India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. Under the constitution the 29 states and seven union territories have a high degree of autonomy and have primary responsibility for law and order. Voters elected President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 551 million participants, free and fair despite isolated instances of violence.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; rape in police custody; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and reports of political prisoners in certain states. Instances of censorship, the use of libel laws to prosecute social media speech, and site blocking continued. The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the “national interest,” thereby curtailing the work of these NGOs. Widespread corruption; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honor killings remained major issues. Violence and discrimination based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and caste or tribe, including indigenous persons, also occurred.
A lack of accountability for misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a small number of convictions.
Separatist insurgents and terrorists in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and of civilians, and recruited and used child soldiers.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In 2017 a national electoral college elected President Ramnath Kovind to a five-year term. During the year the nine states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Tripura held elections for their state assemblies. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 300 million participants, free and fair, despite very isolated instances of violence.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens age 18 and older. There were no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election, and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices and ideas prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including positions as ministers, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.
The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. While some Christians and Muslims were identified as Dalits, the government limited reserved seats for Dalits to Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Members of minority populations have previously served as prime minister, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, and members of parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption was present at all levels of government. On July 18, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh informed parliament’s lower house that the CBI registered 314 corruption-related cases between January and June compared with 632 cases in 2017. NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, or government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.
Media reports, NGOs, and activists reported links among politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, militant groups, and security forces in infrastructure projects, narcotics trafficking, and timber smuggling in the northeastern states. In Manipur and Nagaland, allegations of bribes paid to secure state government jobs were prevalent, especially in police and education departments.
On February 1, the ED filed money-laundering charges against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who stood accused of misrepresenting “proceeds of crime” as agricultural income totaling more than 72.56 million rupees (one million dollars). The former chief minister faced separate charges from the CBI, which alleged the senior politician amassed assets disproportionate to his reported income from 2009 to 2011.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates asset declarations for all officers in the Indian Administrative Services. Both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court upheld mandatory disclosure of criminal and financial records for candidates for elected office.
On September 25, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the judiciary could not disqualify politicians facing charges related to serious offenses and stop them from contesting elections. The court asked the parliament to frame laws to bar those accused of crimes from being able to run for elected office.