According to its constitution, India is a "sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic." Like the United States, India has a federal form of government. However, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and its central government is patterned after the British parliamentary system.
The government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. The president and vice president are elected indirectly for 5-year terms by a special electoral college. Their terms are staggered, and the vice president does not automatically become president following the death or removal from office of the president.
Real national executive power is centered in the Council of Ministers (cabinet), led by the prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The president then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the prime minister.
India's bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Lok Sabha.
The legislatures of the states and union territories elect 233 members to the Rajya Sabha, and the president appoints another 12. The elected members of the Rajya Sabha serve 6-year terms, with one-third up for election every 2 years. The Lok Sabha consists of 545 members; 543 are directly elected to 5-year terms. The other two are appointed.
India's independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 25 other justices, all appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister.
India has 25 states* and 7 union territories. At the state level, some of the legislatures are bicameral, patterned after the two houses of the national parliament. The states' chief ministers are responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to parliament.
Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local governments in India have less autonomy than their counterparts in the United States. Some states are trying to revitalize the traditional village councils, or panchayats, which aim to promote popular democratic participation at the village level, where much of the population still lives.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took office in October 1999 after a general election in which a BJP-led coalition of 13 parties called the National Democratic Alliance emerged with an absolute majority. The coalition reflects the ongoing transition in Indian politics away from the historically dominant and national-based Congress Party toward smaller, narrower-based regional parties. This process has been underway throughout much of the past decade and is likely to continue in the future.
The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) elections in September 1999. The BJP currently leads a coalition government under Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Party President Kushabhau Thakre was elected by the Party National Executive in April 1998. The Hindu-nationalist BJP draws its political strength mainly from the "Hindi belt" in the northern and western regions of India. The party holds power in the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh (in coalition with several small parties), Himachal Pradesh (in coalition with Himachal Vikas Congress) Punjab (in coalition with Akali Dal) and in Haryana (in coalition with the Indian National Lok Dal). Popularly viewed as the party of the upper caste and trading communities, the BJP has made strong inroads into the lower caste vote bank in recent national and state assembly elections.
The Congress (I) Party, led by Sonia Gandhi (widow of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi), holds the second-largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. Priding itself as a secular, centrist party, the Congress has been the historically dominant political party in India. Its performance in national elections has steadily declined during the last decade. The Congress still rules in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra (in coalition with the National Congress Party), Karnataka, and three of the smaller states in the northeast. The political fortunes of the Congress have suffered badly as major groups in its traditional vote bank have been lost to emerging regional and caste-based parties, such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.
The Janata Dal (United) Party claims to be a national party but currently holds significant strength only in Karnataka and Bihar. It advocates a secular and socialist ideology and draws much of its popular support from Muslims, lower castes, and tribals.
conventional long form: Republic of India
conventional short form: India
Data code: IN
Government type: federal republic
Capital: New Delhi
Administrative divisions: 25 states and 7 union territories*; Andaman and Nicobar Islands*, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh*, Dadra and Nagar Haveli*, Daman and Diu*, Delhi*, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep*, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Pondicherry*, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal
Independence: 15 August 1947 (from UK)
National holiday: Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic, 26 January (1950)
Constitution: 26 January 1950
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
chief of state: President Kicheril Raman Narayanan (since 25 July 1997); Vice President Krishnan Kant (since 21 August 1997)
head of government: Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (since 19 March 1998)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister
elections: president elected by an electoral college consisting of elected members of both houses of Parliament and the legislatures of the states for a five-year term; election last held 14 July 1997 (next to be held NA July 2002); vice president elected by both houses of Parliament for a five-year term; election last held 16 August 1997 (next to be held NA August 2002); prime minister elected by parliamentary members of the majority party following legislative elections; election last held NA October 1999 (next to be held NA October 2004)
election results: Kicheril Raman Narayanan elected president; percent of electoral college vote - NA; Krishnan Kant elected vice president; percent of Parliament vote - NA; Atal Behari Vajpayee elected prime minister; percent of vote - NA
bicameral Parliament or Sansad consists of the Council of States or Rajya Sabha (a body consisting of not more than 250 members, up to 12 of which are appointed by the president, the remainder are chosen by the elected members of the state and territorial assemblies; members serve six-year terms) and the People's Assembly or Lok Sabha (545 seats; 543 elected by popular vote, 2 appointed by the president; members serve five-year terms)
elections: People's Assembly - last held 5 September through 3 October 1999 (next to be held NA 2004)
election results: People's Assembly - percent of vote by party - BJP alliance 40.8%, Congress alliance 33.8%, other 25.4%; seats by party - BJP alliance 304, Congress alliance 134, other 105
Judicial branch: Supreme Court, judges are appointed by the president and remain in office until they reach the age of 65
Political parties and leaders: Akali Dal (representing Sikh religious community in Punjab) Prakash Singh Badal; All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or AIADMK J. Jayalalitha; All India Forward Bloc or AIFB Prem Dutta Paliwal (chairman), Chitta Basu (general secretary)]; Asom Gana Parishad Prafulla Kumar Mahanta; Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP Kanshi Ram; Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP Kushabhau Thakre, president, L. K. Advani, A. B. Vajpayee; Bihar Peoples Party Anand Mohan Singh; Biju Janata Dal or BJD Navin Patnaik; Communist Party of India or CPI Indrajit Gupta; Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPI-M Harkishan Singh Surjeet; Communist Party of India/Marxist-Leninist or CPI/ML [Vinod MISHRA]; Congress (I) Party [Sonia GANDHI, president]; Dravida Munnetra Kazagham or DMK (a regional party in Tamil Nadu) [M. KARUNANIDHI]; Indian National League [Suliaman SAIT]; Janata Dal (Ajit) [Ajit SINGH]; Janata Dal United Party or JDU [Sharad YADAV, president, I. K. GUJRAL]; Kerala Congress (Mani faction) [K. M. MANI]; Muslim League [G. M. BANATWALA]; National Conference or NC (a regional party in Jammu and Kashmir) [Farooq ABDULLAH]; Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD [Laloo Prasad YADAV]; Revolutionary Socialist Party or RSP [Tridip CHOWDHURY]; Samajwadi Party or SP [Mulayam Singh YADAV, president]; Samata Party or SAP (formerly Janata Dal members) [George FERNANDES]; Shiv Sena or SHS Bal Thackeray; Tamil Maanila Congress [G. K. MOOPANAR]; Telugu Desam (a regional party in Andhra Pradesh) [Chandrababu NAIDU]; Trinamool Congress [Mamata BANNERJEE]
Political pressure groups and leaders: numerous religious or militant/chauvinistic organizations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; various separatist groups seeking greater communal and/or regional autonomy
International organization participation: AfDB, AsDB, BIS, C, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G- 6, G-15, G-19, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA (observer), IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, MINURSO, MIPONUH, MONUC, NAM, OAS (observer), OPCW, PCA, SAARC, UN, UNAMSIL, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNU, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Naresh Chandra
chancery: 2107 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; note - Embassy located at 2536 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone:  (202) 939-7000
FAX:  (202) 483-3972
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Richard F. Celeste
embassy: Shanti Path, Chanakyapuri 110021, New Delhi
mailing address: use embassy street address
telephone:  (11) 688-9033, 611-3033
FAX:  (11) 419-0017
consulate(s) general: Calcutta, Chennai (Madras), Mumbai (Bombay)
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of orange (top), white, and green with a blue chakra (24-spoked wheel) centered in the white band; similar to the flag of Niger, which has a small orange disk centered in the white band