a party created and first headed by Jawaharlal Nehru which is turned into a dynastic rule, whereas the BJP is its main contender which holds Hindutuva as its core agenda.
Types of political parties
Main article: List of political parties in India
There are two types of political parties in India - National Party and Regional/State party. Every political party must bear a symbol and must be registered with the Election Commission of India. Symbols are used in Indian political system as an identity of political parties and so that illiterate people can also vote by recognizing symbols of party.
In the current amendment to the Symbols Order, the Commission has infused the following five principles, which, in its view, should govern the polity in the country, situate as it is in its present state:
- Legislative presence is a must for recognition as a National or State party.
- For a National party, it must be the legislative presence in the Lok Sabha and for a State party, the legislative presence must be reflected in the State Assembly.
- In any election, a party can set up a candidate only from amongst its own members.
- A party, that loses its recognition, shall not lose its symbol immediately, but shall be given the facility to use that symbol for some time to try and retrieve its status. (However, the grant of such facility to the party to use its symbol will not mean the extension of other facilities to it, as are available to recognized parties, like, free time on Doordarshan/AIR, free supply of copies of electoral rolls, etc.)
- Recognition should be given to a party only on the basis of its own performance in elections and not because it is a splinter group of some other recognized party.
- A political party shall be eligible to be recognized as a National party if:
- it secures at least six percent(6%) of the valid votes polled in any four or more states, at a general election to the House of the People or, to the State Legislative Assembly; and
- in addition, it wins at least four seats in the House of the People from any State or States.
it wins at least two percent (2%) seats in the House of the People (i.e., 11 seats in the existing House having 543 members), and these members are elected from at least three different States.
- Likewise, a political party shall be entitled to be recognized as a State party, if:
- it secures at least six percent (6%) of the valid votes polled in the State at a general election, either to the House of the People or to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned; and
- in addition, it wins at least two seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned.
it wins at least three percent (3%) of the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State, or at least three seats in the Assembly, whichever is more.
At present there are seven national parties and many more state parties.
India has a history alliances and breakdown of alliances. However, there are three alliances on a national level in India, competing with each other for the position of Government. The member parties work in harmony for gratifying national interests, although a party can jump ships. The three alliances -
- National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - Centre-Right coalition led by BJP was formed in 1998 after the elections. NDA formed a government, although the government didn't last long as AIADMK withdrew support from it resulting in 1999 general elections, in which NDA won and resumed power. The coalition government went on to complete the full five-years term, becoming the first non-Congress government to do so. In the 2014 General Elections, NDA once again returned to power for the second time, with a historic mandate of 336 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats. BJP itself won 282 seats, thereby electing Narendra Modi as the head of the government.
- United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - Centre-Left coalition led by Indian National Congress; this alliance was created after the 2004 general elections, with the alliance forming the Government. The alliance even after losing some of its members, was reelected in 2009 General Elections with Manmohan Singh as head of the government.
- Third front - A coalition of parties which do not belong to any of the above camps due to certain issues. One of the party in the alliance, the CPI(M), prior to 2009 general elections, was a member party of the UPA. The alliance has no official leading party, and smaller parties often enter and leave the alliance according to political convenience. Many of these parties ally at national level but contest against each other at state level. The inherent problem with such a third front is that they are only bound together by the fact that they are not aligned to either of the two 'main' alliances, and not through similar ideological stances. This often means that this alliance is merely an alliance in name and does not really provide a united front which can serve as an alternative to the two historically prominent alliances. Therefore, despite the presence of this so-called Third front and seemingly alternative options, Indian politics by and large remains a de facto two party system at the national level.
Main articles: Panchayati Raj and Local self-government in India
Panchayati Raj Institutions or Local self-government bodies play a crucial role in Indian politics, as it focuses on grassroot-level administration in India.
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.
Role of political parties
For other political parties, see List of political parties in India. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in India.
As with 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 representative and which political party should run the government. Through the elections any party may gain simple majority in the lower house. Coalitions are formed by the political parties, in case no single party gains a simple majority in the lower house. Unless a party or a coalition have a majority in the lower house, a government cannot 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 is represented in more than 4 states, it would be labelled a national party. Out of the 66 years of India's independence, India has been ruled by the Indian National Congress (INC) for 53 of those years, as of March 2014.
