Every country needs a government to make decisions and get things done. These can be decisions about where to build infrastructure, or how to supply electricity. The government also takes action on many social issues, running postal and railway services.
The government also has the job of protecting the boundaries of the country and maintaining peaceful relations with other countries. It is responsible for ensuring that all its citizens have enough to eat and have good health facilities. When there are natural disasters like the tsunami or an earthquake it is the government that mainly organises aid and assistance for the affected people.
When human beings live and work together, there needs to be some amount of organisation so that decisions can be made. Some rules have to be made that apply to everyone. Governments do this on behalf of their people by exercising leadership, taking decisions and implementing these among all the people living in their territory.
Levels of Government
The government works at different levels:
- Local level
- State level
- National level
Laws and Government
The government makes laws and everyone who lives in the country has to follow these. Just like the government has the power to make decisions, similarly it has the power to enforce its decisions.
Types of Government
In a democracy, it is the people who give the government the power. The government has to explain its actions and defend its decisions to the people. India is a democracy.
In monarchy. the monarch (king or queen) has the power to make decisions and run the government. The monarch may have a small group of people to discuss matters with, but the final decision-making power remains with the monarch. Unlike in a democracy, kings and queens do not have to explain their actions or defend the decisions they take.
The main feature of a democracy is that the people have the power to elect their leaders. So, a democracy is rule by the people. The basic idea is that people rule themselves by participating in the making of these rules.
Democratic governments are usually referred to as representative democracies. In representative democracies people do not participate directly but, instead, choose their representatives through an election process. These representatives meet and make decisions for the entire population. In doing so it is assumed that they will keep in mind the voices and interests of the people.
All governments are elected for fixed periods. In India this period is five years. Once elected, governments can stay in power only for that period. If they want to continue to be in power then they have to be re-elected by the people. In this way the power of the government gets limited by regular elections.
Benefits for Democracy
- A democratic government is a accountable form of government.
- Democracy improves the quality of decision-making.
- Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.
- Democracy enhances the dignity of citizens.
- Democracy allows us to correct its own mistakes.
Conflicts occur when people of different cultures, religions, regions or economic backgrounds do not get along with each other, or when some among them feel they are being discriminated against. People may use violent means to settle their differences. This leads to fear and tension among others living in an area. The government is responsible for helping to resolve conflicts.
One of the key ideas of a democratic government is its commitment to equality and justice. Equality and justice are inseparable.
Features of Democracy
- Democracy is a form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people.
- In a democracy the final decision-making power must rest with those elected by the people.
- A democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.
- In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.
- A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens’ rights.
Power Sharing in Democracy
Power sharing helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups. Power sharing is the very spirit of democracy. A democratic rule involves sharing power with those affected by its exercise, and who have to live with its effects.
In a democracy, people rule themselves through institutions of self-government. In a good democratic government, due respect is given to diverse groups and views that exist in a society. Everyone has a voice in the shaping of public policies. Therefore, it follows that in a democracy political power should be distributed among as many citizens as possible.
1. Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary. This is called horizontal distribution of power because it allows different organs of government placed at the same level to exercise different powers. Such a separation ensures that none of the organs can exercise unlimited power. Each organ checks the others. This results in a balance of power among various institutions.
2. Power can be shared among governments at different levels - a general government for the entire country and governments at the provincial or regional level. This is called federal division of power. The same principle can be extended to levels of government lower than the State government, such as the municipality and panchayat. This is called vertical division of power.
3. Power may also be shared among different social groups such as the religious and linguistic groups. This type of arrangement is meant to give space in the government and administration to diverse social groups who otherwise would feel alienated from the government.
4. Power sharing arrangements can also be seen in the way political parties, pressure groups and movements control or influence those in power. In a democracy, the citizens must have freedom to choose among various contenders for power. In contemporary democracies, this takes the form of competition among different parties. Such competition ensures that power does not remain in one hand. In the long run, power is shared among different political parties that represent different ideologies and social groups.
Democracy in the World
The story of modern democracy began at least two centuries ago. French Revolution of 1789 did not establish a secure and stable democracy in France. Throughout the nineteenth century, democracy in France was overthrown and restored several times. Yet the French Revolution inspired many struggles for democracy all over Europe.
In Britain, the progress towards democracy started much before the French Revolution. But the progress was very slow. Through the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, series of political events reduced the power of monarchy and feudal lords. The right to vote was granted to more and more people.
Around the same time as the French Revolution, the British colonies in North America declared themselves independent in 1776. In the next few years these colonies came together to form the United States of America. They adopted a democratic constitution in 1787. But here too the right to vote was limited to very few men.
In the nineteenth century struggles for democracy often centred round political equality, freedom and justice. One major demand was the right for every adult citizen to vote. Many European countries that were becoming more democratic did not initially allow all people to vote. In some countries only people owning property had the right to vote. Often women did not have the right to vote.
