Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Congress Party–led coalition government considered several reforms aimed at poverty alleviation and social development in 2010. The entry into force of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in April marked the first time that the right to education was legally guaranteed to children throughout the country. While the year was relatively peaceful, ongoing Maoist and separatist insurgencies, lawlessness, and human rights violations continued to plague a number of states.
India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. The centrist, secular Congress Party ruled at the federal level for nearly all of the first 50 years of independence. In the 1990s, however, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became a major factor in Parliament, leading a number of subsequent governments. In addition, the pattern shifted from single-party to coalition governments, typically involving large numbers of parties and an increasingly important role for parties based in a single state. The 1990s also featured major economic reform, with a Congress government initiating a shift toward market-oriented policies following a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991.
The BJP, which had held power since 1998, was unexpectedly defeated after calling early national elections in 2004. The Congress Party formed a ruling coalition with a number of regional parties, but Congress leader Sonia Gandhi decided to hand the premiership to former finance minister Manmohan Singh. The new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government agreed to reverse several of the previous government’s policies, including controversial antiterrorism legislation and the injection of Hindu nationalist ideology into state-run schools. However, the UPA faced internal rifts and pressure from leftist allies over economic issues such as privatization and labor law reform. The government survived a contentious July 2008 confidence vote in Parliament triggered by leftist objections to a nuclear pact with the United States, though the vote was marred by bribery allegations.
The UPA gained strength in the April–May 2009 parliamentary elections, decisively defeating the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which remained its closest rival. Congress itself won 206 of 543 lower house seats, compared with 116 for the BJP, and the UPA won 260 seats overall. Moreover, the coalition made alliances with several independent parties, eventually giving it a majority of 322 seats.
Congress’s electoral victory led to a more stable government, and India’s success in weathering the global financial crisis that began in late 2008 weakened calls for additional free-market economic reforms. In 2010, the government focused on measures designed to bolster existing legal protections and benefits for the poor and other vulnerable groups. In April 2010, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act took effect, making education a fundamental right for every child in India between the ages of 6 and 14. The act also reserved 25 percent of the seats in private schools for disadvantaged children. Lawmakers also drafted a National Food Security Bill, which seeks to ensure that poor families receive monthly quotas of wheat and rice grains, as well as other benefits related to food access. At year’s end, the government was in consultations with civil society groups to agree on the bill’s final provisions.
India is an electoral democracy. Members of the lower house of Parliament, the 545-seat Lok Sabha (House of the People), are directly elected for five-year terms (except for two appointed members representing Indians of European descent). The Lok Sabha determines the leadership and composition of the government. Most members of the less powerful 250-seat upper house, the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), are elected by the state legislatures using a proportional-representation system to serve staggered six-year terms; up to 12 members are appointed. Executive power is vested in a prime minister and cabinet. The president, who plays a largely symbolic role as head of state, is chosen for a five-year term by state and national lawmakers.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which is examined in a separate report.