Sunday, July 17, 2011

7. Politics and Society

7. Politics and Society

The State

Greek philosophers have viewed the state as a natural and necessary institution coming out of the needs of human beings as a political animal.

Marxists have viewed the state as an instrument of exploitation in the hands of the ruling class.

Sociologists have defined the state as an association which legally maintains social order within a


The state has also been viewed as society, divided into government and subjects, claiming, within the allotted physical area, a supremacy over all other institutions.

Some political scientists maintain that the state is the people organised for law within a given territory.

From the above definitions certain essential properties of the state emerge, viz., (i) a population, (ii) a territory, (iii) a government and iv) sovereignty. We may briefly examine these attributes.


The state arises out of the gregarious instinct of human beings combined with his or her political instinct. The state comes into existence originating in the bare needs of life, and continues in existence for the sake of a good life.


Some writers feel that territory is not an indispensable attribute of a state. They say that nomadic people have political arrangements but they have to move from place to place in search of food. As such they cannot afford to have a fixed territory. However, the widely accepted view is that a state should have a fixed territory, the boundaries of which can be identified. There is no state at present which has no proper territory and no mechanism to enforce authority over citizens. Such a state cannot carry on relationship with other nations.


The government is the agency of the state, and exists for carrying out the will of the state.


The word sovereignty means ultimate power. The distinguishing character of a state is the monopoly of coercive power over all individuals and institutions within its territory. No one can question this power of the state. But sovereignty is not confined to the area within the state. It extends to the relationship with other sovereign states. No state has power to impose restriction on another state and this is recognised by international law. Indeed, all writers on the state agree that sovereignty is the outstanding characteristic of a state.

From the foregoing discussion it is evident that in order to be called a state, the institution should have all the four attributes referred to above. If it misses any of them, it ceases to be a state.

State and the Government

i) The state is an abstraction, but the government is a concrete element of the state.

ii) The state is a supreme body, but the government is an element of the state.

iii) The state is more or less permanent, whereas the government’s authority is

derived and limited by the terms of the Constitution. Sovereignty is an attribute of the state and not of the government.

State and Society

The state is the agency which performs the political function in society and as such is a sub-system of the society. The political function is different from the functions performed by other agencies in a society but is functionally integrated with those functions. Thus, while the society is concerned with the functions of procuring food and meeting other economic needs, related integration needs, and security and related political needs, the state is invested with ensuring the satisfaction of all these needs in

a smooth and continuous manner. The state does this by using the coercive power vested in it. This coercive power, further, enables the state to ensure that all individual, institution, associations and agencies within its territory, perform their appropriate roles. Besides this the state has also to protect the citizens from external interference. The state has also to pursue its interests in the international field. For this, the state is endowed with the additional attribute, the sovereignty, which the society does not have. Indeed, it is this attribute that differentiates the state from the society and it is

this that enables the state to rule over the members of the society. It is possible that the territorial boundary and population of a state may be coterminous with the territory and population of the society as in many of the countries of the world (e.g. England and France).

State and other Associations

There are other associations which perform important roles within the state. But for them, the citizens will be denied many things that enrich their life. While they are important, each in its own way, the overriding power of the state enables it to control and regulate them and even to dissolve them at will. However, in some states the associations have become so strong that they are able, to put a break on the state’s arbitrary use of power. These associations argue that the state is only one among them. Though they are willing to grant it the primacy of place. This argument is called Political Pluralism. In countries such as U.K. and U.S.A. where democracy has reached some level of maturity, pluralism has become a very strong challenge to the state’s arbitrary use of power. Because of the threat from these associations, many states with oligarchic forms of government do not encourage the growth of associations, especially if they develop into interest groups. However, it is admitted, even by pluralists, that the state has, and should have, the ultimate and coercive power which alone will, in the last analysis, enable the associations to function properly and settle disputes among them. In the days of multi-national organisations, the need for the state’s help in pursuing their activities abroad is more strongly felt.

State and the Nation

The nation has been defined as a population of an ethnic unity, inhabiting a territory of a geographic unity. By ethnic unity, we mean a population having a common custom and a common consciousness of rights and wrongs. Actually the ties that bind people together into a nation are more psychological and spiritual than ethnic, linguistic or religious. A nation is the people’s consciousness of unity. Once this consciousness is achieved, ethnic difference lose their importance. Switzerland is a good example.

