The United States of America is one of the largest democracies in the world. Though many of us followed their presidential elections carefully, few know off and comprehend the political institutions of the U.S.A. The government of the United States of America consists of three branches – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. The structure of government is federal, and it is headed by the president. These are features that the political institutions of India also share. Both nations are governed by the laws and principles of their respective constitutions.
The Legislative branch of the government is known as the United States Congress. It is bicameral, i.e. it has two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House of Representatives represent congressional districts, divided among states according to their population but states elect two senators each, irrespective of population. The term of a senator is six years, with one-third the total number coming up for elections every two years while members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms. Almost all of them are elected by the first-past-the-post system in which the winner is the person with maximum number of votes, whatever percentage it is of the total, which is also followed in India. While the Legislative branch of the Union of India i.e. the Parliament is also bicameral with two houses – the Lok Sabha or lower house and Rajya Sabha or upper house, yet it also has various differences. While the Lok Sabha also has members elected from constituencies that are divided on the basis of population, the Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected by members of an Electoral College comprising of state and territorial legislatures.
The Executive branch is led by the president, currently the recently elected Barack Obama. His powers are restricted by the houses of Congress. He may veto a bill unless it is passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses override the veto. To make treaties with foreign nations, he needs the consent of two-thirds of the Senate. In case of impeachment by a majority in the House of Representatives, the president may be removed by the vote of two-thirds of the Senate. The vice-president serves as the President of the Senate, and votes only in case of a tie, besides being the first in the presidential line of succession in case of removal, resignation or death of the President. The Executive extends to various federal executive departments, whose heads form a Council of Advisors often referred to as the President’s “cabinet”. In addition to these are a number of government agencies which are staffed by federal civil servants, including the National Security Council and the Council of Economic Advisors. In India, the Executive is headed by the Prime Minister, and takes the form of the Cabinet of Ministers. The president of the Republic of India is the Head of State, but only has nominal powers.
The Judiciary in both nations is headed by the Supreme Court, which deals with disputes between states, interpretation of the Constitution, as well as governmental matters. In a federal judicial system in the United States, the courts in order of hierarchy are the as follows – the Supreme Court, 13 courts of appeal and over 90 district courts. In India, the judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, High Courts and district courts. In both cases, the judiciary is independent, and can rule actions of the Executive as being ‘unconstitutional’.
The federal structure of the U.S. government has been accused of weakness in conduct of foreign affairs, as well as home government, as many believe it does not have enough authority over its component states as well as individual citizens. Its liabilities include possible dissolution of the union by rebellion or secession by individual states, besides formation of factions by combinations of states. Also, it lacks the power to legislate on subjects requiring uniform legislation for the Union, and thus there is a want of uniformity amongst states I n both their legislation and administration. The complexity of a dual system also causes delay and increases expenses.
However, supporters of the system say that federalism provides the means of uniting diverse commonwealths into one nation under one national government without extinguishing their separate administrations and legislatures. At the time of the formation of the U.S.A, any kind of nation-building could only happen under the umbrella of federalism, as it ensured some autonomy to various regions and states. Federalism also prevents the rise of an autocratic government that absorbs powers of others and threatens the liberty of the individual. Some also say that besides providing means to residents of a certain area to safeguard the interests of their community and ensure best utilization of resources and maximum development, local self-government also generates citizens’ interest in affairs of the neighbourhood and increases a sense of civic duty amongst people.
Essentially, India is a multi-party representative parliamentary democracy which shares various features with the political system and institutions of the United States of America, in terms of federal structure of government, independent judiciary, and bicameral legislature of the Union. However it differs in terms of the Executive, which is headed by the President rather than the prime minister, besides differences in the structure of the federation including number of component states, and the powers of their legislatures.