Type of Polities

Type of Polities

Parliamentary versus Presidential System and should we switch over to Presidential System ?

1 . Parliamentary  System


  • Government in which Executive is responsible to Legislature for its policies

Also known as

  1. Cabinet system
  2. Responsible government
  3. Westminster Model of government

Parliamentary System in India

There is Parliamentary form of government both at State and Centre

Center Article 74 and Article 75
State Article 163 and Article 164

Features of parliamentary system

  • President is nominal (de jure) head while Prime Minister is real (de facto) executive
  • Party which secures majority of seats in Lok Sabha forms government.
  • Ministers are collectively responsible to Parliament(swim and sink together)
  • Usually members of Council of Ministers belong to same Political party  and hence share same ideology
  • There is double membership ie ministers are members of executive and legislature
  • Prime Minister plays leadership role and he is leader of council
  • Lower House can be dissolved by President on recommendation of Prime Minister

Merits of Parliamentary System

  • Harmony between Legislature and Executive as members of Executive are members of Legislature  too
  • Government is responsible as it is answerable to Parliament for acts of omission and  commission
  • Prevents despotism as executive is controlled by various tools like No Confidence Motion,Zero Hour Discussion etc
  • There is ready alternate government if no confidence motion is passed against ruling party
  • It provide wide representation as executive consist of variety of members

Demerits of Parliamentary System

  • Government is unstable in nature and stands on mercy of Legislators
  • There is no continuity of policies. When Government changes, policies also change which is bad for economy
  • If ruling party enjoys absolute majority, government can become autocratic
  • It is against Principle of Separation of Power
  • Not conducive for administrative efficiency as ministers are not expert in their fields

Why we chose Parliamentary System

  • Familiarity with system as in British India this system was there
  • Preference to more responsibility than stability
  • Need to avoid Legislative – Executive divide which was necessary for immature democracy like that of India
  • Constituent Assembly feared too strong Executive
  • In diverse society like India this system provide representation to more diverse groups in Executive
  • Alternative to Parliamentary Executive was Presidential form of government. But Presidential Executive puts much emphasis on the President .  There is always danger of personality cult. 

Indian System different from British System

India British
Republican system Monarchial system
Parliament is not supreme and enjoys limited and restricted powers due to written constitution , Judicial Review and Fundamental Rights Based on Doctrine of Sovereignty of Parliament
Prime Minister can be member of any of the two houses Prime Minister should be member of Lower house
Not MP can be appointed as minister but he has to acquire membership within 6 months MP alone is appointed as minister
No legal responsibility of Minister Legal responsibility of minister is there
No Shadow Cabinet Shadow Cabinet is there

2. Presidential  System

Features of Presidential  System (American)

  • President is head of state as well as head of government
  • President is elected by electoral college for 4 years  and can be removed before by impeachment
  • President governs with help of his secretaries who are not elected and answerable to him only
  • Advice of secretaries not binding on the President
  • President and his secretaries are not answerable to the Congress neither they have any membership there
  • Purely works on the principle of separation of power in which executive ,legislature & judiciary are independent & separate

Should we switch over to Presidential System?

Question of changing over to Presidential System has been raised various times

1956 Nehru himself expressed his doubts whether the Parliamentary System could meet the needs of the times and complexities of modern administration  
1960s Desirability of a switch-over to the Presidential system was  discussed & several eminent men including a person like JRD Tata advocated a Presidential system for India  
1967   After Nehru, Congress’s monopoly of power began to be eroded at the level of States. Presidential model described as remedy for all of India’s ills.  
Indira’s Reign Demand became most prominent 

So, should we switch over ?

Arguments that we shouldn’t switch over

  1. This issue was sufficiently discussed in Constituent Assembly & it made an informed choice after considering both British model and American model 
  2. It would violate the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.
  3. Presidential system centralises power in one individual unlike the Parliamentary System, where Prime Minister is first among equals.
  4. Diverse country like India cannot function without consensus-building. But Presidential System works on “winner takes it all” approach
  5.  ‘Outside’ talent can be brought in a parliamentary system too. Examples: C.D. Deshmukh , T.A. Pai, Manmohan Singh etc

Arguments that we should switch over to Parliamentary System

  1. There is no genuine separation of powers:  legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since the government wields the majority in the House. 
  2. During time of Coalition government  government is unstable and stands on the mercy of MPs & MLAs
  3. Cabinet posts would not be limited to those who are electable rather than those who are able. Experts can become ministers / secretaries.
  4. Fear that an elected President could become a Caesar/authoritarian is ill-founded since the President’s power would be balanced by legislature (including Rajya Sabha)
  5. It is good for diverse country like India because in order to get Bills passed, President instead of facing a monolithic opposition, would have the opportunity to build issue-based coalitions on different issues
  6. Parliamentary system is taken from Britain but conditions similar to Britain do not exist in India. It requires the existence of clearly defined political parties  whereas in India a party is all too often a label of convenience 

Conclusion : Present Parliamentary System has been tried and tested for nearly 70 years. As famous saying goes – Why fix a thing which isn’t broken. Rather than changing the system, we should reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes

3. Federal System

Earliest evidence of Federation and how it worked can be found in Jataka Stories. Around 5th century BC, the republican states of Lichchavi and Sakya had an institutional system called Santhagara which was used to debate issues of vital importance to the republic. Buddha was initiated into the Sakya Santhagara at the age of 20. When he was 28, there was a dispute over sharing of  water of Rohini river between the Sakyas and Koliyas. The Sakya  military commander was in favour of war on Koliyas which Siddhartha opposed. But the peace proposal of Siddhartha was defeated miserably during voting. Siddhartha had to face exile.