The party enjoyed a parliamentary majority save for two brief periods during the 1970s and late 1980s. This rule was interrupted between 1977 and 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 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 ruled India without 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. In May 2014, Narendra Modi of BJP was elected as Prime Minister of India.
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 rancor. Disparity between the ideologies of the political parties ruling the centre and the state leads to severely skewed allocation of resources between the states.
Main article: Socio-economic issues in India
See also: Corruption in India
The lack of homogeneity in the Indian population causes division between different sections of the people based on religion, region, language, caste and race. This has led to the rise of political parties with agendas catering to one or a mix of these groups. Parties in India also target people who are not in favour of other parties and use them as an asset.
Some parties openly profess their focus on a particular group; for example, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's focus on the Dravidian population and Tamil identity; Biju Janata Dal's championing of Odia culture; the Shiv Sena's pro-Marathi agenda; Naga People's Front's demand for protection of Naga tribal identity; People's Democratic Party and National Conference's calling for Kashmiri Muslim identity. Some other parties claim to be universal in nature, but tend to draw support from particular sections of the population. For example, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (translated as National People's Party) has a vote bank among the Yadav and Muslim population of Bihar and the All India Trinamool Congress does not have any significant support outside West Bengal.
The narrow focus and votebank politics of most parties, even in the central government and central legislature, sidelines national issues such as economic welfare and national security. Moreover, internal security is also threatened as incidences of political parties instigating and leading violence between two opposing groups of people is a frequent occurrence.
Economic issues like poverty, unemployment, development are main issues that influence politics. Garibi hatao (eradicate poverty) has been a slogan of the Indian National Congress for a long time. The well known Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) encourages a free market economy. The more popular slogan in this field is Sab Ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas (Cooperation with all, progress of all). The Communist Party of India (Marxist) vehemently supports left-wing politics like land-for-all, right to work and strongly opposes neo-liberal policies such as globalisation, capitalism and privatisation.
Law and order
Terrorism, Naxalism, religious violence and caste-related violence are important issues that affect the political environment of the Indian nation. Stringent anti-terror legislation such as Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, POTA and MCOCA have received much political attention, both in favour and opposed.
Terrorism had effected politics India since its conception, be it the terrorism supported from Pakistan or the internal guerrilla groups such as Naxalites. In 1991 the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during an election campaign. The suicide bomber was later linked to the Sri Lankan terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as it was later revealed the killing was an act of vengeance for Rajiv Gandhi sending troops in Sri Lanka against them in 1987.
The Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992 by RSS and BJP resulted in nationwide communal riots in two months, with worst occurring in Mumbai with at least 900 dead. The riots were followed by 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts, which resulted in more deaths.
Law and order issues, such as action against organised crime are issues which do not affect the outcomes of elections. On the other hand, there is a criminal–politician nexus. Many elected legislators have criminal cases against them. In July 2008, the Washington Post reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, "including human trafficking, child prostitution immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder".
High Political Offices in India
Main article: President of India
The Constitution of India lays down that the Head of State and Union Executive is the President of India. S/He is elected for a five-year term by an electoral college consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament and members of legislative assemblies of the states. The President is eligible for re-elections; however, in India's independent history, only one president has been re-elected, Rajendra Prasad.
The President appoints the Prime Minister of India from the party or coalition which commands maximum support of the Lok Sabha, on whose recommendation he/she nominates the other ministers. The President also appoints judges of the Supreme Court and High Court. It is on the President's recommendation that the Houses of Parliament meet, and only the president has the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha. Furthermore, no bill passed by Parliament can become law without the president's assent.
However, the role of the president of India is highly ceremonial. All the powers of the president mentioned above are exercised on recommendation of the Union Cabinet, and the president does not have much discretion in any of these matters. The president also does not have discretion in the exercise of his executive powers, as the real executive authority lies in the cabinet. The current President is Ram Nath Kovind.
Main article: Vice President of India
The Office of the Vice-President of India is constitutionally the second most senior office in the country, after the President. The vice-president is also elected by an electoral college, consisting of members of both houses of parliament.
Like the president, the role of the Vice-President is also ceremonial, with no real authority vested in him/her. The Vice-President fills in a vacancy in the office of President (till the election of a new president). His only regular function is that he functions are the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. No other duties/powers are vested in the office. The current Vice President is M.Venkaiah Naidu.
The Prime Minister and the Union Council of Ministers
Further information: Prime Minister of India, Union Council of Ministers, and Narendra Modi ministry
The Union Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, is the body with which the real executive power resides. The Prime Minister is the recognized head of the government.
