Saturday, April 18, 2009

Introducing India on the eve of General Election 2009

The Republic of India has a parliamentary system of democracy, with the President of India as the titular head and the Prime Minister as the executive head.

India, the seventh largest country by geographical area and the second most populous country, is also the most populous democracy in the world. It has the world's twelfth largest economy, and it is the fourth largest in purchasing power and one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

‘Unity in diversity’, is the pet phrase to explain the extreme situations in India chosen by many writers. Yes, India boasts of the more billionaires than most countries in the lists published by Forbes. On the sidelines extreme poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition coexist. The percentage of underfed children is higher than that in sub-Saharan Africa.

India has a pluralistic, multilingual and multiethnic society. India has an average literacy rate of 64.8%. The State of Kerala has the highest literacy rate (91%) and Bihar has the lowest (47%).

India has an estimated population of 1.17 billion, about 17% of the world population, the world's second most populous country. Approximately 70% of Indians live in rural areas. The rest of the people live in large cities such as Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras), Bengaluru (Bangalore), Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, and smaller cities and towns.

Hindi, the language spoken by the largest number of people, is the official language of India. English, which is used in business and administration, has the status of a 'subsidiary official language' and the medium of higher education.

Four major world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) originated in India. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived in the first millennium CE. The Indian population is constituted by Hindu (80.5%), Muslims (13.4%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians, Baháís and others. Tribal people constitute 8.1% of the population.

The Indian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of Rajya Sabha (House of States, the upper house) and Lok Sabha (House of People, the lower house).

Rajya Sabha has 245 members, each member serving six year terms, and one-third of the members completing their terms every two years. Most Rajya Sabha members are elected indirectly by the State legislatures and the legislatures of the Union Territories.

Lok Sabha has a strength of 545 members, 543 of whom are directly elected by people for five year terms. Two Lok Sabha members are nominated by the President of India to represent the Anglo-Indian community, if the President is of the opinion that they do not have adequate representation.

The executive branch of the government consists of the President, Vice President, and the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. The executive is subordinate to the legislature and the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers are directly responsible to Lok Sabha.

India consists of 28 States and seven Union Territories. All States, and the Union Territories of Puducherry and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, have elected legislatures and governments.

The 28 Indian States are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, and West Bengal.

The 7 Union Territories are Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, National Capital Territory of Delhi, and Puducherry.

Politics in the States have been dominated by political parties including the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI), and various regional parties.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a coalition of various parties lead by INC won the largest number of Lok Sabha seats and formed a government with the support of leftist parties and others who oppose BJP.

For the 2009 general elections, about 714 million eligible voters shall exercise their franchise to elect their representatives to Lok Sabha from 828,804 polling centers on 16, 23 and 30 April, and on 7 and 13 May, 2009.

The first phase of the country's general elections on Thursday, despite disruption caused by Maoist rebels, was comparatively peaceful, as the Indian media and The Election Commission of India reported. The commission said that average turnout across all areas that voted in the first phase was between 58% and 62%.

Results are due on 16 May and a new parliament must be in place by 2 June 2009.


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