In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Political System in India 2. Peculiar Features of Political System in Free India.
Introduction to Political System in India:
In India political system too has not been static. It has been changing with changing times but to a large extent basic system has remained unchanged. In the ancient past both under the Hindu and the Muslim rulers, there used to be absolute monarchy. The ruler used to be above law of the land. There used to be no written laws.
The words of the Raja or Badshah used to be final and no one dared to challenge the commands of the King. He, of course, used to have his Ministers who provided him feedback in order to enable him to take a decision, but it was not obligatory for of the king to accept their advise.
There was also system of doing the work through various departments and also the method of coordinating their activities. But there was no system by which public opinion could reach the monarch.
In fact, it was good or bad luck of the people to have either benevolent or cruel monarch. Public welfare then was not the sole aim of the king. It was a feudal system and the society was a feudalistic society. The taxes collected used to be spent on personal comforts of the ruler.
The last of the Mughals surrendered before the de facto authority of the East India Company. The Company governed a large part of India but again basically the system remained the same.
It had no feedback from the people. Input system was very weak and character of administration remained autocratic. There was an administrative machinery, but more than often that was used as instrument of exploitation of the people, rather than that of their welfare.
Since the feedback to the political system established by East India Company in India was poor, therefore, output in the form of final laws was not to the satisfaction of the people. The result was that the structure could not resist the demands of the people and ultimately bowed down when there was outburst in 1857. The administration of India went from the Company to the Crown.
The system had slight change under the Crown. It was felt that that would be made responsive to the people though slowly and gradually but practically that did not happen. From unwritten law, a step forward towards written law was taken when Acts were passed in 1861, 1909, 1919, 1935 and then in 1947. Basic structure and system, however, remained unchanged.
Throughout the period in India the system was headed by a Governor- General, who was not responsible to the people of India in any way. Though Councils set up under the Acts were enlarged and it was hoped that these would provide sufficient feedback to law makers yet the whole process was very slow.
The right to franchise was given to very few persons who really did not represent the masses. The system came under strains and stresses by Indian political leaders who suggested the people of India to demonstrate, go on strike, boycott British goods, customs and the people as well as their way of life. World public opinion put more strains on the system.
In this way there was stress and strain both on internal-and external-structures, which ultimately compelled the British government to withdraw from India. In the process, political bosses in England tried to dilute the pressure of strains by way of appointing different commissions, like Cripps Mission, Cabinet Mission and Mountbatten Mission, etc.
Non-Political Nature of the System:
In the ancient past one important feature of our political system was its non-political character. One does not hear of opposition to rulers both in ancient, medieval or even before the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885, or of any organised political activity.
Political element in our administrative system got inducted in early years of this century when Indian National Congress began to get roots among the masses. After some time communists and communalists joined Indian political life.
Indianisation of Indian Political System:
Quite often it is believed that Indian political system, during British days was replica or carbon copy of British political system. But that is not true. The system developed under the influence of eastern, western, ancient and modem Indian traditions.
In spite of their best efforts, the Britishers could not completely impose their own system on India. Norman D. Palmer, in his Indian Political System has rather rightly said that, “Indianisation of Indian politics is still going on.”
Combination of Centralisation and Decentralisation:
One salient feature or characteristic of Indian political system both before and after independence has been combination of centralisation and decentralisation. Whereas throughout ancient, medieval and modern India there has been concentration of powers, the panchyatiraj institution enjoyed considerable autonomy.
The rajas and the kings were all powerful and exercised unchecked powers but at the same time they did not interfere in village affairs. During British days and after independence under the new constitution central government has been made very powerful, but still the stress has all along been in keeping away from village affairs and granting considerable autonomy to village Panchyats.
These are now being made more powerful and will have separate budgets, more financial powers and regular elections.
In the political structure steel framework of the government was that a powerful bureaucracy, with no contacts with the masses. It was supposed to be politically neutral and also required to implement the decisions of the legislature, which again was in no way a representative body.
Governmental system was based on three organs, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. But on the whole bureaucracy was very powerful. It was steel frame work of government.
In brief political structure up to 1947 did not change much in India. It basically remained the same, though at times more attention was paid to one aspect of life than to the other. Colonial system was the guiding principle of political arrangement and the basic structure of new constitution still inherits much from die past.
Role of Caste System:
In India caste system has very deep roots. In fact, it is difficult to think of our social and political system and organisation without caste system. This system though a slur on the fair name of our society, was very much encouraged by our British rulers.
It was forcibly got inducted in our political system so that one caste was made to fight against the other and the whole society got divided and there was no united political opposition. Caste system very much dominated political system and in many ways continues to dominate it even now.
