A total of 21 journalists from six Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries had the opportunity to explore one of the most outstanding and unique countries in worldâ€”India, during a seven-day familiarization tour that began on April 14, 2012.
The whirlwind tour of the worldâ€™s largest democracyâ€”held under the auspices of the Indian government, in collaboration with Mr. Arun Hotchandani, Honorary Consul for India in Belizeâ€”ensured that all countries represented: Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Brazil, and Belize, got a taste of the pride of South Asia.
With the Indian government looking for increased collaboration with LAC countries, especially as it relates to trade relations, the journalists have all been asked to share the India experience with their respective countries.
Literally located on the other side of the world from Belize, with over an eleven-hour time difference, and home to both a language and culture that differ greatly from western norms and mores, itâ€™s definitely necessary to begin the discussion on India from the ground up.
Thereâ€™s no mystery as to how the country gained the title as the â€œlargest democracyâ€ in the world. India is home to more than 1.2 billion people. With a landmass of just over 3.2 million square miles, IndiaÂ is divided into 28 different states and seven union territories. It is no wonder that the countryâ€™s people, language and culture serve as the epitome of diversity.
With dozens of various languages and dialects spoken throughout the length and breadth of India, the country finds itself united with either one of two languages: English or Hindi, the countryâ€™s official language.
Therefore, the English-speaking traveller need not fret whether or not he will be understood in India. The country has the one of the largest English-speaking population in the world.
So, with communication fears shelved, one should rest assured that he would able to appreciate and be amazed by the flood of culture that immediately greets any traveller who takes that first step onto Indian streets.
Manifested through the countryâ€™sÂ various religions, edifices, clothing, dances,Â traditions, and behaviour, its effect is one that is hard to miss.
Home to Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and more, thereâ€™s definitely no shortage of differing philosophies within this vast country. Yet harmony prevails. On an average day, one can see men and womenâ€”each dressed and behaved according to dictates of their faith, walking along the same road.
The culinary life in India is as unique as everything else in the country; and, of course, thereâ€™s also no shortage of spicy food and curry. One travel description of the food in India says it all: â€œItâ€™s easy to understand the food habits of most people in this diverse land; theyâ€™ve traditionally eaten what grows locally. Coastal people use a lot of coconut, and eat fish. Rice grows aplenty in the East and South, as does wheat in the northwest, the land of roti and paranthas.â€
Â Political Structure:Â Â
The Republic of India
India stands proud as the largest democracy in the world. Having gained its independence from the British in 1947, the country has had much time to wade through the tides of democracy to develop a sophisticated political structure thatâ€”like that of any other countryâ€”has its fair share of weaknesses and strengths.
Because the country is a republic, its head of state is the President of India; however, much like Belize, the Indian political system is divided into three branches: the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary.
The President heads the Executive Branch. He or she functions in accordance with the advice or aid received from the true head of government, the Prime Minister of India.
The Prime Minister leads the Legislative Branch (the Parliament), which is designed after the United Kingdomâ€™s Westminster system. It is a bicameral parliament; therefore, it is made up of the Lower House, the Lok Sabha (House of the People), and the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha (Council of States). The Prime Minister of India also leads the Cabinet, which is collectively responsible for the various government ministries and their functions.
The members of the Lok Sabha, including the Prime Minister, are directly elected, but the members of the Upper House are either in-directly elected or appointed.
It is important to note that states in India elect their own governments. However, an administrator, who is appointed by the President, governs the Union Territories. While the Central Government exercises greater control over the Union Territories, each state also has a governor who is appointed by the president.
The Judicial Branch comprises the Supreme Court, 21 High Courts, and a host of criminal, family and civil courtsÂ at the district level.
Elections and the Â Â
Â Election CommissionÂ
ElectionsÂ in the country are held every five years and are overseen by an independent body known as the Election Commission of India (ECI). The ECI, established since January 1950â€”three years after India gained her independenceâ€”is a permanent Constitutional Body vested with the power to direct and control the â€œentire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and the Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-president.â€
The ECI is made up of a Chief Election Commission and two Election Commissioners, and has an independent budget that is negotiated between the Finance Ministry and the Commission directly.
Aside from its interesting make-up, the most noteworthy feature of the ECI is its functions: â€œIn the performance of its functions, Election Commission is insulated from executive interference.â€
When an election is to take place, the ECIâ€”with no consultation with any Governmentâ€”is the body to set the date for election.
Among its other powers, the ECI has the power to disqualify a candidate who â€œhas failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time and in the manner prescribed by law.â€
Speaking of financial matters, the ECI works to ensure a level playing field for all political parties, and it does so via the strict observance to the Model Code of Conduct, which also limits the amount of money that can be spent on political campaigns.
While in the past politicians could have spent any amount of money they wish on political campaigns, the ECI has since declared that a maximum of Rupees (Rs.) 2,500,000 (about US$50,000) and a minimum of Rs. 1,000,000 (US$20,000) should be spent on campaigns for election to the Lok Sabha.
Â Â Â Press Council
Â Â Â Â Â of India
Continuing on the motif of independent agencies that police and preserve the Indian democracy, the journalists also met with the Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Honorable Justice Markandey Katju, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India.
First established in 1966, the PCI functions as a statutory, quasi-judicial body that acts as a â€œwatchdog of the press.â€
It stands as a mediator between the press, citizenry and the government. â€œIt adjudicates the complaints against and by the press for violation of ethics and for violation of the freedom of the press respectively.â€
Along with the Chairman, there are 28 other members: 20 represent the press, five are nominated from the two Houses of Parliament and three represent the cultural, literary and legal fields.
With this team of experts, the PCI holds the same powers as an Indian civil court, and may penalize or censure any offending news agency.
Interestingly, the Council also works on behalf of newspapers or journalists that are aggrieved by government.
That is to say if the government uses its authority to impinge on the freedom of the press, the Council may direct the â€œconcerned government to take appropriate steps to redress the grievance of the complainant.â€