U.S. and Indian Democracy
U.S - U.S. and Indian Democracy introduction. and Indian Democracy 2
Both of India and America have accepted the democratic system by a written constitution. Significantly, these constitutions have striking resemblances and major differences which reflect the quality of the drafting ability of the respective makers. Some of the salient features of both these constitutions have been discussed hereunder one by one.
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The U.S. Governmental Structure
The U.S. constitution is a federal one and, hence, there are two sets of Government – Central and Provincial. The central government is headed by the President who acts as the executive head. The American constitution has adopted the Presidential form of Government and, as such, he is the steward of the nation. The constitution has not expressly created the cabinet or the office of the Ministers. So, there is no distinction between ‘de jure’ and ‘de facto’ head and, hence, his powers, as H.W. Polsby thinks, are “enormous”. The President thus combines, in his person, the offices of the Head of the state and also the Head of the executive.
However, there is a cabinet consisting of ten members, to assist the President. As Dr. Zink observes, “…it is an institution which has come out by convention”. George Washington, the first President, needed advice on some occasions, but the judiciary declined to help him because, in its view, it was concerned only with legal disputes. So he formed an assisting body which subsequently came to be known as the Cabinet. His successors, naturally, followed him and, in this way, the cabinet has now become a necessary part of the governmental machinery.
But it has no right to take the decision, nor is it an advisory body whatsoever. It is only the President who takes all the decisions – the Ministers only executes them through the respective departments. A minister may, however, tender a different advice, but often it remains dishonored. This is why, Harold Laski has remarked, “Alongside his, the voice of
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a Minister is, at best, a whisper which may or may not be heard”. The President has some legislative and judicial powers as well. His authority is so tremendous that it is often asked how the breakdown is avoided.
The Congress is the central legislature. Its primary function is to make laws. But, it is equally empowered to keep the President under restraint. Though the President can appoint hundreds of high officials and make treaty with other states, the former needs the ratification of the Senate, the Upper House. The state-government is administered by the Governor and there are also state legislatures to make laws. There is also a Supreme Court which acts as the federal court. Besides, other courts in the regional level settle the local disputes.
Division of Power
The American constitution has very carefully distributed powers among three organs of the government – Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. But, significantly, the Founding Fathers were largely influenced by the doctrine of ‘Separation of Powers’ as propounded by Montesquieu, the French Philosopher. So, the organs have been separated as far as possible. The President is the executive head and, hence, he has little relations with other organs and less authority in legislative and judicial fields. Similarly, the Congress (Parliament) and the state-legislatures are concerned with legislation – they can hardly interfere in the executive and judicial matters. For the same reason, the judiciary primarily deals with the legal affairs and rarely intrudes into the executive and legislative matters. But the makers were practical enough to realize that complete ‘Separation of Power’ was neither necessary nor practicable, because the Government was a unit and if its organs acted separately, then the system would soon crumble down. This is why, the doctrine of ‘Separation of Powers’ has, as F. Ogg observes, been introduced with necessary “Checks and Balances”. So, every organ is controlled by two other organs in times of necessity. As such, though the President is the
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executive Head, both the legislature and the judiciary have some authority to keep him under check. For example, the President determines the line of the foreign policy – but he can not declare war without the consent of the Congress. Similarly, his orders are subject to judicial scrutiny – the Supreme Court can declare such an order as ‘ultra vires’ and void if, in its opinion, it transgresses upon the letters and spirit of the constitution. The President also can veto a Bill passed by the Congress and regulate the judiciary by his appointing authority. The Supreme Court, similarly, can restrain both the President and the Congress by its power of ‘Judicial Review’. This is why C.B. Swischer thinks that these organs have on one hand, separated by the doctrine of ‘Separation of Powers’ and, then joined by the theory of ‘Checks and Balances’ on the other.
Since the very inception of the constitution, America has developed a two-party system. There are two major parties — the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Though there are some small parties like the American Laborer Party, Communist Party etc., the political system is dominated by the Republicans and the Democrats. As R.G. Gettell observes, “There may be several parties contesting the elections, but since 1924, the Republican and Democratic Parties have received at least 95 per cent of all votes cast in every election”.
But, it must be noted that these two parties have a little difference in both ideology and activities. As Lord Bryce has remarked, “The two great parties of the USA were like two empty bottles, each bearing a label denoting the kind of the liquor it contains”.