The Union Council of Ministers is the body of ministers with which the PM works with on a day-to-day basis. Work is divided between various ministers into various departments and ministries. The Union cabinet is a smaller body of ministers which lies within the Council of Ministers, which is the most powerful set of people in the country, playing an instrumental role in legislation and execution alike.
All members of the Union Council of ministers must be members of either House of Parliament at time of appointment, or must get elected/nominated to either House within six months of their appointment.
It is the Union Cabinet that co-ordinates all foreign and domestic policy of the Union. It exercises immense control over administration, finance, legislation, military, etc. The Head of the Union Cabinet is the Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister of India is Narendra Modi.
Main article: State governments of India
India has a federal form of government, and hence each state also has its own government. The executive of each state is the Governor (equivalent to the president of India), whose role is ceremonial. The real power resides with the Chief Minister (equivalent to the Prime Minister) and the state council of ministers. States may either have a unicameral or bicameral legislature, varying from state to state. The Chief Minister and other state ministers are also members of the legislature.
Dynasties in Indian Politics
In recent decades, Indian politics has become a dynastic affair. The reasons for this state of affair could be the absence of a party organization, independent civil society associations that mobilize support for the party, and centralized financing of elections. This phenomenon is seen both at the national level as well as the state level. One example of dynastic politics has been the Nehru–Gandhi family which produced threeIndian prime ministers as well as leading the Congress party. At state level too, a number of political parties for example, Shiromani Akali Dal, DMK, Shiv Sena, PDP, Janata Dal (Secular), Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Samajwadi Party are led by family members of the previous leaders.
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- Shively, W. Phillips. Power and Choice: An Introduction to Political Science—Chapter 14 Example: Parliamentary Government in India. McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. ISBN 978-0-07-340391-5
- Mitra, Subrata K. and Singh, V.B.. Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the National Electorate. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1999. ISBN 81-7036-809-X (India HB) ISBN 0-7619-9344-4 (U.S. HB).
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- Tawa Lama-Rewal, Stéphanie. "Studying Elections in India: Scientific and Political Debates". South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 3, 2009.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
Coalition with BJP
Coalition with INC
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India - with a population of a billion and a quarter and an electorate of 814 million (2014) - is the world's largest democracy and, for all its faults and flaws, this democratic system stands in marked contrast to the democratic failures of Pakistan and Bangladesh which were part of India until 1947.
Unlike the American political system [click here] and the British political system [click here] which essentially have existed in their current form for centuries, the Indian political system is a much more recent construct dating from India's independence from Britain in 1947.
The current constitution came into force on 26 January 1950 and advocates the trinity of justice, liberty and equality for all citizens. The Constitution of India is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 444 articles, 12 schedules and 98 amendments, with almost 120,000 words in its English language version.
In stark contrast with the current constitution of Japan which has remained unchanged [click here], the constitution of India has been one of the most amended national documents in the world with almost 100 changes. Many of these amendments have resulted from a long-running dispute involving the Parliament and the Supreme Court over the rights of parliamentary sovereignty as they clash with those of judicial review of laws and constitutional amendments.
India's lower house, the Lok Sabha, is modelled on the British House of Commons, but its federal system of government borrows from the experience of the United States, Canada and Australia. While the framers of the Indian constitution certainly had in mind this Anglo-Saxon idea of federalism, historically the central government has dominated over the regional states. The Constitution actually refers to India as a "Union of states" and perhaps a better term - which is also used in the mainstream media - is quasi-federal system.
THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
The head of state in India is the President. This is normally a ceremonial role, originally modelled on the British monarch 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, the role is 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, nearly 5,000 members of the national parliament and state legislators are eligible to vote in the election of the President. The current President is Ram Nath Kovind, a member of the dalit (untouchable) caste.There is also the post of Vice-President who is elected by the members of an electoral college consisting of both houses of parliament. The Vice-President chairs the upper house called the Rajya Sabha.
The head of the government is the Prime Minister who is appointed by the President on the nomination of the majority party in the lower house or Lok Sabha. In May 2014, Narendra Modi, leader of the the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), became PM, having never previously held office at national level.
Ministers are then appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and these ministers collectively comprise the Council of Ministers.
THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
The lower house in the Indian political system is the Lok Sabha or House of the People. As set out in the Constitution, the maximum size of the Lok Sabha is 552 members, made up of up to 530 members representing people from the states of India, up to 20 members representing people from the Union Territories, and two members to represent the Anglo-Indian community if it does not have adequate representation in the house according to the President.
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. By far the largest state representation is that of Uttar Pradesh with 80 members. At the other end of the scale, three states have only one representative each. There are certain constituencies where only candidates from scheduled casts and scheduled tribes are allowed to stand.
Each member - except the two nominated ones - represents a geographical single-member constituency as in the British model for the House of Commons.
Each Lok Sabha is formed for a five year term, after which it is automatically dissolved, unless extended by a Proclamation of Emergency which may extend the term in one year increments. This has happened on three occasions: 1962-1968, 1971 and 1975-1977.
The last election to the Lok Sabha was in May 2014, so the next election is expected to be in 2019.
Link: Lok Sabha click here
The upper house in the Indian political system is the Rajya Sabha or Council of States. As set out in the Constitution, the Rajya Sabhahas has up to 250 members. 12 of these members are chosen by the President for their expertise in specific fields of art, literature, science, and social services. These members are known as nominated members. 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. Again, of course, the largest state representation is that of Uttar Pradesh with 31 members. The method of election in the local legislatures is the single transferable vote.
Terms of office are for six years, with one third of the members facing re-election every two years. The Rajya Sabha meets in continuous session and, unlike the Lok Sabha, it is not subject to dissolution.
Link: Rajya Sabha click here
The two houses share legislative powers, except in the area of supply (money) 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 in the joint session of the Parliament, where the will of the Lok Sabha almost always prevails, since the Lok Sabha is more than twice as large as the Rajya Sabha.
Elections in a country of the size and complexity of India are huge and difficult affairs. In the General Election of 2014, 814 million people were elegible to vote and 930,000 polling booths were required to enable them to do so. The Indian Constitution requires that voters do not have to travel more than 2 km (1.2 miles) from their homes to vote.
There is no way that such a poll can be conducted on a single day and in fact the last election to the Lok Sabha took place over a period of six weeks, starting on 7 April 2014 and finishing on 12 May 2014 with all votes counted on a single day: 16 May 2014. The election was conducted in nine separate phases and almost 4 million staff were deployed to run them. Administrative and security considerations meant that electoral staff and soldiers were moved around the country as the different voting phases took place.
More than 150 million people had the vote for the first time. For the first time also, ballot papers included a 'none of the above' option for those who did not wish to vote for any candidate and around 1% selected this option.
Historically only around 55% of those eligible to do so vote in Indian national elections. Howver, turnout for the 2014 election broke records with 66.38% of those eligible casting a vote.
There is growing concern in India about what has been called the "criminalisation" of politics. Almost one third of the members of the last parliament had criminal cases pending against them and, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), in the 2014 election between 20-30% of candidates had criminal charges against them. The severity of these charges varies and some charges may be unfounded, as the judicial process is often used to smear political opponents and police in many state are highly corrupt. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that overall criminality and corruption are high in Indian politics.
In India, political parties are either a National Party or a State Party. To be considered a National Party, a political party has to be recognised in four or more states and to be either the ruling party or in the opposition in those states.
Ever since its formation in 1885, the Indian National Congress (INC) - and its successor - has been the dominant political party in India. For its first six decades, its focus was on campaigning for Indian independence from Britain. Since independence in 1947, it has sought to be the governing party of the nation with repeated success.
As a result, for most of its democratic history, the Lok Sabha has been dominated by the Indian Congress Party which has been in power for a great deal of the time. However, unlike Japan where the Liberal Democrat Party has been in power almost continuously [click here], Congress has had (usually short) periods out of power, between 1977-1980, 1989-1991 and 1996-2004. Then, the 2014 election was a disaster for the Congress Party. It did not simply lose power; it was shattered at the polls winning a mere 44 seats. It looks now as if its historic role as leader of post-independence India is over.
The original Congress Party espoused moderate socialism and a planned, mixed economy. However, its spin-off and successor, Congress (I) - 'I' in honour of Indira Gandhi - now supports deregulation, privatisation and foreign investment.
While the Congress Party has historically dominated Indian politics, the leadership of the Congress Party in turn has been dominated by one family: Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, served for 17 years; his daughter Indira Gandhi later became Prime Minister; his grandson Rajiv Gandhi was also Prime Minister; currently the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi holds the position as Congress President although she refused to accept the post of Prime Minister in the last government; and her son Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament, while her daughter Priyanka Gandhi is an active political campaigner.