Idea of federalism as an organising principle between different levels of a state is quite old. Greek city states had it. Lichchavi kingdom of northern India in the 6th century BC is a celebrated example of a republican system.  European Union is a recent example of the idea of federalism being implemented at a trans-national level 


  • Federation is derived from word foedus (latin) which means treaty or agreement
  • Federation can be formed in two ways
Integration ie  Coming Together Federation When two or more weak states come together to form strong union eg :USA
Disintegration ie  Holding Together Federation Big unitary state is converted to federation by granting autonomy to provinces :Canada,  India
  • Federal Polity is a system of governance in which sovereignty is constitutionally shared between centre & states

Why India adopted this system?

  • States & their diversity can flourish with autonomy.
  • For multicultural societies, federalism is attractive option.  It enables minorities to become majorities in sub-national units 
Political Motives Security from external & internal threats
– Additional central assistance when required
– Political stability while keeping a separate culture & ethnic diversity
Economic Motives – Access to larger national Market
– Financial assistance from federal government
Transfer of resources from other states in case of underdeveloped state
  • India has Federal system but term federation is mentioned nowhere in constitution instead Article 1 described India as Union of states

Federalism and Stability of State

Centralised administration often   refuses to decentralise thinking that it will undermine it’s integrity. But opposite is true. Decentralisation leads to stability and those who refuse to decentralise often crumble under their own weight.

Eg : Pakistan didn’t involve East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and gradually Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan.

Difference between Federal & Unitary government

Federal Unitary
Dual government Single government
Written constitution (must) May have written(France) or unwritten(Britain) constitution
Division of powers between Centre and States No division of power , all powers vested in centre
Supremacy of constitution Constitution maybe supreme(Japan) or mayn’t be(Britain)
Rigid constitution Can be rigid or flexible
Independent judiciary May be or may not be
Bicameral legislature May have two houses (Britain) or one house (China)

Federal System in India

  • India is holding together federation different from USA which is coming together
  • Holding together model is adopted for sake of unity of country & national integration – Constituent assembly prescribed federalist model so that country can face challenges of Centrifugal forces effectively

Features of Indian System of Federation

  • Dual polity with Union at Centre and States at Periphery
  • Written constitution which is also lengthiest one with 465 Articles and 12 Schedules
  • Division of powers : 7th schedule
Union list 100  
State list 61 66 (originally)
Concurrent list 52  
  • Supremacy of constitution and all laws made must confirm with constitution
  • Rigid constitution and method of amendment is rigid. Provisions concerned with federal character can be amended by joint action of state and centre
  • Judiciary is independent in India and not under influence of Union government
  • Bicameralism : Rajya Sabha represents states of Indian Federation whereas Lok Sabha represents Indian people as whole
  • Special nature and needs of certain regions are defined constitutionally via Article 370 & various sub clauses of Article 371

Note : Architect of Indian Constitution, Baba Saheb Ambedkar believed that for a culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse and heterogeneous country like India, federalism was the ‘chief mark’, although with a strong unitary bias. This understanding, which was shared by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other national leaders stood at sharp variance with Gandhi’s idea of federalism who was a votary of decentralisation and devolution of power to the lowest unit of Panchayat.

Note : All federal systems including the American are placed in a tight mould of federalism. No matter what the circumstances, it cannot change its form and shape. It can never be unitary. On the other hand the Indian Constitution can be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances. In normal times, it is framed to work as a federal system. But in times of distress(eg National Emergency) it is so designed as to make it work as though it was a unitary system.

Unitary features of Constitution

  1. Strong Centre  and division of powers is in favour of centre 
  2. Parliament can change area ,boundary or name of state and states have no right to cede from Union
  3. Union and State has single constitution contrary to other federations
  4. Process of Constitutional Amendment is less rigid than found in other federations
  5. No equality of state representation in Rajya sabha
  6. During Emergency, Federal structure changes to Unitary without any Constitutional Amendment
  7. There is only single citizenship i.e citizenship of India and no separate citizenship of states
  8. There is single judiciary with SC at top and enforce both central and state laws
  9. All India Services i.e IAS IPS IFS
  10. Integrated Audit Machinery. CAG audits accounts of both Central and State Government but is appointed by President only and states have no say in his appointment or removal
  11. Head of state ie Governor is nominated by President and is agent of centre in states
  12. There is integrated election machinery in India
  13. President has Absolute Veto over State Bill if Governor send any bill to President for consideration

Debate : Is India a federal state or Unitary state ??

