A Brief Look at the Indian Polity

India, officially the Republic of India, is the seventh largest country by area, second most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the largest democracy in the world. It is a federal constitutional republic, governed under a parliamentary system, consisting of 28 States and 7 Union Territories.

Parliamentary system of Government

India has a parliamentary form of government. In this form of government the Parliament is the most important organ. People elect their representatives to be members of the Parliament and these representatives legislate and control the executive on behalf of the people.

The Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament i.e. Lok Sabha. They remain at the helm of affairs so long as they enjoy the confidence of Lok Sabha. Lok Sabha may dislodge them from power by expressing a no confidence against the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers. Thus, Parliament occupies a central position in the parliamentary system.

Composition of the Parliament

The Constitution of India, which came into force on 26th January 1950, provides for a bicameral Parliament consisting of Rajya Sabha, also known as upper House or the Council of States, and Lok Sabha, also known as Lower House or the House of the People.

The President of India is an integral part of the Parliament, although he is not a member of either House. As an integral part of the Parliament, the President has been assigned certain powers and functions.

The President of India

The President of India is elected by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies (Popular Houses) of the States. Though the President is a constituent part of Parliament, he does not sit or participate in the discussions in either of the two Houses. There are certain constitutional functions which he has to perform with respect to Parliament. The President summons and prorogues the two Houses from time to time. He/she also has the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha. His/her assent is essential for a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament. When the Parliament is not in Session and he is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, the President can promulgate Ordinances having the same force and effect as laws passed by Parliament.

Rajya Sabha

The Rajya Sabha is to consist of not more than 250 members. Of these, 12 are nominated by the President on the basis of their excellence in literature, science, art and social service. The remaining seats are allocated to the various States and Union Territories, roughly in proportion to their population. 

The representatives of each State are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of the State in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The minimum age for membership of Rajya Sabha is 30 years.

Every member of Rajya Sabha enjoys a safe tenure of six years. One-third of its members retire after every two years. This ensures continuance of the House. Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution. 

The Vice-President of India is the ex-officio of the Rajya Sabha. He/she presides over its meetings. In his/her absence the Deputy Chairman, who is elected by its members from amongst themselves, presides over the meeting of the House.

Lok Sabha

Unlike Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha is not a permanent body. It is the body of representatives of the people elected on the basis of adult suffrage (all Indian citizens of 18 years of age and above are eligible to vote). The maximum strength of the House envisaged by the Constitution is 552, out of which 530 members are directly elected from the States, while 20 members are elected from the Union Territories, and not more than two members of the Anglo-Indian community may be nominated by the President of India if, in his/her opinion, that community is not adequately represented in the House.

A certain number of seats have been reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Lok Sabha. Some constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and only persons belonging to these communities can contest from these reserved constituencies. However, all the voters of the reserved constituency vote irrespective of their caste/tribe.

The total elective membership of the House is distributed among the States in such a way that the ratio between the number of seats allotted to each State and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States. The representatives are elected for a period of 5 years, and their qualifying age is 25 years.

The presiding officer of the Lok Sabha is known as Speaker, who is elected by the members of the House. In his/her absence, a Deputy Speaker, who is also elected by the members of the House, presides over the meetings.

Functions of the Parliament

The main function of both the Houses is to make laws. Every Bill (Draft of the law to be passed) has to be passed by both the Houses and assented to by the President of India before it becomes law. The subjects over which Parliament can legislate are the subjects mentioned under the Union List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. These subjects are: Defence, Foreign Affairs, Railways, Transport and Communications, Currency and Coinage, Banking, Income Tax, Customs, Excise Duties, Atomic Energy, Census etc.

Besides passing laws, Parliament safeguards interests of citizens and exercise control over administration through resolutions, questions addressed by members to Ministers, and motions of adjournment.

The Parliament has three sessions every year:

  • Budget session: February to May
  • Monsoon session: July to September
  • Winter session: November to December

Multi Party System

For a long time now, governance through coalition of several political parties has more or less become the order of the day. In the current (15th) Lok Sabha, forty political parties have their presence. The present ruling Coalition (United Progressive Alliance or UPA) consists of 11 political parties and is supported from outside by 9 parties (these parties are not part of the coalition, but extended support to the UPA government). The major party in this Coalition is the Congress Party.  

The main opposition in the Parliament is also a coalition of political parties called National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The major political party of this Coalition is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some political parties did not join either of these Coalitions.

Lok Sabha Elections 2014

Lok Sabha elections have already started. Anxiety has also gripped various groups of people –  from ordinary citizens to business community. The choice available from the two biggest national parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – seems to be more globalization or more globalization.

