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Constitutional framework

The framers of the Indian Constitution, while assimilating various international influences, were predominantly guided by the British paradigm of parliamentary democracy. They also integrated several tenets from the United States Constitution, such as the delineation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the institution of a Supreme Court, and the implementation of a federal system, albeit with modifications, to delineate authority between the central and state governments. The procedural intricacies for the administration of the central government were extensively derived from the Government of India Act of 1935, enacted by the British Parliament, which functioned as India’s constitutional framework during the final phase of British colonial governance.

The Constitution, enacted on January 26, 1950, established India as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” Comprising 395 articles, initially 10 and subsequently expanded to 12 schedules that elucidate and amplify numerous articles, and over 90 amendments, it stands as one of the most comprehensive constitutions globally. It encompasses an exhaustive enumeration of “fundamental rights,” an extensive catalog of “directive principles of state policy”—aspirational objectives that the state strives to realize, albeit without a definitive timeline for achievement, a concept borrowed from the Irish Constitution—and a concise list of “fundamental duties” for citizens.

The document meticulously specifies the configuration, authorities, and operational modalities of both the central and state governments. It further provides for the safeguarding of rights and the advancement of interests for specific societal segments, namely the “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes.” Moreover, it delineates the procedure for amending the Constitution. The particularity of the Indian Constitution necessitates frequent amendments, averaging nearly two annually, to address matters that, in other nations, might be resolved through ordinary legislative measures. Except for a few cases, constitutional amendments typically require a simple majority in both houses of Parliament, with the stipulation that this majority represents two-thirds of the members present and voting.

Constitutional structure

The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution meticulously delineates three distinct lists that define the legislative competencies of the Union and State governments. The Union List specifies domains where the Union Government holds exclusive legislative prerogative, encompassing foreign affairs, defense, telecommunications, monetary policy, corporate taxation, non-agricultural income taxes, and railway administration.

Conversely, State Governments possess exclusive legislative authority over subjects such as public order, healthcare and sanitation, municipal administration, gambling and betting, and taxation related to agricultural income, entertainment, and alcoholic beverages.

The Concurrent List enumerates subjects where both the Union and State Governments are permitted to legislate. In instances of overlap, legislation enacted by the Union Government typically prevails. This list includes criminal law, matrimonial laws, contractual agreements, economic and social planning, demographic management and family planning, labor unions, social welfare, and education.

For any matter necessitating legislation that falls outside the scope of these enumerated powers, the authority unequivocally rests with the Central Government.

A particularly significant power vested in the Union Government is the capacity to alter the political map of the nation by creating new states, amalgamating existing ones, redefining state boundaries, or abrogating a state’s existence. Additionally, the Union Government holds the power to establish or dissolve Union Territories, which operate with more circumscribed powers compared to the states.

Despite the states’ autonomy over a considerable array of issues, the Constitution confers a more assertive role upon the Union Government, underscoring its supremacy in the federal structure.

Union government

The Union Government of India follows a well-defined structure with three separate branches, each playing a crucial role in maintaining the balance of power and ensuring the smooth functioning of the country. The Executive Branch is responsible for implementing and enforcing laws, and is made up of the President, Vice President, and the Council of Ministers led by the Prime Minister. This branch is entrusted with carrying out the day-to-day administration of the country and making important decisions on behalf of the government. The Legislative Branch consists of the Parliament, which is divided into two houses – the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha, also known as the House of the People, represents the citizens of India while the Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States, represents the interests of the various states. The Parliament is responsible for making laws, passing budgets, and overseeing the functioning of the government. The President, who is the head of state, is an essential part of the Parliament and plays a ceremonial role in its proceedings. The Judicial Branch is headed by the Supreme Court of India, which is the highest court in the country. The Supreme Court is responsible for interpreting the Constitution, resolving disputes between the Centre and the states, and ensuring that the laws passed by the Legislature are in line with the constitutional principles. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all lower courts and must be followed by them. This system of checks and balances ensures that no single branch of the government becomes too powerful and helps in maintaining the democratic principles on which the Indian Constitution is based.

Executive branch

The President of India serves as the nation’s ceremonial head of state and is elected for a renewable term of five years by an electoral college, which includes the elected members of both the Parliament’s houses and the elected members of the state legislative assemblies. The Vice President, elected by an electoral college comprising only the members of the two houses of Parliament, presides over the Rajya Sabha. In the event of the President’s death or departure from office, the Vice President steps in as acting President until a new election can be conducted.

While the President’s role is primarily ceremonial, their powers can become significant during times of national emergency. Under normal circumstances, the President acts on the recommendations of the Prime Minister. The extent of the President’s authority is occasionally subject to discussion. The President is empowered to declare a national emergency if the nation’s security is believed to be at severe risk, or to impose President’s rule in a state if its legislative assembly is deemed incapable of governing effectively. Additionally, the President has the authority to dissolve the Lok Sabha and call for new elections should the Prime Minister lose a vote of confidence.

The real locus of executive power lies with the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the Lok Sabha, is formally appointed by the President. The Council of Ministers, also appointed by the President upon the Prime Minister’s recommendation, includes the Cabinet, which is the most influential body within the council. Cabinet positions are allocated based on a combination of factors, including individual interest, expertise, loyalty to the ruling party or leader, and the need to reflect the nation’s diverse regions and demographic groups, such as those defined by religion, language, caste, and gender. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers hold office for the duration of the Lok Sabha’s term unless they are unseated by a vote of no confidence.

