We in India pride ourselves on being a democracy. There is relation between the ideas of participation in decision-making and the need for all democratic governments to have the consent of their citizens.
It is these elements that together make us a democracy and this is best expressed in the institution of the Parliament. Parliament enables citizens of India to participate in decision making and control the government, thus making it the most important symbol of Indian democracy and a key feature of the Constitution.
India became independent on 15 August 1947. Many sections of society participated in the struggle. People from various backgrounds joined the struggle and they were inspired by the ideas of freedom, equality and participation in decision making. Under colonial rule, the people had lived in fear of the British government and did not agree with many of the decisions that they took. But they faced grave danger if they tried to criticise these decisions. The freedom movement changed this situation. The nationalists began to openly criticise the British government and make demands. As far back as 1885, the Indian National Congress demanded that there be elected members in the legislature with a right to discuss the budget and ask questions. The Government of India Act 1909, allowed for some elected representation. The dreams and aspirations of the freedom struggle were made concrete in the Constitution of independent India that laid down the principle of universal adult franchise, i.e. that all adult citizens of the country have the right to vote.
The take-off point for a democracy is the idea of consent, i.e. the desire, approval and participation of people. It is the decision of people that creates a democratic government and decides about its functioning. The basic idea in this kind of democracy is that the individual or the citizen is the most important person and that in principle the government as well as other public institutions needs to have the trust of these citizens.
People elect their representatives to the Parliament, then, one group from among these elected representatives forms the government. The Parliament, which is made up of all representatives together, controls and guides the government. In this sense people, through their chosen representatives, form the government and also control it.
The Indian Parliament is an expression of the faith that the people of India have in principles of democracy. These are participation by people in the decision making process and government by consent. The Parliament in our system has immense powers because it is the representative of the people. Elections to the Parliament are held in a similar manner as they are for the state legislature. The Lok Sabha is usually elected once every five years. The country is divided into numerous constituencies. Each of these constituencies elects one person to the Parliament. The candidates who contest elections usually belong to different political parties. Once elected, these candidates become Members of Parliament or MPs. These MPs together make up the Parliament.
Once elections to the Parliament have taken place, the Parliament needs to perform the following functions:
The Parliament in India consists of the President, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. After the Lok Sabha elections, a list is prepared showing how many MPs belong to each political party. For a political party to form the government, they must have a majority of elected MPs. Since there are 543 elected (plus 2 nominated) members in Lok Sabha, to have a majority a party should have at least half the number i.e. 272 members or more. The Opposition in Parliament is formed by all the political parties that oppose the majority party/coalition formed. The largest amongst these parties is called the Opposition party.
One of the most important functions of the Lok Sabha is to select the executive. The executive is a group of persons who work together to implement the laws made by the Parliament.
The Prime Minister of India is the leader of the ruling party in the Lok Sabha. From the MPs who belong to her party, the Prime Minister selects ministers to work with her to implement decisions. These ministers then take charge of different areas of government functioning like health, education, finance etc.
The Rajya Sabha functions primarily as the representative of the states of India in the Parliament. The Rajya Sabha can also initiate legislation and a bill is required to pas through the Rajya Sabha in order to become a law. It, therefore, has an important role of reviewing and altering (if alterations are needed) the laws initiated by the Lok Sabha. The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of various states. There are 233 elected members plus 12 members nominated by the President.
The Parliament, while in session, begins with a question hour. The question hour is an important mechanism through which MPs can elicit information about the working of the government. This is a very important way through which the Parliament controls the executive. By asking questions the government is alerted to its shortcomings, and also comes to know the opinion of the people through their representatives in the Parliament, i.e. the MPs. Asking questions of the government is a crucial task for every MP. The Opposition parties play a critical role in the healthy functioning of a democracy. They highlight drawbacks in various policies and programmes of the government and mobilise popular support for their own policies.
The Parliament now has more and more people from different backgrounds. For example, there are more rural members as also members from many regional parties. Groups and peoples that were till now unrepresented are beginning to get elected to the Parliament.
There has also been an increase in political participation from the Dalit and backward castes and the minorities.
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