CHAPTER 9 Politics in India Introduction Political institutions are mechanisms or agencies relating to the exercise of power for maintaining peace and order within a society. Institutions of the modern state always have the purpose of ordering, controlling and providing guidelines for the behaviour of people who live within the state. At the same time, the society itself works on the basis of generally recognised and wellunderstood rules of tradition. Rules of governance ensuing from political institutions, therefore, shape social behaviour and are influenced in turn by rules of common social behaviour. Thus, there is a complementary relationship between the institutions of state and society in India. What is Power Power is an aspect of relationships between social units (persons or groups). An individual or group holds power in relation to another. Max Weber has defined power as “chance of a man or a number of men to realise their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action”. There are, broadly, two different views in Sociology regarding the nature of power in society: (i) that of Robert S. Lynd who follows Max Weber and seems to partially agree with Karl Marx, and (ii) that of Talcott Parsons. The view of Lynd and Weber is that those who hold power do so at the expense of the other. This suggests that there is a fixed amount of power in society. It is known as ‘Zero-sum’ or ‘constant-sum’ concept of power. This view is different from the Marxian view. According to the Marxists, society is usually divided into two broad groups: the power holding ruling class, and the powerless working class. They say that the power of the dominant group refers to their overall access to economic, political and cultural resources in society. As against this, Parsons observes that power is a societal resource held in trust and directed by those in authority for the benefit of all. Power is the capacity to mobilise the resources of the society for the attainment of social goals. In efficient societies collective efforts to realise common goals generate additional power, privileges and benefits which are collectively shared. The exercise of power then usually means that 108 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY everybody wins. Power is thus a ‘variable-sum’ or ‘positive-sum’ phenomenon. This forms a basis for the co-operation and reciprocity, which are essential for the maintenance and wellbeing of society. According to Parsons, political support is deposited in political leaders in the same way in which money is deposited in a bank. The electorate can withdraw its grant of power from political leaders at the next election. In this sense, power resides ultimately with members of the society as a whole. Just as money generates interest for the depositor, so grants of power generate benefits for the electorate. In this way, power in society can increase or decrease. In the analysis of politics and political institutions, both concepts of power are used by different social scientists. The Nature of Authority Indeed, Max Weber’s concept of authority reflects a reconciliation of the two apparently contradictory notions of power. Power is applied through the use of force or coercion. But, naked power is hardly accepted by those who are subjected to it. Therefore, the weilders of power seek to translate it into authority. Authority is the power legitimised and institutionalised in a society. Sub-ordinates accept the power of those in authority because they accept their control as justified and proper. The subjects have a feeling that those who exercise authority do not use it for serving their own interests to those over whom this authority is exercised. The legitimate power or authority in a society may be centralised in a person or a class or an institution or it may be dispersed in the whole society. In traditional societies both forms of power distribution are found, which are given below: (i) A kingship or an aristocratic class or religious chief exercising overarching power. (ii) Dispersion of power in the whole society regulated by kinship rules and customs. State in Modern Society In modern industrial societies, however, power is centralised in the institution of state and dispersed among its citizens. Max Weber has defined the state as ‘a human community which successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’. Thus, the state is one of the important agencies of social control, whose functions are carried out by means of law backed ultimately by physical force. A state is characterised by four elements, viz., population, territory, government and sovereignty. A state also requires international recognition. The state grows out of a particular historical process in response to the issue of legitimation of power and integration of power arrangements. To maintain an orderly system of social relations, people have to be POLITICS IN INDIA 109 subjected to some degree of discipline. The discipline in an ordered society or state need not always come from an external agency like the police, army or judiciary. It may come as a result of voluntary acceptance of the norms and values of the society or the constitution of the state by the people themselves. In every political institution, there is definitely a moral aspect, which is binding on the people concerned which often takes the form of rules and laws. EVOLUTION OF THE STATE AND DEMOCRATIC POLITY IN INDIA 1. The Transformation of the Colonial Legacy The independent Indian state, which emerged from the freedom movement, inherited two rather contradictory legacies. Some of its institutions were shaped by the needs of colonial rule. Though the British introduced certain liberal elements like the rule of law and a relatively independent judiciary, the political institutions created by them were gover ned by the principles prompted by the demands of colonial power. The structures of the army, bureaucracy, the police, the administrative rules and their distance from the common people were obviously the consequences of this legacy. At the same time, the independent India is also the product of a great national movement, and is committed to the transformation of some of these colonial structures in the interests of the common people. The independent state is trying to decolonise the nature and functions of the political institutions inherited by it from the British Raj by making them responsive to the needs and aspirations of India and rendering them accountable to the people. 2. Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic of India India adopted its new Constitution after Independence, on 26 November 1949. It became effective from January 26, 1950. A Constitution contains the fundamental principles of a state, which determine the powers and duties of the Gover nment, and guarantee certain rights to the people and which together constitute the organic law of the land. The Preamble to the Constitution lags out its spirit and broad objectives. According to it, the state of Independent India is sovereign i.e., it has supreme power to decide its own course of action relating to the people and territory of India. It is a democratic state where power is exercised by the representatives of the people who are directly or indirectly chosen by them. It is a republic where the head of the Government is a President elected by the people. Independent India has chosen the form of parliamentary democracy. It ensures the people’s control over the government (the Council of Ministers) by making it responsible to the popularly elected legislature and by ensuring periodic elections to the House of the People at the centre and legislative assemblies in the ‘provincial 110 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY states’ on the basis of adult suffrage. No person shall be denied the right to vote in these elections on grounds of religion, race, caste and sex. These provisions of the Constitution (Articles 325 and 326) have brought far reaching changes in a society which has been traditionally marked by caste hierarchy, serious economic disparities and gender inequalities. Politics in India is not confined to a small aristocracy. India is today the largest democracy and one of the most intensely political societies of the world. Mass participation in politics of modern India increases the legitimacy of the political system and strengthens its effectiveness. The success of Indian democracy was facilitated by a political process which aimed at modernisation, democratisation and economic development. This political process was controlled by the parliament, the council of ministers as well as the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy, members of which are recruited through open competitive public examinations, implements the policies framed by selected representatives of the people. The members of this bureaucracy are chosen not on the basis of birth, caste, creed, race, religion or gender but on the basis of impersonal laid down rules. The colonial power divided India on the basis of religion and severe communal riots accompanied partition. Independent India chose, therefore, the path of Secularism, which means that the state will have no official religion of its own and it will not favour or interfere with any religion. From the very beginning the independent state in India has shown equal respect for all religions. Holding of public offices and employment in government services do not depend on the religious affiliation of an individual (Articles 15 & 16). The adoption of socialist ideals of society, in order to curb or reduce inequalities, constitutes another attempt of the Indian polity towards democratic nation-building. Justice, Liberty and Equality The Constitution secures social and economic justice through the guarantee of fundamental rights. Part III of the Constitution secures six groups of rights for the individuals. They are : (1) Right to Equality. (2) Right to Freedom. (3) Right against Exploitation. (4) Right to Freedom of Religion. (5) Cultural and Educational Rights. (6) Right to Constitutional Remedies. The Constitution had also guaranteed the Right to Property which has been modified through later amendments in response to the demands for social and economic justice. An independent judiciary protects these rights and freedoms. The guarantee of these rights by the Constitution is a bold attempt by the state of Independent India to remove the inequalities and disabilities of caste, gender, religion, region or race, suffered traditionally by POLITICS IN INDIA 111 different sections of the people of India in various situations. It, thus, guarantees ‘the dignity of the individual’ which is the hallmark of the modern society. The Constitution has abolished, for example, the scourge of untouchability. By ensuring the liberties of the individual, the Constitution seeks to curb the exercise of arbitrary power by any individual within the government or outside it. The Humanistic and democratic idealism expressed in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution is further strengthened in the directive principles of the state policy in Part IV of the Constitution. They offer elaborate agenda of what the state should do to promote the welfare of the people and secure a just social order for them. They exhort the state to ensure the equitable distribution of ownership of the means of production, and protection of the health and the strength of certain specific groups and individuals viz., women, workers, and the children who are usually far less privileged than the other sections of the society. Although no citizen can move the court to compel the state to enforce the rights promised in the directive principles, nevertheless these principles provide a means for evaluating the performance of the Government in promoting welfare of the people. The judiciary increasingly functions as the custodian of the people’s rights enshrined in the Constitution. The Federal Structure Soon after Independence, India faced a number of problems, including the territorial and administrative integration of the princely states, the communal riots that accompanied partition, the rehabilitation of refugees who had migrated from Pakistan, and insurgency. Besides, there were other long standing problems like poverty. The national movement played a pivotal role in welding India together politically and emotionally into a nation and integrating it into ‘a common framework of political identity and loyalty.’ The political leaders faced the problem of integration of the princely states with the rest of India. In deference to the linguistic, cultural and regional diversities and the need for integration, the Constitution made provisions for a federal structure with a strong centre as well as a great deal of autonomy for the States or Units. There is a division of powers between the Union Gover nment at the centre and governments of different regional units called States in the Indian Constitution. The Supreme court functions as the custodian of the autonomy of the states in India. Of course, to prevent the fissiparous tendencies and to preserve the unity of the nation, the Union Government has been given a large amount of power. The All-India Services ensure uniformity in administration throughout the country. Many States and regions are, however, dissatisfied with the amount of power and autonomy granted to them. It is not unexpected in a country like India which is the home of many diverse groups of people with differing cultural identities and 112 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY different concerns. Differences in socioeconomic positions and cultural identities give rise to various demands that are both the strength and challenge of a vibrant democracy. The Indian nation state is striving hard to meet the challenges by balancing the competing demands of different segments constituting the Indian polity. Democratic Decentralisation and Panchayati Raj To make democracy responsive to the needs of the people at the grassroots, the Constitution directed the state to organise village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authorities as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government (Art. 40). It has been in response to the emphasis laid by Mahatma Gandhi on local self-government, creation of leadership at all levels, from top to bottom, decentralisation of power and building up of self-reliance of village communities. Gandhiji and other leaders of the National Movement stressed the need for democratic decentralisation. Democratic decentralisation aims at widening the area of the people’s participation, authority, and autonomy through dispersion or devolution of powers to people’s representative organisations from the top levels to the lowest levels. In India democratic decentralisation — popularly known as Panchayati Raj — was introduced in 1959 and was linked with the major programme for rural development such as the community development programme which was introduced in 1952. The three-tier Panchayati Raj System aimed at ensuring people’s participation in the decision-making and implementation of developmental programmes. The seventy-third and the seventy-fourth Amendments have given more powers to the Panchayats in rural areas and municipalities in urban areas and made the holding of regular elections to them mandatory. The years from 1951 to 1964 were the beginning of the massive reconstruction of the polity and the economy. Very important measures in this respect were those of land reforms, the initiation of planned economic development and rapid expansion of the public sector. Major programmes for rural development, such as the Community Development Programme and Panchayati Raj were introduced in 1952 and 1959, respectively. Women were given 33 per cent reservation in the Panchayati Raj legislation. Political Parties and Indian Democracy Political parties are indispensable for the working of a democratic gover nment. They are organised groups of citizens who have common views on public issues and, acting as political units, seek to obtain control of the gover nment in order to implement the programme and policy which they profess. The Indian constitution has recognised the right to the freedom of speech and the freedom of forming associations and POLITICS IN INDIA 113 also guaranteed periodic elections of their representatives by the people to the legislatures on the basis of Universal adult franchise. India has adopted a multiparty system. The multiparty system offers enough political choice and interaction, especially for minorities and marginal groups. However, the predominance of all-India parties in India indicates the extent to which political unity is firmly established. In the contemporary political scenario, the growth of regional political parties and the experiment of coalition government reflect the articulation of regional and sectional interests. From 1947 to 1977, Congress was the only ruling party at the all-India level. After 1977, the Congress has been replaced by successful coalitions between different political parties both at the national and state levels. Today we have two broad coalitions of political parties — one led by the BJP and the other led by the Congress. At one time, the Janata Party held the centrestage. Today, the leftist parties and many regional parties also claim all-India status. In the subsequent decades after Independence, the political parties were dominated by professional groups such as lawyers. This dominance is declining and their place is being taken over by farmers and agriculturists. The Party System, Politics of Caste and Voting Behaviour in India Initially, the Indian polity was characterised by one party dominance. By virtue of its presence over a long duration and through sustained organisational penetration, the Congress had given a unified leadership to the whole nation. Histori-cally the Congress had developed as a movement for social regeneration and national Independence. The real contribution of the party system to political development lies in its role of being a catalyst of government performance at various levels. These parties represent people’s interests and compete for power. They