The politics of India takes place within the framework of the country’s constitution. India is a federal parliamentary democratic republic in which the President of India is the head of state and the Prime Minister of India is the head of government. India follows the dual polity system, i.e. a double government that consists of the central authority at the centre and states at the periphery. The constitution defines the organisational powers and limitations of both central and state governments, and it is well-recognised, rigid and considered supreme; i.e. the laws of the nation must conform to it.
There is a provision for a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper house, the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), which represents the states of the Indian federation, and a lower house, the Lok Sabha (House of the People), which represents the people of India as a whole. The Indian constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which is headed by the Supreme Court. The court’s mandate is to protect the constitution, to settle disputes between the central government and the states, to settle inter-state disputes, to nullify any central or state laws that go against the constitution and to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, issuing writs for their enforcement in cases of violation.
Governments are formed through elections held every five years (unless otherwise specified), by parties that secure a majority of members in their respective lower houses (Lok Sabha in the central government and Vidhan Sabha in states). India had its first general election in 1951, which was won by the Indian National Congress, a political party that went on to dominate subsequent elections until 1977, when a non-Congress government was formed for the first time in independent India. The 1990s saw the end of single-party domination and the rise of coalition governments. The elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, held from April 2014 to May 2014, once again brought back single-party rule in the country, with the Bharatiya Janata Party being able to claim a majority in the Lok Sabha.
In recent decades, Indian politics has become a dynastic affair Possible reasons for this could be the absence of party organisations, independent civil society associations that mobilise support for the parties and centralised financing of elections. The Economist Intelligence Unit rated India as a “flawed democracy” in 2016.
Defining and measuring democracy
There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest. For example, although democracy promotion is high on the list of US foreign-policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy. As one observer put it: “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p. 114).
Although the terms “freedom” and “democracy” are often used interchangeably, the two are not synonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussed below, there is a question as to how far the definition may need to be widened.
Some insist that democracy is, necessarily, a dichotomous concept: a state is either democratic or
not. But most measures now appear to adhere to a continuous concept, with the possibility of varying
degrees of democracy. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom
House organisation. The average of its indexes, on a 1 to 7 scale, of political freedom (based on 10
indicators) and of civil liberties (based on 15 indicators) is often taken to be a measure of democracy.
The Freedom House measure is available for all countries, and stretches back to the early 1970s. It
has been used heavily in empirical investigations of the relationship between democracy and various
economic and social variables. The so-called Polity Project provides, for a smaller number of countries,
measures of democracy and regime types, based on rather minimalist definitions, stretching back to
the 19th century. These have also been used in empirical work.
Freedom House also measures a narrower concept, that of “electoral democracy”. Democracies in
this minimal sense share at least one common, essential characteristic. Positions of political power
are filled through regular, free and fair elections between competing parties, and it is possible for an
incumbent government to be turned out of office through elections. Freedom House’s criteria for an
electoral democracy include:
1) A competitive, multi-party political system.
2) Universal adult suffrage.
3) Regularly contested elections conducted on the basis of secret ballots, reasonable ballot security
and the absence of massive voter fraud.
4) Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through
generally open political campaigning
The Freedom House definition of political freedom is more demanding (although not much) than its
criteria for electoral democracy—that is, it classifies more countries as electoral democracies than as
“free” (some “partly free” countries are also categorised as “electoral democracies”). At the end of 2015,
125 out of 193 states were classified as “electoral democracies”; of these, on a more stringent criterion,
89 states were classified as “free”. The Freedom House political-freedom measure covers the electoral
process and political pluralism and, to a lesser extent, the functioning of government and a few aspects
A key difference in measures is between “thin”, or minimalist, and “thick”, or wider, concepts of
democracy (Coppedge, 2005). The thin concepts correspond closely to an immensely influential
academic definition of democracy, that of Dahl’s concept of polyarchy (Dahl, 1970). Polyarchy has eight
components, or institutional requirements: almost all adult citizens have the right to vote; almost
all adult citizens are eligible for public office; political leaders have the right to compete for votes;
elections are free and fair; all citizens are free to form and join political parties and other organisations;
all citizens are free to express themselves on all political issues; diverse sources of information
about politics exist and are protected by law; and government policies depend on votes and other
expressions of preference.
The Freedom House electoral democracy measure is a thin concept. Its measure of democracy
based on political rights and civil liberties is “thicker” than the measure of “electoral democracy”.
Other definitions of democracy have broadened to include aspects of society and political culture in
The Economist Intelligence Unit measure
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index is based on the view that measures of democracy which
reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not thick enough. They do not encompass
sufficiently, or, in some cases, at all, the features that determine how substantive democracy is.
Freedom is an essential component of democracy, but not, in itself, sufficient. In existing measures,
the elements of political participation and functioning of government are taken into account only in a
marginal and formal way.
Our Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties;
the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are
interrelated and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of holding free and fair competitive
elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the sine qua non of all definitions.
All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital
component of what is often called “liberal democracy”. The principle of the protection of basic human
rights is widely accepted. It is embodied in constitutions throughout the world, as well as in the UN
Charter and international agreements such as the Helsinki Final Act (the Conference on Security and
Co-operation in Europe). Basic human rights include freedom of speech, expression and of the press;
freedom of religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to due judicial process. All
democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule
by the majority is not necessarily democratic. In a democracy, majority rule must be combined with
guarantees of individual human rights and the rights of minorities. Most measures also include aspects
of the minimum quality of functioning of government. If democratically based decisions cannot be or
are not implemented, then the concept of democracy is not very meaningful.
Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions. A democratic political culture is also crucial
for the legitimacy, smooth functioning and, ultimately, the sustainability of democracy. A culture
of passivity and apathy—an obedient and docile citizenry—is not consistent with democracy. The
electoral process periodically divides the population into winners and losers. A successful democratic
political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters
and allow for the peaceful transfer of power.
Participation is also a necessary component, as apathy and abstention are enemies of democracy.
Even measures that focus predominantly on the processes of representative, liberal democracy include
(albeit inadequately or insufficiently) some aspects of participation. In a democracy, government
is only one element in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political organisations and
associations. Citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to
express their dissatisfaction by not participating. However, a healthy democracy requires the active,
freely chosen participation of citizens in public life. Democracies flourish when citizens are willing
to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties. Without this broad,
sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups.
At the same time, even our thicker, more inclusive and wider measure of democracy does not
include other aspects—which some authors argue are also crucial components of democracy—such
as levels of economic and social wellbeing. Therefore, our Index respects the dominant tradition that
holds that a variety of social and economic outcomes can be consistent with political democracy, which
is a separate concept.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60
indicators, grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning
of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale,
and the overall Index is the simple average of the five category indexes.
The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0
to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following
critical areas for democracy:
- Whether national elections are free and fair.
- The security of voters.
- The influence of foreign powers on government.
- The capability of the civil service to implement policies.
If the scores for the first three questions are 0 (or 0.5), one point (0.5 point) is deducted from the index
in the relevant category (either the electoral process and pluralism or the functioning of government). If
the score for 4 is 0, one point is deducted from the functioning of government category index
The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regime:
- Full democracies: scores greater than 8
- Flawed democracies: scores greater than 6, and less than or equal to 8
- Hybrid regimes: scores greater than 4, and less than or equal to 6
- Authoritarian regimes: scores less than or equal to 4
Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are
respected, but which also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of
democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There
is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are
enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.
Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are
problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However,
there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an
underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.
Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both
free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious
weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of
government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak.
Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is
Authoritarian regimes: In these states, state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed.
Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may
exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard
for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups
connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive
censorship. There is no independent judiciary.
By The Truth Staff
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit