India Political System
Short for IN by Abbreviationfinder, India is a republic and federal state with 28 states. The country’s president is the head of state, but the central power lies with the government and its prime minister. However, the Länder are responsible for a number of policy areas. The Congress party dominated politics for decades before it faced real competition by the Hindu nationalist party BJP in the late 1990s.
The 1950 Constitution states that India is a federation of states with its own governments, which in some matters is governed by a federal government for the entire country. The latter decides on foreign policy, defense, development planning, foreign exchange policy and more, while the state governments are responsible for such things as schooling, healthcare, bus traffic, public policy and agriculture.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of India for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
India is a parliamentary democracy. The legislative Parliament has two chambers. The upper one (rajya sabha or state parliament) has 245 members, 12 of whom are elected by the president and the rest are indirectly elected by the state parliaments for a six-year term. One third of the members are replaced every two years.
The lower chamber (lok sabha or the people’s chamber) may have a maximum of 550 members (545 after the 2014 parliamentary elections). Members are elected in general elections at least every five years and the elections are majority elections in one-man constituencies. In addition, the President appoints two representatives of the Anglo-Indian community (descendants of Englishmen, often with an English father and an Indian mother). Quotas are available for, among others, low castes (see the Caste System) and the goal is to have one third of female members. The age limit for voting is 18 years, and 25 years for candidacy in the elections.
The President of India is appointed for a five-year term by an electoral college made up of MPs at both federal and state levels. They can be re-elected. The powers of the President are very limited. The real power lies with the government of New Delhi, especially with its inner circle, the Cabinet. The government is responsible to Parliament.
The states and the city council
The states are governed in a similar way. The highest position in these is the governor, which in practice, however, is governed by the state government. This, in turn, is responsible to the state parliament. Both the governor, who is appointed by the president, and the state parliaments, who are appointed in general elections, have a five-year term. In some situations, such as if law and order were threatened, the federal government can take over the leadership of a state and govern directly through the governor.
The number of states is 28 since 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir were transformed into two Union territories: Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. In 2014, the state of Telangana came through an outbreak from Andhra Pradesh, see Map with state list.
Alongside the states there are eight Union Territories – Ladakh; Jammu and Kashmir; Andaman and Nicobar; Chandigarh; Dadra and Nagar Haveli; Daman and Diu; Lakshadweep (Lackadiverna etc.) and the Pondicherry and metropolitan area of Delhi (National Capital Territory). These nine are directly governed by the federal government, though some have managed to gain ever-greater self-government.
At the local level there are city councils (panchayat) and village parliaments (gram sabha), who are also elected for five years in general elections. The intention is that more and more data will be gradually transferred from above all the state level to the local level, which is going different quickly in different states. One problem for the local bodies is insufficient resources.
India has a plethora of different political parties. A clear trend since the 1980s has been that the regionally based parties, with their roots in a single state, have grown stronger. It is really only the Congress Party and the BJP (see below) that are truly All-Indian parties. Most important to get votes is usually not the party’s political program but its religious, linguistic and ethnic basis as well as a charismatic leader. Generally speaking, Indian voters have moved towards the middle of the political scale.
The Congress Party (Indian Congress Party or Congress only) was founded as early as 1885 and is India’s oldest political party. That brought India into independence in 1947. The Congress Party has gone from a nearly socialist emblematic idea program (especially during the 1950s) to accommodate a variety of factions, from the leftist through liberals to conservatives. The Congress Party has long had a strong party organization that reached out to almost the whole country, but it has today weakened. Cohesive forces are still the party’s historical role as well as the Nehru / Gandhi family, which has led the party almost uninterrupted since independence. Today, the Congress Party suffers from leadership problems, especially after the major elections in 2014 and 2019.
Congress included along with a number of smaller parties in the coalition United Progress Alliance (United Progressive Alliance, UPA).
The Hindu Nationalist Indian People’s Party (Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP) was formed in 1980 through an outbreak of the Janata Party (see Modern History). At its founding, the BJP emphasized Hinduism (Hindutva), nationalism and social conservatism. Particularly during the 2000s, the BJP has become more market-oriented and emphasizes the importance of economic growth and development. Especially before the 2014 elections, Hindu nationalism was toned down in favor of economic issues. Nowadays, the BJP can be said to balance the emphasis on economic issues that attract middle class and entrepreneurs and the traditional “temple politics”, which safeguards Hindu interests.
The BJP has close ties to the influential Hindu nationalist NGO Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has a large network at the grassroots level.
The BJP, together with several smaller parties, form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition . This includes Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP), Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Parties that are not part of the UPA or NDA but which have a relatively large representation in the federal parliament after the 2019 elections are: All India regional party Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) based in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry; the National Party All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), based in West Bengal and East India and formed during an outbreak of the Congress Party; and Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (Andhra Pradesh).
Other important parties are Orissa’s largest party Biju Janata Dal ; India Communist-Marxists (CommunistParty of India Marxist, CPI-M), Uttar Pradesh dominant portion of the SP (Samajwadi Party), Janata Dal (USA) (in the states of Bihar, and Jharkhand) and anti corruption portion ordinary people portion (Aam Aadmi Party, AAP). The majority’s social party (Bahujan Samaj Party, BSP) led by the female daliten (see caste system) Kumari Mayawati fighting for the rights of Dalits.
Central power and the regions
In India, with its spate of peoples, languages, social classes and various interests, politics has often been seen as a struggle between the central power and the regions, where India’s unity is sometimes at stake. Many have warned of a fragmentation of the country and thought it would be better to divide this giant country into self-governing or independent states in time. However, according to others, India’s strength lies precisely in the fact that so many different interests have been given room within the system.
British India (see Ancient History) was not a unified state but a mosaic of provinces and principality, the latter largely independent. The boundaries, internal conditions and relations of the central and provincial powers of the provinces and principalities were determined by historical coincidences and the interests of the colonial powers.
Independent India was organized in the states through a series of reforms from 1956. When the borders were drawn between the states, it was mainly the languages that were allowed to govern. Thus, in a way, India’s ethnic divide was emphasized. Regional parties, often strongly hostile to the central power, could also assert themselves in a completely different way than before.
In part, the problems that have arisen have been solved, or at least managed, within the system. The most problematic are the religious contradictions. One of the cornerstones of the Constitution is that India should be a secular state, where people’s religion should have no political significance.
Functioning democracy – after all
However, this is easier said than done. Religions play a crucial role in everyday life and act as important cohesive links in this vast country. Thus, religious factors also receive great political importance. Different groups require special consideration for their particular religion. Among the Hindus there are more or less extremist organizations and parties, and not least among the minorities, religion has taken open political expression. Politicians have also used religious contradictions for their own purposes.
To some extent, one can see the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, where a majority of the population are Muslims, in this light (see Conflicts: Kashmir).
A special case is the Sikhs, who previously demanded their own state, Khalistan. During the 1980s, Sikh terrorism in the state of Punjab grew into a difficult problem for the Indian government, which tried to solve this with both carrot and whip. A few years into the 1990s, the wave of insurgency had settled because of the police’s harsh methods – most of the leading separatists were killed – but also because the methods of terror caused the opinion of Punjab to distance itself from the idea of independence.
Terror is also exploited by the Maoist Naxalites, mainly in northeastern India. The Naxalites, who say that they are fighting for the rights of the poor rather than for their own state, have become an increasing problem for the central government (see the Naxali uprising).
After all, democracy in India has been successful. In the federal system, everything from communist atheists to conservative religious has been able to work for their ideals. Governments have been appointed and set aside in the states and at federal level according to the will of the majority of people in free elections.