The United Nations Organisation (UNO) is a union of sovereign states and not of nations. The state is different from the nation in the following respects.

i) The state is a people organised for law within a definite territory, whereas a nation is a people psychologically bound together..

ii) Statehood is objective, nationhood is subjective.

iii) Statehood is an obligation enforceable by law, whereas nationhood is a condition of the mind, a spiritual possession.

iv) A state may consist of one nation (Rumania, Albania, France) or different nations, (India, Canada). For the same reason, a nation may be split into two or more states (North and South Korea, People’s Republic of China and Republic of China).

Related to the word nation are two other words, nationality, and nationalism. Nationality is a spiritual or psychological identification among people having common affinities like common origin, race, language, tradition or history and common political aspirations. It is a way of feeling, thinking and living together. Nationalism is the growth of a feeling of oneness among people based on the same attributes that

contribute to nationhood and nationality. Nationalism brings together people into a nation by creating in them a sense of identity (nationality).

Institutions Under the Political System

(a)The Government Organisation

Depending upon the number of persons sharing authority, we can speak of rule by one or rule by many persons. The former can be a monarchy or a dictatorship. Rule by many can take different forms. If power is in the hands of a few persons, it is called oligarchy, if it is in many hands, it is a democracy. These descriptions are not precise but only approximations. Democracy can take different forms

Parliamentary and Presidential, the former means that the Parliament is the supreme body in the state. United Kingdom and India are examples of Parliamentary democracy. In fact India borrowed its democratic set-up from the United Kingdom. Presidential democracy is one where the President holds supreme power and is not answerable to the legislature. United States of America is the best example of

Presidential democracy. In India, the Prime Minister, who heads the Union Cabinet, can be removed by a vote of Parliament. In the United States of America, the President can be removed only by impeachment by the two-third majority of the Congress (American equivalent of Parliament). Yet another distinction in the form of government is whether it is of the Unitary or the Federal type. The Unitary type exists where the government is centralised and there is local autonomy (e.g. Sri Lanka). In the Federal type, the local governments have autonomy over limited area of power (e.g. U.S.A., India).

(i)The Legislature

The legislature is one of the three branches of the government. It is the law-making body of a state. In parliamentary democracies, the legislature has unlimited power to make or annul any law, but in states where the Presidential form of government prevails, or in oligarchies or dictatorships, the legislature’s power to make or annul laws is limited. Even in democracies where the Constitution safeguards the

legislature’s supremacy in law-making, the ruling elite can, in several ways, undermine this and install its laws through the backdoor. Thus legislatures differ both in type and composition. The two major types are unicameral and bi-cameral; whereas in the former there is only one law-making house in the state (e.g. Norway, Israel) in the latter the legislature consists of two houses, generally called the Assembly (lower house) and the Council (upper house). Almost all the states in the world, including India, have the bi-cameral system. In India, the lower house is called Lok Sabha and the upper house, Rajya Sabha. In England they are respectively called the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In both India and England, the two houses are together called the Parliament In U.S.A., the House of Representatives is the lower house and the Senate is the upper house. Together, they are called the Congress. Many Indian States have the bi-cameral system (e.g. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar) but many other states (e.g. Kerala, Andhra

Pradesh) have house.

(ii)The Executive

This is the second branch of the government. The term is used to designate all those officers of the government, whose business is to execute or put into effect the laws passed by the enforcement of the law alone. The formulation of policy and its implementation through programmes are also the work of the executive. These activities vest in the executive’s enormous power and, as a result, many of the legislators will look towards the executive for patronage.

An important question regarding the executive is the mode of appointment. The following are the ways through which the chief executive comes to power.

a) Hereditary Principle

This is the way Kings come to power. There are only very few monarchs as heads of state in modern times and even though they rule with limited power, most well known hereditary rulers are the Queen of England, the King of Saudi Arabia, the King of Nepal, the King of Thailand, the King of Japan etc.

b) Election

Prime Minister of India is elected. So also are the Presidents of the United States of America, France and most of the democratic countries of the world. Elected executives rule only for a limited period, as prescribed by the Constitution and the country concerned.

