In spite of being under the British rule for a long period, India borrowed heavily from English and American constitutions while framing her own Constitution after independence. The preamble states*:
We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens:
in our Constituent Assembly this twenty-sixth day of November 1949, do hereby Adopt, Enact and Give to ourselves this Constitution.
- Justice, social, economic and political;
- Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
- Equality of status and of opportunity;
- and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation
* The words "Socialist Secular" and "the unity and the integrity of the Nation", were added by the 42nd Amendment.
As the world's largest democracy, Indian government rests on: the central parliament and state legislatures, the judiciary and the executive. Each one functions independently, however, all of them are interlinked and operate under the parameters defined by the Constitution.
India's government consists of a central government and state governments. The central government has exclusive authority, which include foreign policy, defense, communications, currency, taxation on corporations and nonagricultural income, and railroads. State governments have the sole power to legislate on such subjects as law and order, public health and sanitation, local government, betting and gambling, and taxation on agricultural income, entertainment, and alcoholic beverages. On some issues both the union government and state governments may legislate, though a union law generally takes precedence. Among these areas are criminal law, marriage and divorce, contracts, economic and social planning, population control and family planning, trade unions, social security, and education. Matters requiring legislation that are not specifically covered in the listed powers lie within the exclusive domain of the central government.
An exceedingly important power of the union government is that of creating new states, combining states, changing state boundaries, and terminating a state's existence. The union government may also create and dissolve any of the union territories, which have more limited powers than those of the states. Although the states exercise either sole or joint control over a substantial range of issues, the constitution establishes a more dominant role for the union government.
Indian Parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha, (Upper House) and the Lok Sabha (Lower House). Members of the Rajya Sabha are indirectly elected by the state legislative assemblies on the basis of proportional representation. A third of its members retire every two years; they can however be re-elected. Traditionally, the President appoints twelve members to the Rajya Sabha who have been outstanding in various fields like arts, sports, music, etc. Members to the Lok Sabha are elected directly by the people for a five-year term. Any Indian citizen over 25 years of age is eligible to get voted into the Lok Sabha and any Indian citizen over the age of 18 is eligible to vote.
States are governed in the same manner as the nation. States have a Vidhan Sabha (Legislative assembly) which is similar to the Lok Sabha. Members to the Vidhan Sabha are voted by the people for a period of five years. The leader of the Sabha is the chief minister who appoints his own council of ministers. Every state also has a Governor who is appointed by the President. In case it is required, the Governor can exercise his emergency powers, dismiss the state government and take over functioning of the state. This however rarely happens in practice.
The President is the constitutional head of Executive of the Union. Real executive power vests in a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head who aid and advise the President. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, the House of the People. In the states, the Governor, as the representative of the President, is the head of Executive, but real executive power rests with the Chief Minister who heads the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers of a state is collectively responsible to the elected legislative assembly of the state. The Constitution governs the sharing of legislative power between Parliament and the State Legislatures, and provides for the vesting of residual powers in Parliament. The power to amend the Constitution also vests in Parliament. The Union Executive consists of the President, the Vice President and Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President.
Judicial authority in India is exercised through a system of national courts administering the laws of the republic and the states. All judges are appointees of the executive branch of the government, but their independence is guaranteed by a variety of safeguards. Noteworthy among the latter is a provision requiring a two-thirds vote of the national legislature to effect removal from office. At the apex of the judicial system is a Supreme Court, consisting of up to 26 members. Next in authority are the high courts and subordinate courts in each state.
The main purpose of the Supreme Court is to deal between disputes between the central and state governments and in public litigation cases which involve interpretation of the Constitution. Totally autonomous in operation, the Supreme Court has often been used, in recent history, by the people to keep the government in check.
The entire election process in India is controlled and conducted by an Election Commission (EC). This is an independent body and it ensures that elections are held in a free and fair manner. The Election Commission fixes and announces the dates for elections.
After counting of votes, the party getting simple majority is declared elected. Majority can be of 2 types:
A simple majority may, at times lead to paradoxes, in that the elected representative may win only because he has the highest number of votes but he may not have the mandate of the majority of the voting public. This leads to interesting situations in the post-election period!
The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, led India in the struggle for independence and provided the country's prime ministers until 1977. In 1969 a group of Congress members left the party to form the small Indian National Congress-Organization (or O), the nation's first officially recognized opposition party. In early 1977 the Congress-Organization joined with three other parties, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Bharatiya Lok Dal, and the Socialist party, to form the Janata party, which won about half of the seats in the House of the People in elections in March 1977. In May the Janata party achieved a solid majority by merging with the Congress for Democracy. In 1978 the Congress party split again, as Indira Gandhi founded the Indian National Congress-Indira (now Congress-I), which swept to victory in parliamentary elections in 1980 and 1984, but lost its majority in 1989, although retaining the largest share of seats. Its major competitors in the 1991 elections included Janata Dal (the largest party in National Front coalition) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Today, the Prime Minister of India is Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP and the President is Shankar Dayal Sharma.
The President is the supreme commander of all the armed forces. All branches of the armed services of India are made up solely of volunteers. The strength of the regular army is 1,265,000 people. The navy comprises 55,000 personnel and the Air force strength is 110,000, with more than 700 combat aircraft. Having been involved in three wars since independence, India places great importance in its defense. Having two nuclear-weapon states with aggressive intentions as neighbors, India has also developed and tested nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has also promised a moratorium on further testing. It is interesting to note that India has never been the aggressor in any war so far. Today India also possesses the technology to produce missiles, fighter planes, tanks and other weapons.
India's foreign policy has been officially one of nonalignment with any of the world's major power blocs. The country was a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and has remained one of its prominent leaders. She plays an important role in global affairs, often as a champion of the causes of the world's colonially exploited and less developed nations. India has maintained its membership in the Commonwealth (formerly, the British Commonwealth of Nations), and in 1950 it became the first Commonwealth country to change from a dominion to a republic. It was a charter member, even though not yet independent, of the United Nations (as it was of the League of Nations) and has played an active role in virtually all the organs within the United Nations system. In 1985 India joined six neighboring countries in launching the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Today India is a member of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). More details on India's foreign policy, India's relationship with her neighbors, and other foreign-related issues will soon be found on Kulbir's Indian Foreign Affairs page.