How can you explain the American democratic system and its form of government compared to the Indian governmental setup?

polity : How can you explain the American democratic system and its form of government compared to the Indian governmental setup?

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

In the US, the states are quite powerful. Although their federal government ate away a lot of power in the past many decades, theirs still remain a very federal system. US Federal government cannot dismiss any elected state government, nor unilaterally decide to split a state/merge two states. In many issues, the state supreme courts are final authorities and the US Supreme Court cannot simply override their power.

While writing our constitution, Indian framers considered this, but still decided not to give states this much power. National integration was a very big problem for Indian framers and they worried about individual states getting too powerful and taking India back to 18th century weakness.

The Indian central government has quite a lot of power. It can dismiss any state government at will and directly rule a state. This is supposed to be an emergency option, but unfortunately has been misused too often by certain Congress Prime Ministers. It can split and merge states and can change their boundaries. The Indian Supreme Court has most power to override judgments from state high courts.

No one central authority

In the US, there is no central authority. There is a President [a less powerful version of India's Prime Minister], who controls the executive and leads the country in a war. There is a House [a less powerful equivalent of India's Lok Sabha] that has the power to pass a variety of bills and with exclusive power over money matters. There is a Senate [a more powerful equivalent of India's Rajya Sabha] who are the "seniors" who provide stability to people's rule. They also pass bills and they have exclusive powers over things like treaties. All these are individually elected by the people in separate elections.

In India's case, there is only one election at the national level and the Parliament is considered supreme. It is elected by the people and it controls both law making and the executive. The judiciary is independent in both the systems.

US system offers a better risk management and doesn't allow any one body to get too powerful. The flip side is that there are always risk of deadlocks – where House/Senate/President fail to agree on something and nothing gets done. Indian system can be misused, as the party controlling Lok Sabha has very wide powers, but it also avoids some of the deadlocks.

Role of the Constitution

To prevent misuse of the Parliament [given the broad powers given to it], Indian framers made a very elaborate Constituition. It is among the longest of such documents in the world. This is a break from the UK system, where the Parliament is supreme and there is no written constitution as such.

In case of the US, the constitution is very simple & provides primarily the broad guidelines, instead of getting a lot into details. Their system of checks and balances ensures that even with a simple constitution the system doesn't become an autarchy.

Multi-party system

Given the nature of the system, US always ends up with two-parties that dominate. If there are more parties, it can make even more deadlocks in the system. It will also make an election of the President more complex and arbitrary [due to vote splitting].

In India's case, the Parliament is the supreme and the 543 members can come various parties. This accommodates multiple viewpoints better, although there is also a potential risk of "horse trading".

How can you explain the American democratic system and its form of government compared to the Indian governmental setup?


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