  • Although there are large features which are unfederal which essentially are incorporated for unity and integrity of country  but all federal features are present in constitution .
  • Because of strong unitary features some call India Quasi federal state
  • Although  Article 1 states that India is a Union of states but this doesn’t mean India isnt’ federation .  No particular significance is to be attached to word union because Union word is used in Preamble of USA too and citing this BR Ambedkar said description of India as Union although it is Federation does no violence to its usage
  • At time of Independence, Traumatised by the  Partition and violence, Constituent Assembly  wanted to ensure unity and integrity of  new nation.  . Hence,  framework departed significantly from all existing models of federalism

At time when India adopted this system, In the absence of any track record of India in federalism and tendency of comparing all federal states with US model, jurists found it difficult to certify that the system was indeed federal. It was therefore declared ‘Quasi-Federal’. This description is no longer valid today because the federal principle has taken root and further developed in Indian soil. 

After 73rd & 74th Amendment & formation of Panchayati Raj, new era has been started in the chapter of Indian Federalism

4. Cooperative Federalism

Concept of federalism where the governments at various levels  ie center,state and local levels  work in synergy with each other in larger Public Interest bypassing the differences between them.   

Some obstacles in it

  • Proclamation of emergency under Article 356.It was used many times arbitrarily after 1977
  • Union dominance to legislate over concurrent list and its interference in state list also in special cases like while ratifying international agreement.
  • States having no say in appointment of Governor
  • Imposition of Centrally sponsored schemes on states under the policy of ‘One- size fits all‘ 
  • Forcing states to follow dictates of Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management (FRBM) Act before the basic public services of ordinary citizens in States are met.
  • Earlier India was the most fiscally centralized country in the world. Even after 14th Finance Commission & scrapping of Planning Commission, India is very much fiscally centralised nation.
  • Deployment of Paramilitary Forces in states without their consent
  • Enquiries against Chief Ministers to settle personal equations.
  • States not devolving powers to Local Governments . Subjects under Schedule XI & XII have not been devolved

How can we achieve Cooperative Federalism ?

  • Consensus building approach should be followed.
  • Reactivation of the Inter State Council
  • On issues like international treaties, World Trade Organisation obligations, or the environment, interest of affected states should be protected .
  • Greater devolution of power to states. Ideally union should have only those powers which state can’t handle and requires national unity like in the form of matters like defence, communication, foreign policy etc. 
  • Formation of NITI Aayog after scrapping Planning Commission. NITI Aayog has increased participation of states in  it’s  functioning & decision making . 
  • States having a say in appointment and removal of Governor
  • Respect for the mandate of elected governments, even those run by opposition parties. 
  • Recommendations of 14th Finance Commission which give more share of Central pool of divisible taxes to the government should be implemented properly
  • GST Governing Council : 2/3rd Voting Power given to States and 1/3rd to Center which shows Cooperative Federalism ( counter – Completely ignored Local Government)
  • Abolish Schedule XI & XII & instead work towards a new local list outlining activities and sub-activities  under Local Bodies within Schedule 7 itself.

Side Note : Reasons for Rise of Cooperative Federalism post LPG

  • End of single party rule at Center & emergence of Coalition Politics
  • Presidential activism – since 1990 onwards successive presidents have been unafraid of using discretionary power in case council of minister misuses constitutional provisions for selfish political reasons
  • Judicial activism – since 1990 (for ex- S R Bommai case) has ensured that union government don’t misuse constitutional provisions.
  • Active media

5. Competitive Federalism

  • Competitive federalism refer to  concept in which states compete among themselves and also with the Centre for benefits 
  • This idea gained significance in India post the 1990s economic reforms in a free-market economy when states are trying to woo Private investment in their territory
  • Different states try to make their own policies in competing spirit to
    • attract more investment,
    • provide more jobs to its residents
    • increase the standard of life of people living in its territory
  • Competitive federalism follows the concept of bottom-up approach as it will bring the change from the states.

Competitive Federalism in India

  • In India, the government replaced Planning Commission by establishing NITI Aayog, with one of the mandates to develop Competitive Federalism in India.
  • Indian states are making legal  reforms for ease of doing business in their state and attract private companies . Eg – Labour Reforms
    1. Gujarat : Making it more difficult for utility workers to go on strike
    2. Karnataka :   allows establishments to be open longer and allows women to work at night.
    3. Rajasthan  : Allow companies employing up to 300 staffers to lay off workers or close down without taking the government’s prior approval
  • Different states organising their own investment summits to woo the investors to invest in their states.  Eg
    1. Gujarat’s – Vibrant Gujarat
    2. Punjab’s – Progressive Punjab
  • Department of Industrial Policy and Planning releasing Ease of Doing Business Report of States

Impact of competition for attracting investments to the states is to be understood at two levels.

  • On one hand, states are under pressure to provide good governance and to manage their finances with prudence.
  • On other hand, they are aware of negative impact of many of these reform measures on their electoral popularity.

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