are the pivots of the political process and provides the base for both the government and opposition. To achieve power, political parties often exploit elements like caste and religion, which have a bearing on human sentiments. Rajni Kothari points out that by drawing the caste system into their web of organisation, po litical parties find scope for mobilisation of mass support. In making politics its sphere of activity, a caste asserts its identity and strives for positions of power. Politicians mobilise caste groupings and identities in order to consolidate their power. The democratic polity based on elections has led to the involvement of the traditional structure of the caste system in politics. The voting behaviour over the years has shown the linkages between the traditional structure of caste and the modern polity in India. The nature of democratic state in India is different from the states in other democracies. India has tried to accommodate the logic of modern democratic state with 114 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY the other institutions of Indian society. For example, the caste system and the processes of democratic participation in politics have successfully accommodated each other. Caste has responded to the constraints and opportunities offered by modern electoral politics. It has given rise to unexpected forms of caste mobilisation. Political mobilisations around caste, region and communities (i,e., casteism, regionalism and communalism), remain the greatest obstacles in the realisation of political goals enshrined in Indian Constitution. The politics of caste is also related with the longterm logic of the policy of protective discrimination, popularly known as the reservation policy, which has given an opportunity to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and the religious minorities to gain an advantage from the resources of the state directed economic system. Political changes in the caste based society have been caused by deliberate and intended direction of state policies. In rural India, the patterns of loyalties and interests and the power structures which prevail at the village or neighbourhood level are often the most important elements of political action. In urban areas, the role of class factor has been found to be more important in voting behaviour. Studies of voting behaviour reveal that debate over issues of public policy plays a negligible role in election campaigns and presumably in affecting the ways in which individuals vote. To a large extent, Indian voters are still oriented towards particular ties or their specific interests rather than to policy or ideological issues. It is possible for parties and candidates to make emotional and irrational appeals to voters on the basis of primordial attachments to caste and religion. Reports from the rural areas suggest that neither the large landowners nor the landless labourers play a decisive role in the outcome of the elections, the former because their power has been limited by recent legislation and the latter because they are often economically dependent upon others. The class of owner cultivators (middle level castes) have a keen and decisive interest in the elections. However, even voters belonging to low caste and economically backward sections cannot be ignored if only because their numbers are high. Public Sector Units, Interest Groups, Lobbies and Trade Unions The Independent state of India has taken the initiative for economic development in agriculture and industry as well as for equal distribution of resources. The public sector undertakings in the industry sought to strengthen the economic foundation of Indian democracy. The Planning Commission and the National Development Council have been very effective in ensuring it. Two processes of nation building have been operating in India after POLITICS IN INDIA 115 independence: one, the administrative – governmental process aiming at coordination and uniformity in planned development efforts; two, the processes involving various types of political group activity by the people. Increasingly there is a political orientation of social interests in contemporary India. Thus, the political system has become, perhaps, the most important instrument of social structure in India. There is politicisation of a fragmented social structure through a penetration of political forms, values and ideologies. In any economic system, the state can play three kinds of roles: 1. As a producer of goods and services. 2. As a supplier of ‘Public goods’ or ‘Social goods’ like education, health, drinking water etc. 3. As a regulator of the system. In Indian democracy during the initial stages, the first two roles of the state, have been important. But, with liberalisation, these two roles have declined and the third role has become more important, although the regulation is exercised, in some instances, through independent authorities. In the era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, the role of the state has declined further and some of the erstwhile functions of state have now been taken over by the private sector, Non-governmental and civil society organisations. Instead of direct control of the state, the market forces now play a greater role, although in certain sectors independent regulatory authorities are being set up to regulate market forces. Role of the NGOs The NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) in the voluntary sector, through the last five decades, have worked with communities in every corner of India to bridge the distance between the promises and the reality of development. The important role of NGOs in reaching development schemes to the poor communities has been increasingly recognised by the Indian government. ‘Center for science and Environment’ (CSE), ‘Lokayan’, ‘Sathin’, ‘Self Employed Women Association’ (SEWA) and ‘Sulabh Inter national’ are some of the significant NGOs which are making appreciable contribution to the process of development in the country. Interest groups have performed an important function in