India: The Biggest Democracy on the Globe

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  • Topic: India, Lok Sabha, Government of India
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Executive Summary: India

Part I: Political Institutions/The State

The Republic of India, located in southern Asia, gained independence from Britain in 1947. After gaining independence, the country became a Federal Republic (Chakrabarty 39). Because of the countries enthusiasm for democracy and its sheer size, India has been “branded as the biggest democracy on the globe” (Chakrabarty 1). Many scholars describe India’s government as a hybrid of the US and the UK because of its parliamentary system, federal set-up, and reliance on its constitution (Chakrabarty 31). Although the country is a democratic world power, it is still considered a developing country, due to its vast income inequality.

India’s constitution was written in 1950, shortly after the country gained independence. The constitution calls for freedom, equality, and unity (Chakrabarty 5). India’s constitution is the “longest basic law of any of the world's independent countries. It contains, at latest count, 444 articles and a dozen schedules. Since its original adoption, it has been amended more than one hundred times, and now fills about 250 printed pages” (Mehta). India derives its rational-legal legitimacy from its constitution.

India’s executive branch consists of a President, Prime Minister, and Council of Ministers. The president heads the central government and presides over a bicameral legislature or Parliament (Park 80). In theory the President is "the constitutional head without even an iota of activism in real politik" (Chakrabarty 57); but in practice many Presidents have "sought to attribute vastly greater powers to the office of the President (Chakrabarty 60). Only people with exceptional qualities and stature or who are blessed by the leader of the ruling party are elected as President (Chakrabarty 57). The President serves a five-year term and is elected by the parliament and state legislature. The current president of India is Prathiba Patil, the first woman president of the country. Patil is a member of the Indian National Congress (INC) (Park 80).

The Prime Minister acts as the effective source of executive power in India (Park 81). The Prime Minister’s position has no term limits, but he can be voted out by the lower house through a vote of no confidence. India’s current prime Minister is Manmohan Singh, also a member of the INC. The Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, is meant to advise the President (Chakrabarty 67). India’s bicameral Parliament consists of a lower house and an upper house. The lower house is called Lok Sabha (the People’s Assembly) and is the more powerful of the two houses. There are 545 Lok Sabha members, and each member of the Lok Sabha represents approximately two million people. Members of the Lok Sabha serve five year terms and are elected by the people. The main purpose of the Lok Sabha is to pass legislation (Chakrabarty 92). The upper house is called Rajya Sabha (the Council of States). Rajya Sabha houses 250 members each of whom serve a six year term. Twelve Rajya Sabha members are elected by the President and the rest are chosen by state representatives (Chakrabarty 89).

The State Executive is set up much like the Central Executive. States in India have a very low degree of functional autonomy and capacity; the state executive usually looks to the central government for guidance (Chakrabarty 108-109). The Governor acts much like the President (110); the Chief Minister acts much like the Prime Minister (Chakrabarty 117); and the state’s Council of Ministers acts much like the central government’s Council of Ministers (Chakrabarty 124). Because there are so many states with so little power, they do not function very well and are often rife with corruption. The central government is bogged down in state issues that it would not have to deal with if it gave each state greater autonomy and capacity (Chakrabarty 107).

India’s Supreme Court is similar to that of...
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