The Republic of India comprises most of the Indian subcontinent.
The government of India is the governing authority of a federal union of 29 states and six union territories.The federal and individual state governments consist of executive, legislative and judicial branches.
India’s bicameral federal parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (council of states) and Lok Sabha (house of the people). There are up to 550 members in the Lok Sabha elected from the states (up to 530) and union territories (up to 20). Members of the Lok Sabha are elected on a first-past-the-post system in single-member constituencies at least once every five years.
If there is insufficient representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the Lok Sabha, the president appoints two Anglo-Indian members.
The Rajya Sabha has 250 members, 12 of whom are appointed by the president. The other members are elected indirectly by the assemblies of the states and union territories for a six-year term with one-third retiring every two years.
The prime minister is elected by the Lok Sabha and appoints and heads the council of ministers. The president is elected for five years by an electoral college consisting of members of the federal parliament and state assemblies.
The executive consists of the president, vice-president, prime minister and council of ministers. Ministers with portfolios must be members of one or other of the houses of parliament.
According to the constitution, the president is supreme commander of the armed forces, and has the power to dissolve parliament and call elections, declare a state of emergency and dismiss state governments. However, since the president’s role is largely ceremonial, the president is unlikely to use these extensive theoretical powers.
States have their own legislatures, usually unicameral, in addition to a governor who is appointed by the president for a five year term and a ministerial council headed by a chief minister. The 1950 constitution established the division of power between national and state legislatures. State legislatures pass laws relating to education, health, tax, public order, land and forests.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court is in New Delhi and there are high courts in every state, while the nature of and the arrangements for the lower courts differ from state to state. Generally the lower criminal courts are called courts of session and courts of magistrates. Appeals from the lower courts are heard in the high courts, and the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. The Supreme Court also has jurisdiction over disputes between federal and state governments.
The 1950 constitution also set out a number of individual freedoms and abolished discrimination on the basis of caste.
India, which came under direct British control after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, became independent in 1947. During the last years and months of British rule, Indian politicians found themselves unable to agree on a future constitution that would encompass the entire subcontinent. As a result, in 1947 the Indian subcontinent was divided into two self-governing republics, India and Pakistan.
The Indian flag, adopted in 1947, features a blue spinning wheel or chakra. The chakra is meant to represent the on-going progress of the nation and the value of justice in life.
The Indian National Congress (INC), established in 1885, campaigned for Indian independence throughout the period from 1919 to 1947. The INC, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, won the general election of 1952 (India’s first under universal adult suffrage) and Nehru remained prime minister until his death in 1964. He was succeeded first by Lal Bahadur Shastri, and then in 1966 by Nehru’s own daughter Indira Gandhi. She lost the elections in 1977, but returned to office in the 1980 elections. Immediately after her assassination in 1984 she was succeeded by her son Rajiv Gandhi.
In the 1999 general election the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a parliamentary majority. However, in 2004 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the INC, won a parliamentary majority. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), with 43 seats, joined the INC.
The UPA also won the 2009 elections.
Disputes with regards to the exact boundaries of the two states of India and Pakistan have continued since independence.