In some cases the chief executive comes to power through unconstitutional means, a revolution or coup d’ etat. For example. Zia-ul-Haq, the late President of Pakistan, came into power through coup d’etat.

(iii)The Judiciary

The Judiciary is the body which adjudicates the laws made by the legislature. The judiciary consists of a hierarchy of courts. Usually at the lower level, there are two parallel systems of courts-the civil courts and criminal courts. The highest court is usually called Supreme Court. In England, it is the Privy Council. In India, the highest court at the state level is called High Court. There are district (Zilla) and

Munsiff or Magistrates Courts at the lower levels. Courts at the lower level have original jurisdiction while courts at higher level have appellate jurisdiction (hearing of appeals on the judgement) of lower courts. The High Courts and the Supreme Court in India take up both original and appellate petitions. They have also the power of dealing with constitutional issues. On democracies, the courts are free from the interference of other branches of the government. To ensure their freedom, judges, once appointed, cannot be removed except for very grave offences. In totalitarian states, the judiciary is a wing of the executive as is the legislature, and will have to obey the command of the dictator.

(iv)The Bureaucracy

This is an arm of the executive. In modern times, the functions of the state have increased by leaps and bounds, and many of these functions (e.g. planning and programming) have become highly technical. Under this circumstance, the executive will have neither the time nor the expertise to perform its role efficiently. Therefore, the civil service has stepped in to fill the gap. The Civil Service, in the modern state, is recruited on modern lines. Officials are recruited through competitive examinations,

usually by an impartial agency such as, the Public Service Commission – which enables the appointment of the person maximally suited for the job. Elaborate rules are framed for guiding the officials in their work. The whole system has been highly professionalised. This system is called bureaucracy – rule by bureaucrats. The bureaucrats are not just servants of the executive. In many cases, they perform the

functions of the executive in their limited area. The ordinary citizen generally sees the bureaucrat as a person wielding enormous power. In some states such as France, recruitment to the executive is mostly from the top bureaucracy so that the difference between the two gets blurred. It is the unique role of the bureaucracy in policy.

(b)The Non-Government Agencies

(i)Political Parties

A political party has been defined as an association organised in support of some principle or policy which, by constitutional means, it endeavours to make the determinant of government. Political parties are indispensable for the working of a democratic government. They are the connecting link between the people and the government. They are the vehicle through which individuals and groups work to secure and exercise political power. They make people politically conscious of their role as citizens. They are the agencies that maintain a continuous link between the people and those who represent them in

government or in the opposition.

(ii)Interest Groups

These are associations or groups which have objectives different from those of political parties.

Sometimes they would convert themselves into political parties or win over some members of the government (ruling party) and pressure the government to concede their demands. In this case,

the group could be considered as a pressure group. Within the legislature, their friends and fellow-travellers could form an informal (or even formal groups and may lobby their cause. Such groups are called pressure lobbies. The Federation of Indian Chamber of commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the All India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AIMA) are examples of interest groups. At times, when

the government introduces a bill or the budget proposal in Parliament, the interest groups will use their influence and lobby the Parliament members to use pressure on the government either to withdraw or to amend it in a form acceptable to them. Interest groups and pressure groups use a number of strategies to influence the government and to get their demands accepted. These strategies include threats of direct action like boycott, threat of holding back essential services, protest closure of shops and agitation’s such as street demonstrations and strikes. However, the strategy is decided by the probability of success. Interest groups play an important part in government decision-making.

(iii)The Press

We have taken only the press from among the mass communication media and avoided the ratio and television in our discussion because the latter are controlled by the government in almost all countries. In some totalitarian countries, the press also is controlled. By and large, the press has become an important part of all political parties. A free press is the strongest safeguard of democracy. In fact a free

press has become synonymous with real democracy. The press enables the citizens to know what is really happening in the country, especially what the government does or does not, for them. In this way, they could mould the citizens’ attitude and behaviour towards the government and the party in power, and show their support or opposition at the next election. For a political party, the press is a sure medium for propagating their programmes. Since the press itself may have political leaning, each newspaper may become partisan, but since all parties have the freedom to have their own media of communication, the disadvantages of this will be. to a great extent, neutralised. In any case, the citizen would be best informed about the political developments and political processes in the state through the press and other mass media like, Radio & T.V., Internet, etc.