It is interesting to note that the party-system in America is based upon localism. The Republican Party was primarily a northern organization and the Democratic Party had its stronghold in the south. However, as time passed, both of these two parties have extended their influence geographically. Yet their base almost remains the same. Moreover, these
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parties are not sufficiently disciplined. Of course, each of them has a central office, but often the local units take the decision on regional matters and the members sometimes cast their votes in the legislatures on personal considerations. In such case, the party leadership hardly thinks of taking any disciplinary action. Above all, often they work with close association with various interest groups or pressure groups which have the common view. It is also believed that they are more comfortable in the Opposition bench than in the seat of power.
Elections and Campaigns
As America has accepted the democratic system, the party which secures majority in elections, captures power and form the government. So, election is the cornerstone of such democracy and all parties do best in enlisting the public support.
The basis of this popular sovereignty is the right to vote. By the 15th amendment of the constitution (1970), the right to vote was recognized irrespective of creed, race and residence. The 19th amendment (1919) guaranteed voting right to women. And by the 25th amendment of the constitution, a person reaching the age of 18, can cast his vote in the elections. In this way, the system of Universal Adult Suffrage has been secured in America. As pointed out earlier, all political parties strive to capture the highest votes in the elections. This is the reason why they try to popularize their ideas and ideals through various types of campaigns, propaganda, meetings, lectures, booklets and leaflets.
However, often the task becomes easy, because most of the families in America are traditionally in favor of a particular party and, by generations, they cast their votes to send their desired candidate to the legislatures. Thus, as Ferguson-Mc Henry have observed, “Most voters take the party of their parents”. Political considerations play a more important part than religious or residential factors.
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Indian Governmental Structure
Though the presidential system is prevalent in USA, India has rather adopted cabinet system as it is in Britain. As Dr. S.C. Kashyap observes, “Our constitution-makers chose for us the system of parliamentary democracy with ministerial responsibility”. But unlike Britain, India has a President who acts as the Head of the State. Under Art. 53, the President rules the nation “either directly or through officers subordinate to him”. However, there is a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to “aid and advise the President in the discharge of his functions”.
Parliament is the national legislature. As Art 79 indicates, it consists of the President and two Houses – Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. But as Pandey-Kedia writes, “The Pesident can not participate in the ordinary business of the Houses”. However, as in Britain, the lower House, that is the Lok Sabha is more powerful than its partner. It controls the cabinet, raises and passes Bills, represents the people and, generally, enthrones the Prime Minister. Dr. Pylee correctly observes that “in all other matters of legislation, including constitutional amendments, the extent of its power is the same as that of the Lok Sabha”. However, in two matters like the creation of the All-India Services and granting an authority to Parliament to make laws on any matter of the state-list (Art. 249), it has special power unshared with the Lok Sabha. Yet it is a weak partner of the other House. So, Dr. H. Das has rightly remarked, “The Rajya Sabha does not seem to have been created with any particular purpose”.
Of course, the Parliament is a very important part of the Governmental machinery. Though legislation is its main task, it performs multifarious functions – it can impeach the President, dismiss the Vice President, Judges of the superior courts and Chief Election Commissioner, amend the constitution, elect the Vice President, participate in Presidential
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elections and change the names and areas of the federal units. But, it needs to be added that it has to act within the limit as determined by the Supreme Court. This is why, Dr. Rout has observed, “The Parliament of India is not a sovereign body like that of England”.
The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court. However, there are High Courts and subordinate courts as well. But, as India has as integrated judicial system, the Supreme Court has a regulatory role over it. It has, like American counterpart, the power of Judicial Review by which it can quash a legislative act or executive order in case they transgress upon the provisions of the constitution.