The Indian Congress Party is the leading party in the Centre-Left political coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) which embraces a total of 16 parties.
The other major, but more recently-established, political party in India is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Created in 1980, it represents itself as a champion of the socio-religious cultural values of the country's Hindu majority and advocates conservative social policies and strong national defence. The BJP, in alliance with several other parties, led the government between 1998-2004. In the election of 2014, it stormed to victory, winning a clear overall majority with 282 seats.
The leader of the BJP is a controversial figure. Narendra Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteer Movement, a vast and and influential Hindu rivalist conservative movement which has been banned three times in India. In 2002, when he was chief minister in the state of Gujarat, more than 1,000 people died in inter-communal riots and Modi was accused of complicity in the sectarian slaughter mostly of Muslims.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is the leading party in the Right-wing political coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). When it was originally founded in 1998, there were 13 parties in the coalition but currently there are eight.
The Third Front under various names has contested elections since 1967. It brings together regional parties and the Left Front which is its backbone. The grouping is committed to secularism and social justice.
A very new political party, which has done well in Delhi but made little impact nationally, is the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) which is led by Arvind Kejriwal.
In a democracy where a significant proportion of the electorate is illiterate, the use of recognisable symbols for political parties is important. The Indian Congress Party is represented by a hand, while the Bharatiya Janata Party is represented by a lotus. The symbol of the new Aam Aadmi party is a broom.
THE JUDICIAL BRANCH
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in civil, criminal and constitutional cases. Since 2008, the size of the court has been 31.
A judge is appointed to the Supreme Court by the President of India on the recommendation of the collegium — a closed group of the Chief Justice of India, the four most senior judges of the court, and the senior-most judge hailing from the high court of a prospective appointee. However, a Bill is currently being considered which would provide that Supreme Court judges are appointed by the legislative branch with the collegium functioning as an advisory body.
India is a huge country both demographically and geographically and consequently it operates a federal system of government. Below the national level, there are 28 States and seven Union Territories.
The largest of India's states is Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the north of the country. With 207 million inhabitants, UP is the most populous state in India and is also the most populous country subdivision in the world. On its own, if it was an independent nation, this state would be the world's fifth biggest country. Only China, India itself, the United States, and Indonesia have a higher population.
In Indian general elections, it fills more than one-seventh of the seats in India's Parliament and, such is the state's caste-based and sometimes violent politics that, currently a quarter of UP's MPs face criminal charges.
Over the years, India has evolved from a highly centralised state dominated by one political party to an increasingly fragmented nation, more and more influenced by regional parties and more and more governed locally by unstable multi-party alliances. In the General Election of 2009, Congress and the BJP faced each other in only seven of the 28 States; elsewhere, one of the two national parties faced a regional party.
Politics in India is much rougher and much more corrupt that in the democracies of Europe and North America. Assassination is not uncommon: the revered Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, and the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 were all murdered, although it has to be noted that these were not really political assassinations which happen more at local level. Communal, caste and regional tensions continue to haunt Indian politics, sometimes threatening its long-standing democratic and secular ethos. The language used by political candidates about each other is often vivid.
One key question will be the influence on the new government of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the vast conservative Hindu revivalist organisation where new Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his career as an activist. The RSS was heavily involved in the 2014 election and Modi and many other senior officials of the BJP, which is independent of the RSS though ideologically close, are still members of the organisation.
Recent years have seen the emergence of so-called RTI activists - tens of thousands of citizens, often poor, sometimes almost illiterate, frequently highly motivated - who use the Right To Information legislation of 2005 to promote transparency and attack corruption in public institutions. In the first five years of the legislation, over a million RTI requests were filed and so threatening to authority have some of the RTI activists become that a number of have been murdered.
Link: RTI India click here
More recently than the RTI movement, there has been a related - if rather different in caste and class terms - movement around the demand for an anti-corruption agency (called Lokpal). This movement has been led by the hunger-striker Anna Hazare and draws most of its support from the growing Indian middle-class which feels alienated from politics since the votes are to be found in poor, rural communities while the power is to be found in rich, urban elites.
In spite of all its problems, India remains a vibrant and functioning democracy that is a beacon to democrats in many surrounding states.
Last modified on 18 July 2017
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