20 00 N, 77 00 E
federal republic
15 August 1947


Government and politics

India is referred to as the largest democracy in the world, by virtue of the fact that it has the largest electing population among democratic countries. The country has a federal form of government and a bicameral parliament operating under a Westminster-style parliamentary system. It has three branches of governance: the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The President is the head of state, though he has a largely ceremonial role to play. He is also the Supreme Commander of India's armed forces. The President is elected indirectly by an electoral college for five-year terms. Presidential assent is needed for a Bill or Ordinance passed by the Parliament to come into force. The Prime Minister is the de facto head of government, and has most executive powers. He or she is appointed by the President, with the requirement that he or she enjoy the support of the majority of the party or coalition securing the most seats in the lower house of the Parliament. The Union Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister aids and advises the President on governance matters.

The Secretariat Building in New Delhi houses the Prime Minister's Office, the ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Finance and the Home Ministry.The legislature of India is the bicameral Parliament, which consists of the upper house called the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), and the lower house called the Lok Sabha (House of People). The 245-member Rajya Sabha is chosen indirectly through the state Legislative Assemblies, and has a staggered six-year term. Each state sends members to the Rajya Sabha in a proportion of its population.

The 545-member Lok Sabha is directly elected (Some seats are reserved for Caste based system) by popular vote for a five-year term (except two nominated Anglo-Indian members), and is the determinative constituent of political power and government formation. Universal adulthood suffrage is guaranteed by the Constitution for citizens above 18 years of age. The executive arm consists of the President, Vice-President, and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet being its executive committee) headed by the Prime Minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of either house of parliament. In the Indian parliamentary system, the executive is subordinate to the legislature.

India's independent judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India. The Supreme Court has both original jurisdiction over disputes between states and the Centre, and appellate jurisdiction over the eighteen High Courts of India, and additionally, the power to declare Union and state laws null and void if in conflict with the Constitution.

Ethnic groups

Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3%

The History

Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at Bhimbetka in the state of Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic Civilization which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.

The empire built by the Maurya dynasty under Emperor Ashoka the Great united most of modern Southern Asia except the Tamil kingdoms in the south. From 180 BCE, a series of invasions from Central Asia followed including the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans in the north-western Indian Subcontinent. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's "Golden Age." While the north had larger, fewer kingdoms, in the south there were several dynasties such as the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Cheras, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas, overlapping in time and space. Science, engineering, art, literature, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.

The Sanchi stupa in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh built by emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCFollowing the invasions from Central Asia, between the tenth to the twelfth centuries, much of north India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal dynasty, who gradually expanded their reign through large parts of the Indian subcontinent. Nevertheless, several indigenous kingdoms flourished, especially in the south, like the Vijayanagara Empire. From the sixteenth century onwards, several European countries, including Portugal, Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders, later taking advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms, to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India came under control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, known locally as the First War of Indian Independence (known as the Sepoy Mutiny elsewhere) broke out, which failed even as it seriously challenged British rule. India thus came under the direct control of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.

In the early twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress, and various revolutionary groups. The movement was largely led by Mahatma Gandhi, with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Subhash Chandra Bose playing important roles. Millions of protestors would engage in mass campaigns of civil disobedience with a commitment to ahimsa or non-violence. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India chose to be a republic, and a new Constitution came into effect.

Since independence, India has seen sectarian violence and insurgencies in various parts of the country, but has maintained its unity and democracy. It has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which escalated into the brief Sino-Indian War in 1962; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and in 1999 in Kargil. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations (as part of British India). In 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test. This was followed by five more tests in 1998. Significant economic reforms beginning in 1991 have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, adding to its growing global and regional influence.

The 1990s

On May 21, 1991, while Rajiv Gandhi campaigned in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), a female suicide bomber from the LTTE killed him and many more people when she set off the bomb in her belt by leaning forward while garlanding him. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and put together a coalition, returning to power under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalisation and reform, which has opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as traditional alignments by caste, creed, and ethnicity gave way to a plethora of small, regionally-based political parties. But India was rocked by communal violence between Hindus and Muslims that killed over 10,000 people, following the Babri Mosque demolition by Hindu mobs in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute in Ayodhya in 1992. The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 suffered the effects of several major political corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history.

Era of coalitions

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without enough strength to prove a majority on the floor of that Parliament. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP coalition lasted in power 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal emerged to form a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government lasted less than a year, as the leader of the Congress Party withdrew his support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister of a 16-party United Front coalition.

In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support for the United Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but this fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, prompting United States President Clinton and Japan to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.

Into the 21st century

In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. In May and June of 1999, India discovered an elaborate campaign of terrorist infiltration that resulted in the Kargil War in Kashmir, derailing a promising peace process that had begun only three months earlier when Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Pakistan, inaugurating the Delhi-Lahore bus service. Indian forces killed infiltrators, who included Pakistani soldiers, and reclaimed important border posts in high-altitude warfare. In the same year, India's population exceeded 1 billion.

Soaring on popularity earned following the successful conclusion of the Kargil conflict, the National Democratic Alliance - a new coalition led by the BJP - gained a majority to form a government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999. The NDA government's credibility was adversely affected by reports of intelligence failures that led to the Kargil incursions going undetected, as well as allegations that the Defence Minister George Fernandes took bribes over the purchase of coffins for soldiers who died in the battle.

The Tehelka scandal exposed the BJP party chief taking unaccounted contributions in return for promised favours, and the CBI chargesheeted senior BJP leaders for inciting the demolition of the Babri mosque. In 2002, tensions increased over the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad threatened to defy the Government, vowing to perform a religious ceremony on the disputed site. 59 Hindu activists were killed returning from the site when a train carriage was set ablaze a month later, in Godhra, Gujarat. This sparked off the 2002 Gujarat violence, leading to the deaths of thousands of Hindus and Muslims. The BJP-led state government, and its chief minister Narendra Modi were accused of encouraging Hindu mobs in attacking Muslims.

But throughout 2003, India's speedy economic progress, political stability and a rejuvenated peace initiative with Pakistan increased the Government's popularity. In January 2004 Vajpayee recommended early dissolution of the Lok Sabha and General elections. The Congress Party-led alliance won an upset victory in elections held in May 2004. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, after the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi declined to take the office, in order to defuse the controversy about whether her Italian birth should be considered a disqualification for the Prime Minister's post.

The Congress formed a coalition with socialist and regional parties, and enjoys the outside support of India's Communist parties. Manmohan Singh is the first Sikh to date to hold India's most powerful office. Singh has continued economic liberalization, although the need for support from Indian socialists and communists has forestalled further privatization.




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