The Role of President and Prime Minister
The makers of the Indian constitution have indeed adopted the British system which has, through various conventions, now reduced the King and Queen to a passive functionary. The Indian President, like his American counterpart, is at the highest position of the state. But while in America, the President is the real head of the state, India has rather, following the British model, converted him to a puppet ruler. Thus, under Art 74 (1), there is a cabinet with the Prime Minister at the head to ‘aid and advise’ the President and it was intended that the later would act upon the ministerial decisions. The cabinet has the power to bring the President before the Parliament for his impeachment. This provision has been inserted in the constitution with a belief that the fear of impeachment would surely keep the President under parliamentary control. So, there is a point of paramount importance. If the President acts upon the ministerial advice, there is no need of impeachment. But if he rules independently and if the Prime Minister can master the support of two-thirds majority in both the Houses, then he is sure to be thrown out. But as Dr. Pylee writes, “between these two limits, there is an area, however narrow, where he is his own master and is neither bound by the advice of his Cabinet nor runs the risk of a successful impeachment against him”. However, the
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President has some power which, on occasions, become very significant and may make him, at least temporarily, the decision-maker. He, normally, appoints the Prime Minister and has got the power to dismiss the later. Legally, the President can axe any Minister by withdrawing his pleasure from him and such act can, by no means, be challenged in a court of law. The President can veto a Bill (Art. 111) passed by the Parliament and has the right to dissolve the Lok Sabha at his will [Art. 85 (2) (b)]. As Dr. Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian Constitution opines that “The President is the final authority to decide the issue”. Above all, he has three types of emergency-power granted under Art 352, 356 and 360. The American President has never been vested with such extraordinary power by which, he can, at least temporarily, plays the role of a dictator. Thus, as J.C. Johari rightly opines, “The President is neither a quiescent volcano nor a rubber stamp”. He is rather ‘sui generis’.
The Indian constitution has not vested much power in the Prime Minister, nor did it expressly determine his real position. But, as it is modeled upon the British system, the Prime Minister has, in realistic politics, become the ‘de facto’ head. In Dr. Johari’s view, he is really the “Supreme Ruler”. Dr. Mahajan has rightly remarked, “The real power rests with the Prime Minister and not with the President as India has a parliamentary form of Government”. As the ‘Prime Minister’, he is really the ‘keystone of the Cabinet-arch’. Then, he is the chief legislator, because as Dr. Das observes, “The Prime Minister plays an important role in the Parliament”. Thirdly, he is more often than not, the leader of his party (Kochanek, S.). In addition, he is invisibly present in all the Articles meant for the President.
However, much depends upon two extra-constitutional factors. First, if his party can secure a thumping majority in both the Houses of the Parliament and state-legislatures and he is the peerless leader of his party and the nation as well, he obviously becomes the man of destiny. As Dr. Sharma opines, “Not all the Prime Ministers are of one type”. Really, much
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depends upon his personal qualities. The constitution contains only three Articles with regard to the Prime Minister
i. He is the ‘head of the cabinet’, (Art. 74)
ii. The President appoints all Ministers on his advice; and (Art. 75 (1))
iii. He communicates all decisions of the cabinet to the President. (Art 78)
But, often convections become more important than the constitution and in this way the Prime Minister has, as Dr. Sikri defines, “The most powerful functionary in the Indian political system”.
The constitution has under Art. 19 (1) (c), guaranteed the right to form associations and, resultantly, a multi-party system has come into being. In fact, the mushroom growth of parties has created turmoil in Indian political system.
Before the eleventh Lok Sabha election in 1991, 445 (four hundred forty five) political parties registered their names with the Election Commission. Surely, the list has thereafter become longer with the entry of new outfits.
Some of these parties like Congress and BJP are All-India parties, but others are localized within small regions. As H.W. Morris Jones observes, “…others are, by definition, regional in scope and activity”. Some of these parties like Muslim League have grown up on the basis of religion. Some parties like AGP of Assam, National Conference, BSP, DMK etc. have come up on caste. There are also several parties like Jharkhand Party, which are born on tribal sentiments and some others are the outcome of language script or other issues. While most of these parties seek to capture power through elections, some parties like CPI (ML) believe in revolution.
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From ideological point of view, they may be classified into three groups – viz. the Rightist (Swatandra Party), the Centrist (Congress, BJP etc.) and the Leftist (CPIM, RSP, Forward Block etc.). It is also a peculiar fact that often the political parties in India have come up as a result of clash of personality (Bangla Congress) and on the basis of personal charisma (Indira Congress). Some of these parties (Swatandra Party) have withered away and some others (as Janata Dal) have undergone periodical changes.
Of course, the politics in India was, at the outset, known as ‘one-dominant party system’, because till 1966, the Congress dominated the scene like a colossus. But, since 1967, it has been suffering a set-back in various provinces and, in the year 1977, it lost its paradise of power at the Centre as well. As G. Austin thinks, the ‘…collapse of the Congress monolith has, naturally, inspired other parties to appear in the contest of power’. But, organizationally, none of them have been able to replace the Congress and, this is why, the politics of coalition has now become the order of the day. Moreover, though some parties are strong enough to form government in a province (like AGP of Assam, NC of Kashmir), they have little influence outside their boarders. Thus, Dr. N. Palmer has rightly observed that India “must evolve a healthier party-system”.
