India gained independence on 15th August, 1947 and became a Republic on 26th January, 1950 when the Constitution of India came into effect. The Constitution declared “India, that is Bharat” a union of states, a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic with a parliamentary system of government at both the Centre and in the states. The Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to the people, including freedom of religion, of occupation and of speech, and the right to vote. India is the largest practising democracy in the world, with elections at every level based on universal adult suffrage. General elections, with the 11th election in the 50 years of independence taking place in 1998, are normally held every 5 years.
Today, the Union of India comprises 25 states and 7 union territories with the Central Government at New Delhi, the capital of the country. The political structure laid down by the Constitution is federal in nature but unitary in spirit, with legislative powers and revenues divided between the states and the Centre, and residual powers vested in the Centre. Certain subjects are jointly controlled and enforced by both the Centre and the states, with the Centre superseding the state if necessary.
At both the Centre and in the states, the powers of government are divided between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. At the Centre, the Executive comprises the President, Vice-President and the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. The Union Legislature (Parliament) has two houses – the Lok Sabha (the lower house, elected by the people of India from individual, simple majority constituencies) and the Rajya Sabha (the upper house, elected by the State Legislatures who in turn are directly elected by the people on the same lines as the Lok Sabha). The Judiciary is vested in the Supreme Court of India. This structure is paralleled in India’s states, with the Executive comprising the Governor (appointed by the President of India), the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister who are responsible to the directly elected Legislative Assembly and the High Court. Each state is further divided into districts, which are divided into municipalities, further divided into blocks down to the individual village. At each level legislative, executive and judicial powers are divided along lines largely similar to that in the Centre and the states.