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Politics of India

Political Institutions & Parties

Republic of India
• A federal republic with a parliamentary
system of government
• capital: New Delhi
2nd most populous nation
• Population: over 1 1/4 billion
• Growing at 1.2% a year (vs. 0.4% in China)
• More than a quarter aged 14 or younger
• Most Indians aged 28 or younger
A nation of diversity: religions
• Religions:
– Hindu (~80%)
– Muslim (~14%)
– Christian, Sikh, etc.
• all major religions in the world are present
• one of the major causes of conflict
• religion can become a political vehicle for
social movement
Brief history
• One of the world’s
oldest civilizations
– 5,000 years
• foreign incursions
– Aryans, Arabs, Turks,
Portugal, France, and
– from 1,500 B.C. to 19th
Century A.D.
190 years of British colonial rule
• Informal colonial rule through the British
East India Company (1750s-1850s)
• formal colonial rule after the Mutiny
rebellion of 1857
Struggle for independence
• Indian National Congress was formed in
• non-violent resistance to colonial rule
• Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)
– transformed INC
– unity within diversity
– non-cooperation movement
• Nehru (1889-1964)
Independence & partition
• Division of the subcontinent (1947)
– India
– Pakistan
Republic of India
• Prime Minister Nehru (1947-1964)
• His daughter (Indira Gandhi) as Prime
Minister (1966-1977, 1980-1984)
Nehru’s legacies
• His grandson
– Rajiv Gandhi
– Prime Minister (1984-1989)
• His granddaughter-in-law
– Sonja Gandhi
– Congress party president
(1999 - )
World’s largest democracy
• Resilient democratic institutions,
processes, and legitimacy
– except 1975-1977
– Indira Gandhi declared national emergency
• politics in India is characterized by
– governments of precarious coalitions
– weakened political institutions
– political activism along ethnic lines
A federal system
• 26 states and 6 centrally administered
Union Territories
– 2 states are partially claimed by Pakistan and
Federal system
• Relatively centralized
• federal government controls the most
essential government functions
– defense
– foreign policy
– taxation
– public expenditures
– economic (industrial) planning
Federal system
• state governments formally control
– agriculture
– education
– law and order within states
– dependent on central government for funds
Federal system
• Balance of power between central and
state governments
– varies by time and place
– state power was constrained
• during the rule of Nehru and Indira Gandhi
– state governments have more room to
• when central government is weak
• since 1998
Federal system
• considerable center-state conflict when
ruling political party in a state is different
from national ruling party
Parallel state structure
• Formal political structure of the states
parallels that of the national government
• national state
• President Governor
• Prime Minister Chief Minister
• Parliament Assembly
• Supreme Court High Court
The legislature
• Parliamentary system of government
– the executive authority is responsible to the
The legislature
• bicameral Parliament
– Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
– Lok Sabha (House of the People)
Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
• The Upper House
Upper House
• Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
• not more than 250 members
– 12 are nominated by the President of India
– the rest are indirectly elected
• by state Legislative Assemblies
• The Council of States can not be dissolved
– members have terms of 6 years
– 1/3 members retire at end of every 2nd year
Lok Sabha
• House of the
Lower House
• Lok Sabha (House of the People)
• 545 members
– 2 are appointed by the President of India
– the rest are directly elected from single-
member districts
• 5-year terms unless dissolved
• Lok Sabha elects its presiding officer
– the Speaker
Lok Sabha
• Elections held at least every 5 years
• Prime Minister may call elections earlier
• 543 single-member districts of roughly
equal population
• party nomination
• 1st-past-the-post
– winner-take-all
• women’s share
Elections to Lok Sabha
• Vote share of 3 major political parties
Indian National Congress
• India’s oldest political party
– since 1885
• India’s premier political party
– until 1990s
• in 1960s many regional parties started
challenging INC’s monopoly on power
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
• The major political party in India today
• right-leaning, Hindu-nationalist party
– first major party to mobilize explicitly on the
basis of religious identity
Prime Minister
• Leader of the majority party leader in Lok
Sabha becomes the prime minister
• prime minister nominates a cabinet
– members of Parliament in the ruling coalition
– Council of Ministers
• effective power is concentrated in the
office of the prime minister
– where most of the important policies originate
The President of India
• Head of the State
• Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces
• elected by an electoral college
– national Parliament
– state legislature
• 5-year terms
• can be reelected
The President of India
• Ceremonial office
– symbolize national unity
– supposedly above partisan politics
• mostly acts on the advice of the prime
• President plays a significant role when the
selection of a prime minister is complex
– in 1998 President requested BJP to form govt.
The Judiciary
• Fundamental contradiction in constitution
– principle of parliamentary sovereignty
– principle of judicial review
The Judiciary
• judiciary tries to preserve the constitution’s
basic structure
• to ensure that legislation conforms with the
intent of the constitution
• parliament tries to assert its right to amend
the constitution