Today all political party candidates for all elections are nominated by all political parties, taking caste into consideration. Thus, caste was and continues to occupy very important position in our political system. No political party dares oppose caste based reservation system.
Religion Dominated System:
Indian political system throughout the British period was very much dominated by religion. Deliberately two major religious communities and small religious groups and religious minorities were made to bitterly fight with each other. In the name of religion there was blood shed. In order to widen the gap, in the political field seats were reserved in the legislative bodies on religious basis.
In all elected and nominated bodies and even outside when religious issues came, even political issues were forgotten. It was because of this domination of religion in politics that there were communal riots in the country and religion political parties got wide acceptability than other political parties.
Even today there are many who wish religious dominated political system. One finds that in those days Hindu Mahasabha, Akali Dal, Muslim League which were communal bodies dominated political scene.
Importance of Leader:
In our political system during the British period and thereafter, political leaders have played a very significant role. In fact, the masses had more love for the leaders than the ideology which they followed. This was and still continues to be so even now, because vast majority is illiterate and lives in far-fetched areas, where there is no political awakening or consciousness.
This is truer of the rural areas where about 80% of the total Indian population resides. In preparation India, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Vallaabh Bhai Patel and Mohd. Ali Jinnah enjoyed great regard.
In independent India even political parties are formed in the name of a political leader e.g., Congress (I), Congress (J), Lok Dal (B) Congress (T), etc.
Another characteristic or feature of our political system is regionalism i.e., love for one’s own region rather than for the whole country. The tendency continued throughout British period. In fact rulers of those days deliberately fanned and promoted regional feelings. Each political leader, except of course the few, cared more for their region than for the India as a whole.
It appeared as if, north, south, east and west were different countries rather than one united India. Inter-state differences were created and encouraged and the people of different regions were made to fight against each other in the name of language, culture and methods of worship.
Even in free India regionalism is playing a big role. Regional political parties like Assam Gantantra Parishad, Telugu Desham, Akali Dal, A.I.A, DMK, Jharkhand Party, Mizoram National Conference are thriving by exploiting regional feelings of the people. In addition, there are inter-state water and boundary disputes and so on. Regionalism is thriving in the country in more than one way.
Peculiar Features of Political System in Free India:
Political system, as it obtained in British India, was an imposed one. In that Indians had very little choice. They had to accept what was given to them by British masters. The people had very limited choice to elect their own representatives and elected bodies had very limited powers. The bureaucracy was very strong and powerful. But political system in free India has its peculiar features.
The present system is based on universal adult franchise. The country has parliamentary form of government in which all adults who have attained 18 years of age have a right to vote. The Parliament is supreme and sovereign body and enjoys unlimited powers. It represents the will and wishes of the people. It has thus not been imposed on the people.
After Independence, India had single party dominant system for a very time. Up to 1967 in India Congress party was in power both at the Centre as well as in the states. It was in that year that as a result of people’s mandate the party lost hold in some states, but was returned to power at the Centre, though with a reduced majority.
In 1971, when the elections were again held, it was again returned to power both at the Centre as well as in many states. The party was voted out of power only between 1977-1979, after the lifting of national emergency imposed in 1975, when newly formed Janata Party came to power. In 1980 and 1984, when elections were again held Congress (I) was again returned to power.
In 1989, elections, the party was once again voted out of power at the centre but V.P. Singh government could remain in power only for few months. Though in some of the states Congress party has been coming and going out of power, yet on the whole at the Centre, there has been single party dominant system in which Congress party, even after splits has been at the helm of affairs.
Then another feature of India’s political system after independence, has been political defection. The electorates vote for or against a candidate on the basis of his political party’s standing and programmes.
During pre-independence period there was no question of leaving the political party to which one owed allegiance. After independence, however, elected representatives of the people in the elected bodies have been changing their allegiance and leaving the political party (ies) on whose ticket they were elected.
This has resulted in political instability and fall of governments. Not only this, but it has also resulted in exchange of crores of rupees generating black-money. Though efforts to check defection began to be made as early as in 1967 when Y.B. Chawan Committee was set up to examine the whole issue, yet political defection continues to eat the roots of our political system.
This evil could only partially be checked with the passing of 52nd Constitution Amendment Act, passed by Rajiv Gandhi government. But the problem still persists and the Act has failed to fully achieve its purpose.
Then another characteristics of our political system is the rise of regional political parties. These parties came to prominence only after 1967 when national parties, lost control in some states. The process once started could not be checked.
In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK, in Assam AGP, in Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, in Punjab Akali Dal and several other parties in different states were formed. Regional leaders played with regional sentiments of the people and won the elections, defeating even the candidates set up by the national parties. This process is still continuing.
