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India-The Political Process

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During the colonial period, the British built up the elite Indian Civil Service, often referred to as the "steel frame" of the British Raj. Nehru and other leaders of the independence movement initially viewed the colonial civil service as an instrument of foreign domination, but by 1947 they had come to appreciate the advantages of having a highly qualified institutionalized administration in place, especially at a time when social tensions threatened national unity and public order.

The constitution established the Indian Administrative Service to replace the colonial Indian Civil Service and ensure uniform and impartial standards of administration in selected fields, promote effective coordination in social and economic development, and encourage a national point of view. In the early 1990s, this small elite accounted for fewer than 5,000 of the total 17 million central government employees. Recruits appointed by the Union Public Service Commission are university graduates selected through a rigorous system of written and oral examinations. In 1988 only about 150 out of a candidate pool of approximately 85,000 recruits received appointments in the Indian Administrative Service. Indian Administrative Service officers are primarily from the more affluent and educated classes. However, efforts to recruit women and individuals from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have enhanced the diversity of the civil service.

Recruits are trained as administrative generalists at an academy at Mussoorie (in Uttar Pradesh). After a period of apprenticeship and probation in the central and state governments, an Indian Administrative Service officer is assigned to increasingly more responsible positions, such as a district collector after six or seven years. Approximately 70 percent of all officers serve in state administrations; the rest serve in the central government.

A larger organization, the Central Public Services, staffs a broad variety of administrative bureaus ranging from the Indian Foreign Service to the Audits and Accounts Service and the Postal Service. The states (but not Delhi or the union territories) have independent services within their own jurisdictions that are regulated by local laws and public service commissions. The governor usually appoints members of the state public services upon the recommendation of the state public service commission. To a large extent, states depend upon nationwide bodies, such as the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service, to staff top administrative posts.

Although the elite public services continue to command great prestige, their social status declined in the decades after independence. In the 1990s, India's most capable youths increasingly are attracted to private-sector employment where salaries are substantially higher. Public opinion of civil servants has also been lowered by popular perceptions that bureaucrats are unresponsive to public needs and are corrupt. Although the ranks of the civil service are filled with many dedicated individuals, corruption has been a growing problem as civil servants have become subject to intense political pressures.

The Political Process

The decline of the Congress (I) since the late 1980s has brought an end to the dominant single-party system that had long characterized India's politics. Under the old system, conflict within the Congress was often a more important political dynamic than was conflict between the Congress and the opposition. The Congress had set the political agenda and the opposition responded. A new party system, in which the Congress (I) is merely one of several major participants, was in place by 1989 (see fig. 15). As often as not in the mid-1990s, the Congress (I) seems to respond to the initiatives of other parties rather than set its own political agenda.

Data as of September 1995

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