Throughout history, India has absorbed and modified to suit its needs, the best from all the civilizations with which it has come into contact. Once again the fledgling nation demonstrated the maturity and wisdom of its ancient traditions, and the truth of its claim that it was opposed, not to the people or the civilization of Britain and the West, only to its imperial domination. India chose to remain within the British Commonwealth of Nations. It also adopted the British system of Parliamentary Democracy, and retained the judicial, administrative, defence and educational structures and institutions set up by the British. India is today the largest and most populous democracy on earth, with universal adult suffrage.
The Indian Constitution, adopted when India became a Republic on January 26, 1950, safeguards all its people from all forms of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, creed or sex. It guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief, assembly and association, migration, acquisition of property and choice of occupation or trade.
The Indian Parliament consists of two houses: The Rajya Sabha or Council of States, and the Lok Sabha or House of Representatives. The former consists of 250 members, mainly elected and some nominated by the President, and is presided over by the Vice-President. The Lok Sabha is made up of 543 members elected from the States and Union Territories. All legislation requires the approval of both Houses. The President is the Head of State, and is appointed through the votes of an electoral college drawn from both Houses and from the Legislature of the constituent States. The Prime Minister is the head of the Government, and is the leader of the majority party in the Lok Sabha. The President appoints ministers on his advice.
Members of the State Legislative Assemblies or Vidhan Sabhas are elected through universal adult franchise. Each State has a Chief Minister who is the leader of the majority party of the Assembly. Elections are supervised by the Election Commission, an independent body. An independent judiciary is the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the land, at the apex of the state High Courts. The Civil Services implement government policies freely and fairly. Entrance to these Services is by annual public examinations open to all.
The achievement of independence was but the first step towards creating a modern nation. Jawaharlal Nehru spelt it out very clearly, “We talk of freedom, but today political freedom does not take us very far unless there is economic freedom. Indeed, there is no such thing as freedom for a man who is starving or for a country that is poor.” Today, economic development and social justice are the priorities of the Indian government.
India’s vanguard role in the international anti-colonial struggle has given her natural moral leadership of the Third World in its quest for international peace, equality and justice. Refusing to be drawn into the dangerous confrontational politics of super power rivalries, India was a moving force behind the formation of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. Nonalignment does not mean neutrality, it means a principled approach to international issues. In consonance with the spirit of the movement, India has always sought close bilateral relations and cooperation at all levels with countries of both the Western and Socialist blocs, as well as with other nonaligned nations. The relevance of nonalignment has not diminished in the post USSR era, but the movement has had to redefine its perspective in the context of increasing polarity between the affluent, developed nations of the North, and the economically developing nations of the South. The main thrust of the movement now is to assert the independence of the South against the hegemony of the North, and to resist the interventionist political pressures of aid conditionality.
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, India strongly asserted the position of the countries of the South that environmental problems cannot be tackled in isolation from economic and developmental issues. Pointing out that the affluent nations consume a disproportionately enormous share of the earth’s resources and create most of its industrial pollution, India joined the developing countries in insisting on complete national sovereignty over natural resources, and demanded that they be suitably compensated for restraining economic growth in order to preserve these assets in the interests of global survival.
The international prestige enjoyed by the country has enabled India to take a leading role in multilateral initiatives toward finding solutions to some of the critical issues of the day, such as nuclear disarmament, apartheid, the rights of the Palestinian people, protection of the environment and the evolution of a more just international economic order. Mutual respect and cooperation have also been the basis of India’s relationship with her neighbors.
The South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), established in December 1985, provides a valuable forum for the promotion of regional cooperation among its seven member states – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. SAARC is based on the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, mutual benefit and non interference in the internal affairs of other states. The U.N. Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, which India has consistently supported, is another step in the direction of peace and stability in the area.
The moral authority vested in India as a legacy of its anti-colonial stand, has enabled it to play a vigorous and principled role in all international fora, including the United Nations, in efforts to banish all forms of exploitation from the world.