The Individual and the State

Some political writers were of the view that the individual exists for the state. This view was also advocated by Fascism and Nazism. Both Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany advocated this view. However, from early times, the opposite view also was voiced. According to this view, the state came into existence to meet the needs of life and continues to exist to assure a good life. Modern welfare theories have accepted this view. The declared goal of all government is the welfare of their citizens. While the state has the responsibility to cater to the needs of the individual, the individual, in turn, also has the responsibility to enable the State to perform its task by discharging his or her duties towards the state. The relationship is reciprocal. The modern democratic state confers the following rights on the individual: right to life, liberty and (limited right to) property: right to freedom of speech and religion,

right to equality, right to education and right to public offices. These rights to education and right to public offices are sometimes called “Fundamental Rights” and are embodied in the Constitution. The Indian Constitution contains a chapter on fundamental rights. In return for these rights, the individual has the following duties to the state: (i) duty to obey the law, (ii) duty to pay taxes and, above all, (iii) duty to by loyal to the state.

Democracy and Individual

We are living in a democratic state and it is necessary to know what democracy brings to us. Many of us have a tendency to take democracy for granted, and very few of us realise that democracy is a form of government whose continuance can be guaranteed only by a vigilant citizenry. Democracy is most vulnerable to ills like mobocracy (rule by the mob) or dictatorship (rule by one person). In either case,

the majority (mobocracy) or arbitration of a single person (dictatorship) will replace. It is very necessary that the two extreme forms of democracy are avoided. This can be best ensured only if the citizens are enlightened. Enlightenment has several attributes. These are participation in the political process, especially exercise of voting rights, tolerance of, if not respect for, the opposition and other points of

view, knowledge about one’s rights and duties and honest exercise of rights and performance of duties and avoidance of unconstitutional or extra-constitutional methods to achieve one’s goals. All these could be subsumed in the term civic responsibilities. Democracy ideally is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. All people in a democracy have to realise that the rules of the game of democracy have to be honestly observed not only to achieve the goal but to keep the game going.


The word democracy has its roots in the Greek term demokratia, the individual parts of the words which is demos(“people”) and kratos(‘rule’). Democracy in its basic meaning is therefore a political system in which the people not monarchs or aristocracies rule. This sounds straight forward enough but it is not so. Democratic rule has taken contrasting forms at varying periods and in different societies, depending on how the concept is interpreted. For example, ‘the people’ has been variously understood to mean all men, owners of property, white men, educated men, and adult men and women. In some societies the officially accepted version of democracy is limited to the political spheres, where as in others it is extended to broader area of social life.

Forms of democracy

Participatory Democracy

In participatory democracy or direct democracy decisions are made communally by those affected by them. This was the original type of democracy practiced in Greece. Participatory democracy is of limited importance in modern societies, where the mass of the population have political rights and it would be impossible for everyone actively to participate in the making of all the decisions that affect them.

Yet some aspects of the participatory democracy do play a part in modern societies small communities in New England, in the North Eastern part of the United States continue the traditional practice of annual ‘town meetings’. On these designated days, all the residents of the town gather together to discuss and vote on all local issues that do not fall state or federal government jurisdiction. Another example of participatory democracy is the holding of referenda, when the people express their views on a particular issue. Direct consultation of large number of people is made possible by simplifying the issue down to one or two questions to be answered .

Representative Democracy

Practicalities render participatory democracy unwieldy on a large scale except in specific instances such as special referendum. More common today is representative democracy, political systems in which decisions affecting a community are taken not by the members as a whole but by people they have elected for this purpose. In the area of national government, representative democracy takes the form of elections to congresses, parliaments or similar national bodies. Representative democracy also exists at other levels where collective decisions are taken, such as in provinces or states within an overall national community, cities, countries boroughs and other regions. Many large organisations choose to run their affairs using representative democracy by electing a small executive committee to take key decisions.

Countries in which voter can choose between two or more parties and in which the mass of adult population has the right to vote are usually called liberal democracies. Britain and the other Western European countries, the USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand all fall into this category. Many countries in the developing world, such as India, also have liberal democratic systems.

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