Legislative branch

Within the bicameral structure of India’s Parliament, the Lok Sabha holds a position of greater authority. It is here that the Prime Minister, as the head of the majority party or coalition, exercises leadership. The Constitution prescribes a maximum of 530 elected representatives from the states and an additional 20 from the Union Territories for the Lok Sabha, with allocations based on population size. Furthermore, the President is vested with the discretion to nominate up to two members from the Anglo-Indian community should their representation be deemed insufficient. The tenure for Lok Sabha members is set at five years, subject to the condition that the house may be dissolved earlier.

The Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, has its membership capped at 250. Within this limit, the President nominates 12 individuals recognized for their contributions to literature, science, the arts, and social services. The remaining members are elected by the state legislative assemblies in accordance with proportional representation. Unlike the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha is a permanent body, although every second year, one-third of its members retire. Legislative proposals can be introduced in either chamber, with the exception of financial bills, which are exclusive to the Lok Sabha. To be enacted into law, a bill must secure a simple majority in both houses.

State and local governments

The constitutional framework delineates the governmental architecture of the states, which mirrors the federal structure to a significant extent. At the state level, the executive is headed by a governor, whose role is largely symbolic and ceremonial, akin to the President at the union level. The governor is accompanied by a council of ministers, with the chief minister at the helm, who actively leads the state’s executive functions.

Each state possesses a legislative body known as the Vidhan Sabha, whose members are elected for a tenure that may extend to five years. A diminishing number of states maintain a bicameral legislature, featuring an upper house called the Vidhan Parishad. This body is analogous to the Rajya Sabha at the national level, with its size not exceeding one-third of the Vidhan Sabha. Within these councils, the governor nominates one-sixth of the members, while the rest are elected by a select group of voters with specific qualifications. The governor also plays a role in the legislative assembly, with the authority to suspend or dissolve it under circumstances where a stable majority is unattainable.

Administratively, states are segmented into districts, which are further subdivided into entities known as tahsils, taluqs, or subdivisions, depending on the region. These subdivisions are composed of community development blocks, each typically encompassing approximately 100 villages. Overlaying this structure is a three-tier system of local governance. At the grassroots, villages elect a governing council (gram panchayat), with the council’s chairperson also serving as the village’s representative on the community development block council (panchayat samiti). Each panchayat samiti, in turn, elects a representative to the district council (zila parishad). In parallel, municipalities operate under their own elected councils, independent of the aforementioned rural governance structure.

From the state to the village level, appointed officials oversee various government departments and agencies. Financial allocations from upper tiers of government, often provided on a matching-fund basis, are intended to stimulate development and support project implementation. However, the distribution and control of these funds can become a means of consolidating personal influence and, at times, may contribute to corrupt practices.


In India, the principle of an autonomous judiciary is firmly established. The Supreme Court, with justices appointed by the President who are eligible to serve up to the age of 65, is tasked with assessing the constitutional integrity of legislation enacted by the Union Government. Additionally, it is responsible for resolving conflicts between the Union and individual states, as well as among states themselves, and for processing appeals from subordinate courts. Each state within the nation is equipped with a High Court and several subordinate courts. The High Courts possess the authority to evaluate the constitutionality of state legislation, to issue an array of writs, and to function as appellate courts for the lower courts. Furthermore, they maintain comprehensive supervisory control over these inferior courts.

Political process

The administration of the electoral framework is the responsibility of the Election Commission. Universal adult suffrage is granted to all citizens aged 18 and above. Constituencies are delineated to encompass populations that are approximately equivalent in size. In each state, a proportionate number of constituencies are designated for individuals from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, reflecting their percentage of the state’s total populace. These designated constituencies are subject to change with each electoral cycle. It is noteworthy that candidates are not mandated to reside in the constituencies they aim to represent, thus the reallocation of seats does not inherently jeopardize their electoral prospects.

The political landscape in India is characterized by its intricacy. Political parties are classified as national or state entities based on their historical electoral performance. These parties are assigned specific symbols, such as a cow or a hammer and sickle, to facilitate the voting process for the illiterate population, with these symbols being prominently displayed on the ballots. The Indian National Congress stands out as the sole party with a consistent pan-Indian presence since the nation’s independence, having been established in 1885. Despite experiencing multiple splits, the most notable faction has been the Indian National Congress–Indira, also known as Congress (I), founded in 1978 by the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her associates.

To the left of the Congress, the political spectrum includes the Communist Party of India, which traditionally aligned with the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has shown a preference for Chinese policy approaches, among various other smaller Marxist and socialist factions. On the right, parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have resonated with Hindu nationalist sentiments, while others have catered to specific communal groups or sought to advance the interests of traditional landholding classes, including erstwhile princely states and affluent agricultural communities.

There has been a discernible growth in the influence and number of parties championing regional interests. This has led to a dynamic political environment where alliances and coalitions among parties with disparate ideologies are frequently formed and disbanded. The political arena has also witnessed a trend of opportunistic party defections by individuals pursuing personal political gains, despite legislative efforts to curb such practices, which have only achieved limited effectiveness.

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