CBSE Textbook · GK

Democratic Politics (Class X)

Belgium has borders with Netherlands, France and Germany.

Sri Lanka emerged as an independent country in 1948.


Majoritarianism: A belief that the majority community should be able to rule a country in whichever way it wants, by disregarding the wishes and needs of the minority.


Maoists: Those communists who believe in the ideology of Mao, the leader of  the Chinese revolution. They seek to overthrow the government through an armed revolution so as to establish the rule of the peasants and workers


Civil war: A violent conflict between opposing groups within a country that becomes so intense that it appears like a war.


Two different sets of reasons can be given in favour of power sharing. Firstly, power sharing is good because it helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups. Since social conflict often leads to violence and political instability, power sharing is a good way to ensure the stability of political order.  There is a second, deeper reason why power sharing is good for democracies. 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. People have a right to be consulted on how they are to be governed.  Let us call the first set of reasons prudential and the second moral. While prudential reasons stress that power sharing will bring out better outcomes, moral reasons emphasises the very act of power sharing as valuable.


In modern democracies, power sharing arrangements can take many forms-

  1. Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary. It is a 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.  This arrangement is called a system of checks and balances.
  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. Such a general government for the entire country is usually called federal government. In India, we refer to it as the Central or Union Government. It is a vertical division of power.
  3. Power may also be shared among different social groups, such as the religious and linguistic groups. ‘Community government’ in Belgium is a good example of this arrangement.

In some countries there are constitutional and legal arrangements whereby socially weaker sections and women are represented in the legislatures and administration. Last year we studied the system of ‘reserved constituencies’ in assemblies and the parliament of our country. 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.

  1. Power sharing arrangements can also be seen in the way political parties, pressure groups and movements control or influence those in power.  Sometimes this kind of sharing can be direct, when two or more parties form an alliance to contest elections. If their alliance is elected, they form a coalition government and thus share power.



Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.


Federations are different from unitary governments. 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.


Some important features of federalism:

  1. There are two or more levels (or tiers) of government.
  2. Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of legislation, taxation and administration.
  3. The jurisdictions of the respective levels or tiers of government are specified in the constitution. So the existence and authority of each tier of government is constitutionally guaranteed.
  4. 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.
  5. Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government. The highest court acts as an umpire if disputes arise between different levels of government in the exercise of their respective powers.
  6. Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
  7. The federal system thus has dual objectives: to safeguard and promote unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity. An ideal federal system has both aspects : mutual trust and agreement to live together.


There are two kinds of routes through which federations have been formed:

  1. The first route involves independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit, so that by pooling sovereignity and retaining identity they can increase their security. This type of ‘coming together’ federations include the USA, Switzerland and Australia. All the constituent States usually have equal power and are strong vis-à-vis the federal government
  2. The second route is where a large country decides to divide its power between the constituent States and the national government. India, Spain and Belgium are examples of this kind of ‘holding together’ federations. The central government tends to be more powerful vis-à-vis the States.


After its independence, the Constitution declared India as a union of States. Today, the Constitution provides a three fold distribution of  legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments. Thus, it contains three lists:

  1. Union List includes subjects of national importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency. The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
  2. State List 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 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.


The Parliament cannot on its own change this arrangement. Any change to it has to be first passed by both the Houses of Parliament with at least two-thirds majority. Then it has to be ratified by the legislatures of at least half of the total States.  In case of any dispute about the division of powers, the High Courts and the Supreme Court make a decision.


Success of federalism in India:

  1. Linguistic States: In 1947, the boundaries of states was restrucutured on the basis of the language spoken. 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.
  2. Language policy: Our Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language. Hindi was identified as the official language. But Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 40 per cent of Indians. Therefore, there were many safeguards to protect other languages. Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.
  3. Center-State Relatons: Around 1990, with the rise in many political parties at the state level led to the formation of coalition governments. Till then, both the centre and states were ruled by a single party, who tried to undermine the power of states ruled by other parties, destroying the spirit of federalism.


Decentralisation in India:


Initially, power was distributed between the Centre and the States. Although local governments existed they were not given much power or resources of their own . In 1992,  the Constitution was amended to make thethird-tier of democracy more powerful and effective.

  1. Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
  2. Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
  3. At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
  4. An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
  5. The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies. The nature of sharing varies from State to State.


Rural local government is popularly known by the name panchayati raj. Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat. This is a council consisting of several ward members, often called panch, and a president or sarpanch.

The local government structure goes right up to the district level. A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a panchayat samiti or block or mandal. The members of this representative body are elected by all the panchyat members in that area.

All the panchayat samitis or mandals in a district together  constitute the zilla (district) parishad. Most members of the zilla parishad are elected. Members of the Lok Sabha and MLAs of that district and some other officials of other district level bodies are also its members. Zilla parishad chairperson is the political head of the zilla parishad.