Before India got freedom in the year 1947, she was not akin to democratic elections. About two centuries of foreign and autocratic administration of Britain, has taken away the strength from the life of the Indian people which had placed them in dazed position after getting the freedom. Predominant poverty of the Indian people added more hap hazards to the problem which had already been aggravated by the vast illiteracy prevailing throughout the nation. Thus, to study the electoral behavior in India is an uphill task and requires the study of various aspects of the masses in the country.
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Every election reveals great enthusiasm on the part of the ministers, leaders and people who, in a composite effort, try to secure the top position for their respective party. As mentioned earlier, several socio-economic factors like religion, caste, community, language, monetary considerations and expenditure in campaigning, poll objectives etc. greatly influence the voting behavior in India. Thus, despite the theoretical claims that they stand for secularism, nationalism and fraternity throughout the whole country, elections in India have always witnessed the malign activities of the politicians claiming the votes on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, or even spending huge amount of money for winning the polls. In India, charismatic personality of the leaders and specially the Prime Minister has been one of the greatest assets with the Indian National Congress, which helped them to sweep the polls and came out victorious in consecutive general elections. Thus, according to G. Rosen, “Where the group factors are weak and may mutually cancel out, this (Charisma) may be the major factor and override group elements”.
India, since the ancient age, has been predominantly a country inhabited by several religious communities and, as a result, no party misses the chance of exploiting the religious sentiments of the people and the election campaign is carried out accordingly. The caste factor is also as important as that of religion. As G. Rosen has rightly observed, “They (Caste-ism) play a part no less important than religion as place of natural origin play a part in American politics, especially on the State and local levels”. Community feeling is another major factor beside religion and caste. Community is basically determined on the basis of religion, caste and language as a whole. For an example, community feeling had led to the Telegu people to demand a separate State of Andhra Pradesh. All political parties have been exploiting this sentiment since the first general election in India. Since the Indian economy is divided into a number of classes depending on the economic standards of its people, the
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political campaign also concentrates the varying sentiments of these classes. Last, but not the least, money plays an important role in the election campaigns and also on its destiny. Billions of Rupees are spent by the political parties in their bid to book as many seats as possible. It is also believed that the big Industrialists and business magnets contribute a lot to the political parties for their own future interests. As N. Palmer observes, “….business groups in India subscribed heavily to the Congress funds until it ceased to be a national movement …… and became instead a political party which was as the same time the government of India and a social and propaganda agency”.
Thus the Indian constitution and political system present some peculiar features which are largely different from the American system. Though, both of these countries are democratic in nature, yet India is lagging far behind America in democratic spirit and behavior.
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Polsby, H.W. Congress and the Presidency, p.30
Zink, H. A Survey of American Government, p. 254
Laski, H.J. The American Presidency, p. 79 – 80
Ogg, F. Essentials of American Government, p. 38
Swischer, C.B. The Theory and Practice of American National Government, p. 62
Gettell, R.G. Political Science, p. 306
Bryce, Lord. (Quoted by A. Kapoor), Select Constitution, p. 418
Ferguson & McHenry. The American System of Government, p. 192
Kashyap, S.C. Our Constitution, p. 142
Kedia-Pandey. Essentials of Indian Constitution, p. 17
Pylee, M.V. An Introduction to the Constitution of India, p. 181
Das, H.H. India: Democratic Government and Politics, p. 197
Rout, B.C. Democratic Constitution of India, p. 141
Pylee, M.V. The President and the Parliament – The Constitution and Parliament, (edited
by Shakdhar), p. 112
Johari, J.C. Indian Government and Politics, p. 614
Johari J.C. ibid, p. 617
Mahajan, V.D. The Constitution of India, p. 176
Das, H.H. India: Democratic Government and Politics, p. 191
Kochanek, S. Congress Party in India, p. 431
Sharma, L.M. The Prime Minister of India, p. 192
Sikri, S.L. Indian Government and Politics, p. 118
Morris Jones, H.W. Indian Government and Politics, p. 176
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Austin, G. The Indian Constitution, p. 130
Palmer, N.D. The Indian Political System, p. 214
Rosen, G. Democracy and Economic Change in India, p. 87
Rosen, G Democracy and Economic Change in India, 74
Palmer, N.D. India’s Political Parties, p. 582
NB: All the references are provided in a sequential order as they appear in the article