In the United States of America, the blacks all over the country could not exercise the right to vote until 1965. Those struggling for democracy wanted this right granted universally to all adults - men or women, rich or poor, white or black.
By 1900 New Zealand was the only country where every adult had voting right. Early democracies were established in Europe, North America and Latin America.
When was universal adult franchise granted?
- 1893 New Zealand
- 1917 Russia
- 1918 Germany
- 1919 Netherlands
- 1928 Britain
- 1931 Sri Lanka
- 1934 Turkey
- 1944 France
- 1945 Japan
- 1950 India
- 1951 Argentina
- 1952 Greece
- 1955 Malaysia
- 1962 Australia
- 1965 US
- 1978 Spain
- 1994 South Africa
For a very long time most countries in Asia and Africa were colonies under the control of European nations. People of the colonised countries had to wage struggles to achieve independence. Many of these countries became democracies immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1945.
The next big push towards democracy came after 1980, as democracy was revived in several countries of Latin America. The disintegration of the Soviet Union accelerated this process.
The then Soviet Union controlled many of its neighbouring communist countries in Eastern Europe. Poland and several other countries became free from the control of the Soviet Union during 1989-90. They chose to become democracies. Finally the Soviet Union itself broke down in 1991. The Soviet Union comprised 15 Republics. All the constituent Republics emerged as independent countries. Most of them became democracies.
By 2016, about 140 countries were holding multi-party elections. This number was higher than ever before. More than 80 previously non-democratic countries have made significant advances towards democracy since 1980. But, even today, there are many countries where people cannot express their opinion freely.
Democracy at Global Level
There is no government of the world. No government can pass any law that will apply to all the people of the world.
There is no single World Government, but there are many institutions in the world that perform partially the functions of such a government. These organisations cannot command countries and citizens in a way a government can, but they do make rules that put limits on what governments can do.
The United Nations (UN) is a global association of nations of the world to help cooperation in international law, security, economic development and social equity. The UN Security Council, an organ of the UN, is responsible for maintaining peace and security among countries.
Every one of the member states of the UN has one vote in the UN General Assembly. General Assembly is like the parliament where all the discussion takes place. But the General Assembly cannot take any decision about what action should be taken in a conflict between different countries. The fifteen-member Security Council of the UN takes such crucial decisions.
The Council has five permanent members - US, Russia, UK, France and China. Ten other members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The real power is with five permanent members. Each permanent member has veto power. It means that the Council cannot take a decision if any permanent member says no to that decision.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) is one of the biggest moneylenders for any country in the world. Its member states do not have equal voting rights. The vote of each country is weighed by how much money it has contributed to the IMF. More than 40% of the voting power in the IMF is in the hands of only seven countries (US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada).
Under the unitary system, either there is only one level of government or the sub-units are subordinate to the central government. The central government can pass on orders to the provincial or the local government. But in a federal system, the central government cannot order the state government to do something.
State government has powers of its own for which it is not answerable to the central government. Both these governments are separately answerable to the people.
Features of Federalism
- There are two or more levels or tiers of government.
- Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of legislation, taxation and administration.
- The jurisdictions of the respective levels or tiers of government are specified in the constitution.
- The fundamental provisions of the constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government. Such changes require the consent of both the levels of government.
- Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government.
- Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
- The federal system has dual objectives: to safeguard and promote unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity.
India as Federal Country
The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government, the Union Government or the Central Government, representing the Union of India and the State governments. Later, a third tier of federalism was added in the form of Panchayats and Municipalities. The Constitution clearly provided a threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments. Thus, it contains three lists:
1. Union List
It includes subjects of national importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency. They are included in this list because we need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country. The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
2. State List
It contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture and irrigation. The State Governments alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the State List.
3. Concurrent List
It includes subjects of common interest to both the Union Government as well as the State Governments, such as education, forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption and succession. Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list.
If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.
This sharing of power between the Union Government and the State governments is basic to the structure of the Constitution. The judiciary plays an important role in overseeing the implementation of constitutional provisions and procedures. In case of any dispute about the division of powers, the High Courts and the Supreme Court make a decision.
States in India
In 1947, the boundaries of several old States of India were changed in order to create new States. This was done to ensure that people who spoke the same language lived in the same State.
Some States were created not on the basis of language but to recognise differences based on culture, ethnicity or geography. These include States like Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.
The Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language. Hindi was identified as the official language. Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution. States too have their own official languages. Much of the government work takes place in the official language of the concerned State.
For a long time, the same party ruled both at the Centre and in most of the States. This meant that the State governments did not exercise their rights as autonomous federal units. As and when the ruling party at the State level was different, the parties that ruled at the Centre tried to undermine the power of the States.
All this changed significantly after 1990. This period saw the rise of regional political parties in many States of the country.