Political corruption is another feature of our present day political system. It is alleged that many politicians are corrupt. They are interested in amassing money by all means and methods. They are more interested in serving their own interests rather than serving the masses.
In India since independence there have been many scandals and instances of nepotism and favouritism by political leaders both at the centre as well as in the states, involving Ministers, their families and friends, but unfortunately so far neither any Minister nor any political leader has been openly tried, punished or sent to all or even his property has been confiscated.
On the other hand, every politician is protected when corruption charges are levied, by political leadership of the opposition party. It is believed that with the passing of time politic? l corruption in the country is very much on the increase.
The process of bringing corrupt politicians and Ministers has however, started with the coming to light what is know as multi crore Hawala case. It has resulted in the resignation of several political leaders, including Ministers of the Central Government from the Lok Sabha.
Political factionalism has come to stay as a feature of our political system. This factionalism has emerged because of ever increasing hold of caste, class, religion and region. So far at the Centre the leadership has considerably checked factionalism, though not completely, but in the state this is playing its big role. Each political party is divided into factions and cabinets are formed on factional basis.
There is hardly any Chief Minister in an Indian State, who is not faced with factional problems. Several state governments had to change leadership to satisfy either one or the other powerful faction, persisting and insisting for a change. This factionalism is on the increase and seemingly not coming under control.
Then another feature of our system is that for a long time no viable alternative was available to the Congress party at the Centre. Though in the states some regional parties came to power, yet at the Centre no opposition party had been in a position to provide an alternative. All efforts made miserably failed till 1977. All opposition unity moves by then failed and day-by-day opposition parties were losing their credibility.
This was proving to the advantage of the ruling Congress. One serious off shoot of this was that at the centre there was no powerful and effective opposition to check high-handedness of the ruling congress government which with its thumping majority could get each and every bill passed and every policy approved from the Parliament. It was not healthy of the success of parliamentary democracy.
In 1977 Congress (I) was dislodged from power at the centre by Janata Party Government. The Congress(I) was dislodged from power at the Centre in 1989 also when National Front Government came to power.
In the elections held in 1990, Bhartiya Janata Party emerged as a powerful and effective opposition to the ruling Congress. This party was main opposition in both the Houses of Parliament during 10th Lok Sabha period.
India has decided to end caste system, which it is believed, has brought defame to our society. This system was very much used by our British rulers to have their strong foot-hold in the country. But it was hoped that after independence role of caste in India will come down. But this has not proved true. Caste in Indian political system is playing a big role.
Tickets to candidates for contesting elections, formation of the cabinets, appointment of personnel to services, distribution of favours and quotas and permits are given taking caste factor into consideration. Prof. M.N. Srinivas is of the view that caste system, in spite of pronounced policy of the government to end it, is on the increase. It is showing its place and importance every where in country’s political system.
Then another significant feature of our present day political party system is absence of ideologically based political parties. Each political party is supposed to have some political ideology of its own, but that is not happening in India.
There is mushroom growth of political parties, but these are not ideology based. There are regional political parties, which propagate the cause of a region like AGP, National Conference, AIADMK and Akali Dal.
Then there are political parties which are formed after the name of an individual like Congress (J), after the name of late Jagjiwan Ram and Lok Dal (B). Then there are parties which are based on religious and linguist basis like Muslim League, Shiv Sena and so on.
India lacks such political parties which have clear cut socio-economic and political programme to uplift the whole country, providing the electorate an alternative to choose.
Even the influential elites and zamindars in some regions encourage the formation of such political parties which can protect their interests. There are, of course, national level political parties with clear ideologies like Congress (I), B.J.P., C.P.I., C.P.I. (M) etc. but the number of ideology less parties is increasing.
Since independence political system has undergone a sea change. Caste, region, religion, etc. which were playing a big role in British India and about which it was expected, that their role will considerably come down, has not come true.
These factors still play a very big role. Not only this, but one finds that disintegrating and destabilising forces are trying to come to political fronts. Regionalism is raising its head and regional political parties are dominating in many states.
The role and influence of regional political parties is on the increase. In 1984 Lok Sabha elections, a regional political party emerged an important opposition party, as against any national political party. Political corruption is on the increase and corruption charges are levied against top political leaders day-in and day-out.
It is believed that is some link between criminals and some political leaders under whose patronage the former prosper. Regional disparities are increasing Political system today is caste and class-ridden.
Communal forces exploit the weaknesses of our political system, by preaching communal hatred, exploiting every small communal issue to the full, ultimately resulting in communal riots. Serious concern is being raised about increasing. criminalisation of politics.
Thus, present day Indian political system is confronted with many political problems of serious magnitude. Criminalisation and corruption are in the focus. Need for electoral reforms – is very much felt to save collapse of present day political system.