Women leaders
Women's organizations


Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha, a unique non-violent campaign, India gained independence from British rule on August 15, 1947. Free India's first Prime Minister was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

In less than three years of attaining freedom, India had framed a constitution and declared itself a Republic on January 26, 1950. Adopting the path of democracy, the country held its first general elections in 1952. All adults above the age of 21 were eligible for voting, though the age has since been lowered to 18. Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress party, which had spearheaded the freedom movement, won the elections.

The Union of India consists of 25 states, six union territories and the national capital territory. The state legislatures retain significant autonomy, although the Union has exclusive powers in certain areas defined in the Constitution including foreign affairs, defense, citizenship and external trade.

India's economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of support services. More than a third of the population is too poor to be able to afford an adequate diet, and market surveys indicate that fewer than 5% of all households had an annual income equivalent to $2,300 or more in 1995-96. India's international payments position remained strong in 1999 with adequate foreign exchange reserves, reasonably stable exchange rates, and booming exports of software services. Lower production of some non-food grain crops offset recovery in industrial production. Strong demand for India's high technology exports is expected to bolster growth in 2001.

Links to India


Women in politics
Women remain underrepresented in governance and politics, although no legal impediments hinder their participation in the political process. A 1998 "Times of India" report revealed that "domestic responsibilities, lack of financial clout, rising criminalization of politics and the threat of character assassination" are making it increasingly difficult for women to be part of the political framework. Moreover, women politicians point out that even within the political parties, women are rarely found in leadership positions. In fact, "women candidates are usually fielded from 'losing' constituencies where the party does not want to 'waste' a male candidate".

Despite the difficulties, women have made inroads to public life mainly due to the so-called "male equivalence or kinship link". The assumption here is that women access political life with the support, backing and contacts of the family, in particular that of the husband. In a study made in 1998 wherein 15 women were surveyed, 1/3 of the women MPs, for example, have "family support" in the background. However, other points out that "male equivalence" is an inadequate conceptual framework. First, because it is the public sphere (e.g. state institutions, press, and political discourse) that has to be negotiated if the family decision to put forward a woman in politics is to succeed; it is not a private, but a public matter. Second, in many cases the husbands do not support the candidature of the wife at all. It is the pressure of party political bosses that forces the issue in many cases. The centralized system of distribution of seats in mass political parties helps in this context. A party's concern with levels of representation of certain groups within its ranks, and consequences for legitimacy of the party among the under-represented groups might be the motive for including women.

Together with "kinship link" and state initiatives, an important factor impacting on women's access to political life seems to be social and political movements. These movements have created windows of opportunity and some women have been able to take advantage of these opportunities to access political life. For example, the national movement was an important mobilizer of women. Gandhi's contribution to bringing women into politics is well-documented; the left movement also mobilized women. Women's organizations were constituted under the umbrella and control of the party the Mahila Congress and the All India Women's Federation (CPI).

The 1993 passage of the "Panchayati Raj" constitutional amendments reserved 30 percent of seats in elected village councils (Panchayats) for women, which has brought more than 1 million elected women into the political life at the grassroots level. The passage of the "Panchayati Raj" was due to the Seventy-third Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992, a central government law which is supposed to be enacted by all the states and union territories. The panchayats have been assigned various subjects ranging from agriculture to poverty eradication. The panchayats have a five-year tenure, and they are given 29 subjects to look after ranging from agriculture, forestry, and fisheries to family planning, health and education.

As of 2002, there were 70 women in the 783-seat legislature. There were 6 women in the Cabinet. A large proportion of women participated in voting throughout the country (with turnout rates slightly lower than those of men), and numerous women were represented in all major parties in the national and state legislatures.

More on the situation on women in India in this report.


Important political facts

Government type: Parliamentary Democracy, Republic

Head of State: President who is elected by an electoral college consisting of members of the upper and lower Houses of the Parliament—Sansad. The incumbent is Aavul Pakkiri Jainulabidin Abdul Kalam who was elected on 26 July 2002. The President's term of office is five years.

Legislature: The Parliament has two chambers. The Lok Sabha/House of the People has 545 members, 543 members elected for a five year term in single-seat constituencies and 2 members appointed to represent the Anglo-Indian community. The Rajya Sabha/House of the States has 245 members, 233 members elected for a six year term, one third every two years, by the elected members of the legislatures of the states and territories and 12 appointed by the President. The incumbent is Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Executive: The head of government is the Prime Minister, who chairs the Council of Ministers and is responsible to the Parliament.

Most recent elections

Presidential: July 2002
Legislative: Sept. 5 to Oct. 3, 1999 (Lok Sabha); March 29, 2000 (Rajya Sabha, one-third of seats)

Next elections

July 2007
Legislative: 2004 (Lok Sabha)

Major parties   

Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's party)
President: Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu
Address: BJP Central Office. 11, Ashoka Road.
New Delhi 110 001. India.

Email :

Shiva Sena (Extreme Hinduist)
President: Shri. Balasaheb Thackeray
Address: Vidyut, Ground Floor, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Goregaon (W), Mumbai - 400 062.
Tel : 2872 2630

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravida Progressive Federation)


Indian National Congress
President: Sonia Gandhi
Address: 10-Janpath New Delhi, India
Tel (O) : 23019080,23792263, Extn : 441
Fax: 23018651
Tel (R): 23014481,23014161

Communist Party of India-Marxist
Address: 27-29, Bhai Vir Singh Marg, New Delhi 110 001
Tel. (91-11) 23344918, 23363692, 23747435/36
Fax: (91-11) 23747483

Samajwadi Party

President: Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav


Political resources and other links on India


Links to India
Women in politics
Important political facts
Political resources on India