The economic reforms initiated by the Congress government in the 1990s have been carried on by the successive governments. The emphasis of these governments is not on redistribution of the country’s wealth among its citizens or their genuine empowerment via common ownership of production, but on the opposite – recovery of “the economy”, which means positioning international funds and corporations to exploit markets and extract profit the best way they can. The government policies are facilitating corporate takeovers of food, agriculture, resources, land, public infrastructure and water. In the name of “development” successive governments have abused and forcefully removed some of the nation’s poorest people from their own lands in order to give them to private investors. So “development” means displacement of the owners of the land, and giving this land to profiteering companies linked with resource extraction and processing. Parts of agriculture have already been placed in the hands of powerful agribusiness companies. The effects include seed patenting and seed monopolies, increasing levels of cancer due to contamination, destruction of rural economies, farmer suicides and water run offs from depleted soil leading to climate change and severe water resource depletion. In the mainstream media and among many leading politicians and economists, this constitutes growth and development. But it is neither. It’s plunder. Such government policies have culminated in disempowerment and increasing hardship of masses and the concentration of ever more wealth and power in the hands of the relative few. 

However, neoliberal policies and privatization have resulted in massive corruption (Eg. CWG and 2G scams), as politicians and bureaucrats received kickbacks from the corporate they favoured. In other cases, even if there were no kickbacks, lack of adequate regulation allowed corporate to make windfall profits, while public sector banks have offered them generous loans.

The corruption and corporate plunder under the present UPA government are more widely recognized. Today the new corporate-backed superman of “good governance” is supposed to be Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. Let’s examine the claims being made on behalf of Gujarat under Modi by those who are suggesting that Modi-fying India is panacea for all the ills of the corruption and failures of the Congress regime.

Modi’s party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, promoted the phrase “India shining” in 2004 in an attempt to hoodwink the electorate that all was well in India as a result of its neoliberal economic policies. That electioneering slogan was as bogus as the “Gujarat shining”, given that Modi’s record on development in Gujarat is not all it appears to be.

Gujarat’s neoliberal development model has displayed all the distressing effects on people’s lives and the economy that has been felt in the rest of the country.

On the count of economic growth rate, Gujarat in the past five years was outstripped by Maharashtra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Odisha. In terms of per capita income, in 2011, Gujarat ranked 6th among major states, and has higher per capita debt than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The State’s debt increased from Rs. 45,301 crore in 2002 to Rs. 1,38,978 crore in 2013. NSSO data shows growth in employment for the period 1993-94 to 2004-05 was 2.69 percentage per annum, whereas for 2004-05 to 2009-10 it came down to zero. In 2011 Gujarat ranked 11th in the Human Development Index. When it came to crucial indicators like education and health, Gujarat has witnessed a decline in ranking to 9th and 10th positions respectively in a group of 19 major states. In the Global Hunger Index, Gujarat is part of the bottom 5 states in India. 80% of children below 4 years and 60% of pregnant women are anaemic in Gujarat.

Regarding corruption and corporate plunder, a CAG audit reveals that Modi’s government has done in Gujarat what Manmohan Singh’s did at the Center: extending undue benefits to corporations at huge costs to the public exchequer and loss of livelihoods.

So the “Modi model” is no different in its economic essentials from that of the Manmohan Singh’s model.

The corporations’ preference for the Modi model, argues Atul Sood in his book “Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat”, rests on his authoritarianism. We could qualify this to say that the Modi “magic” lies precisely in the mix of pro-corporate policies, authoritarian governance, and “consent” manufactured on a communal plank. It is this mixture that is specific form of communal-corporate fascism represented by Modi.

Conclusion

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said, “Let me be frank: in the past, economists have underestimated the importance of inequality. They have focused on economic growth, on the size of the pie rather than its distribution. Today, we are more keenly aware of the damage done by inequality. Put simply, a severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term. It leads to an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential.”

Cesar Chavez, co-founder of National Farm Workers’ Association, US, said, “History will judge societies and governments – and their institutions – not by how big they are or how well they serve rich and powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”          

 

Sources

Colin Todhunter, “Globalisation: A Vote In 2014 Will Be A Vote For India?” http://www.countercurrents.org/todhunter031013.htm

Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability,” Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper Number 23, January 2006, United Nations Research Institute For Social Development.

Kavita Krishnan, “Towards Lok Sabha 2014: Putting the Concerns of People’s Movements Back in the Frame.” http://www.countercurrents.org/krishnan240713.htm

Rohoni Hensman, “The Gujarat Model of Development; What Would It Do to the Indian Economy?” http://www.countercurrents.org/rh190314.htm

Sangma, P.A. “Functioning of Parliamentary Democracy in India.”

Yogendra Narain, An Introduction to Parliament of India, New Delhi: Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 2007.

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