influencing the economic and other kinds of the decisions of the state. Interest groups may be based on economic, ethnic, linguistic, religious, regional and other organisations. Sometimes, they influence the members of the government (ruling party) or the party in opposition to pressurise the government to concede to their demands. An interest group may thus act as a Pressure group. The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the All-India Chamber of Commerce and Industry, etc., (AIMA) are examples of Interest Groups which may act as pressure groups. The farmers also 116 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY have their lobby in the parliament and state legislatures. T rade Unions represent the worker’s, interests in Indian democracy. They have succeeded in influencing the decisions of the government for protecting the interests of the workers. Many social legislations passed after independence in favour of the workers are examples of this. The Press The Constitution of India has guaranteed the freedom of expression. The press is the important medium for the free expression of opinion in the democratic polity of India, Press has proved to be the watchdog of the people for controlling arbitrary acts of the government. Today, other forms of mass-media alongwith the Press enable the citizens to know what is really happening in the country, especially what the government does or does not do for them. Whenever a gover nment takes an arbitrary decision, newspapers and magazines function as the vehicle of social checks and balances on the government. The Press had also played a very significant role during the freedom movement. Social Movements and the State Indian tradition provides many examples of socio-religious movements bringing about change in social and religious systems of the country. This tradition has been strengthened during the independence movement. The democratic polity of independent India also provides an environment for peaceful movements. A social movement may be defined as the collective effort either to promote or to resist social change. Two elements are necessary for a movement to be categorised as social movement: spontaneity and sustainability. The objective, ideology, programmes, leadership and organisation are important components of social movements. These components are interdependent and influence each other. The state which holds the sovereign power looks at social and political movements as a challenge to its legitimacy of governance, at least initially. It adopts different measures, ranging from dialogue and negotiation with the leaders of those movements which do not challenge the power structure of the state to repression of those movements which challenge the power of the state. The democratic polity of India has not indulged in repression of different types of social movements. Rather, it is mostly softer in dealing with those movements which have reformist or welfareoriented demands than those which question the interests of the powerful or seek to bring about more radical social structural changes. Peasant Movements, Labour Movements, Women’s Movements have been organised in Independent India. These movements have succeeded in changing the laws in favour of the peasants, workers and women. Ecology has become a major POLITICS IN INDIA 117 issue linked to many contemporary social movements. They involve specific natural resources like land, water, forest, air and sea and the question of people’s access to them and also the problems suffered by the common people because of disturbances in ecology created by the developments of dams, and industries. Forest based struggles like the Chipko Struggle in the Himalayan region and the Appiko movement in the Western Ghats provide important examples. GLOSSARY AUTHORITY. It refers to that form of power which is considered legitimate by those over which it is exercised. BUREAUCRACY. A body of administrative officials, and the procedures and tasks involved in a particular system of administration. CHIPKO MOVEMENT. A type of environmental movement in Uttaranchal (Tehri Garhwal). DOMINATION. It refers to that form of power which rests on force and manipulation rather than social sanction. FRATERNITY. A group of people with common interests and brotherly feeling. GREEN REVOLUTION . A particular type of technical change in Third World agricultural practices. LIBERALISATION. A process of economic reforms which removes government’s restrictions in the economy. LIBERTY. Freedom to act and think as one pleases. PRIVATISATION. A process of economic reforms where a particular sector monopolised earlier by the government is opened for private enterprise. RULING CLASS. A social class that controls a society through whatever political institutions available. In some societies this control may be overt, while in others it may be less obvious. SOVEREIGNTY. Supreme and independent political power or authority of a politically independent state. TERRITORY. The land under the control of a ruler, government or state. EXERCISES 1. What is meant by political institution? 2. What is power? 3. What are the elements necessary for state? 118 STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SOCIETY 4. What is meant by politicisation of caste? 5. Elaborate on the role of state in Indian society. SUGGESTED READINGS 1. Brass, Paul, The Politics of India since Independence, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990. 2. Frankel, F. R., et al, ed, Transforming India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002. 3. Gupta, Dipankar, Political Sociology in India: Contemporary Trends, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1996. 4. Kothari, Rajni, Politics in India, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1982. 5. Kaviraj, Sudipta, Politics in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002. 6. Oommen, T. K, Protest and Change: Studies in Social Movements, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1990. 7. Shah, Ghanshyam, ed, Social Movements and the State, Sage Publication, New Delhi, 2002.