Similarly, local government bodies exist for urban areas as well. Municipalities are set up in towns. Big cities are constituted into municipal corporations. Both municipalities and municipal corporations are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people’s representatives. Municipal chairpersonis the political head of the municipality. In a municipal corporation such an officer is called the mayor.


This new system of local government is the largest experiment in democracy conducted anywhere in the world.


Parties reflect fundamental political divisions in a society. Parties are about a part of the society and thus involve partisanship ( Partisan: A person who is strongly committed to a party, group or faction. Partisanship is marked by a tendency to take a side and inability to take a balanced view on an issue). Thus a party is known by which part it stands for, which policies it supports and whose interests it upholds. A political party has three components: the leaders, the active members and the followers.

  1. Parties contest elections. Elections are fought mainly among the candidates put up by  political parties. In some countries, such as the USA, members and supporters of a party choose its candidates. In other countries like India, top party leaders choose candidates for contesting elections.
  2. Parties put forward different policies and programs and the voters choose from them. In a democracy, a large number of similar opinions have to be grouped together to provide a direction in which policies can be formulated by the governments.  A government is expected to base its policies on the line taken by the ruling party.
  3. Parties form and run governments and play a decisive role in making laws for the country. They also shape public opinion.
  4. Those parties that lose in the elections play the role of opposition to the parties in power, by voicing different views and criticizing government for its failures or wrong policies.
  5. Parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by governments.


Any democratic system must allow at least two parties to compete in elections and provide a fair chance for the competing parties to come to power.

  1. In some countries, power usually changes between two main parties. Several other parties may exist, contest elections and win a few seats in the national legislatures. But only the two main parties have a serious chance of winning majority of seats to form government. Such a party system is called two-party system. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are examples of two-party system.
  2. If several parties compete for power, and more than two parties have a reasonable chance of coming to power either on their own strength or in alliance with others, we call it a multi-party system. Thus in India, we have a multi-party system. When several parties in a multi-party system join hands for the purpose of contesting elections and winning power, it is called an alliance or a front. For example, in India there were three such major alliances in 2004 parliamentary elections– the National Democratic Alliance, the United Progressive Alliance and the Left Front.


Every party in the country has to register with the Election Commission.  A party that secures at least 6 per cent of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least two seats is recognised as a State party. A party that secures at least six per cent of total votes in Lok Sabha elections or Assembly elections in four States and wins at least four seats in the Lok Sabha is recognised as a national party.


According to this classification, there were six national recognised parties in the country in 2006.

  1. Indian National Congress (INC): Founded in 1885. Ruling party at the centre till 1977 and then from 1980 to 1989. A centrist party (neither rightist nor leftist) in its ideological orientation, the party espouses secularism and welfare of weaker sections and minorities. Supports new economic reforms but with a human face. Emerged as the largest party with 145 members in the Lok Sabha elections held in 2004. It is a part of the United Progressive Alliance coalition.
  2. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): Founded in 1980, wants to build a strong and modern India by drawing inspiration from India’s ancient culture and values. Cultural nationalism (or ‘Hindutva’) is an important element in its conception of Indian nationhood and politics. Wants full territorial and political integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India, a uniform civil code for all people living in the country irrespective of religion, and ban on religious conversions. Came to power in 1998 as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance including several state and regional parties.
  3. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP): Formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram. Seeks to represent and secure power for the bahujan samaj which includes the dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious minorities. Draws inspiration from the ideas and teachings of Sahu Maharaj, Mahatma Phule, Periyar Ramaswami Naicker and Babasaheb Ambedkar. Stands for the cause of securing the interests and welfare of the dalits and oppressed people. It has its main base in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
  4. Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M): Founded in 1964. Believes in Marxism-Leninism. Supports socialism, secularism and democracy and opposes imperialism and communalism. Enjoys strong support in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, especially among the poor.  Critical of the new economic policies that allow free flow of foreign capital and goods into the country. Has been in power in West Bengal without a break for 30 years.
  5. Communist Party of India (CPI): Formed in 1925. Believes in Marxism-Leninism, secularism and democracy. Opposed to the forces of secessionism and communalism. Accepts parliamentary democracy as a means of promoting the interests of the working class, farmers and the poor. Became weak after the split in the party in 1964 that led to the formation of the CPI(M). Significant presence in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.  Advocates the coming together of all left parties to build a strong left front.
  6. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): Formed in 1999 following a split in the Congress party. Espouses democracy, Gandhian secularism, equity, social justice and federalism. Wants that high offices in government be confined to natural born citizens of the country. A major party in Maharashtra and has a significant presence in Meghalaya, Manipur and Assam.




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