India and China Political Systems Comparison


India and China are complex political systems which are both fragmented and characterized by serious flaws. In India, inefficiencies are due to the polarized nature of political parties and the deep divisions in Indian society while China’s inefficiencies result from the lack of autonomous lower level government organs. These came from the market decentralization efforts initiated by the government.

Comparison of the two political systems

China is a one party state which has been ruled by the same party since the mid twentieth century and this is the Chinese Communist party. India on the other hand is a multiparty democracy. It has had several ruling parties in government and is largely characterized by coalition parties. Contrary to popular opinion, China is not a simple one party state which dictates matters to other stakeholders in governance; there is a complex interrelationship of players who sometimes neutralize or complicate decision making processes made by the Chinese Communist Party.

These other political actors sometimes even set the pace for political decisions so they should not be undermined in the process of understanding China’s political system. Similarly, India has a vast number of political entities which are largely determined by the different political parties in operation. Most of the political parties are regionally affiliated and have little influence outside their strong zones. In order to have some degree of influence, multiparty alliances have become a common feature in the Indian political system (Wax, 2008).

Another political entity aside from the CPP in China is the government. It is immensely bureaucratic and mostly focuses on foreseeing and administering policy implementation. China also has a very strong Army called the People’s Liberation Army and this institution plays military roles in the country. The country also has the national people’s Congress which is a state organ. Other seemingly smaller entities include provincial and local officials as the country is divided into provinces. Although multinationals are not considered political entities in other countries; they are quite noteworthy in this nation.

Think tanks and policy research institutions, the media and academic institutions are also other entities that exert pressure concerning policy matters. The CPP is immensely committed to rule China despite the fact that so many other factors have come into play in this respective nation. Consequently, the party has had to change its standards in order to accommodate these various developments. The central government has found it difficult to exert authority because it must deal with the self interests of members of the CCP. India on the other hand has legislative, judicial and state arms which all contribute towards policy making. It is the friction between these entities that compromises policy efficiency (Dunleavy et. al., 2007).

There is also an immense level of devolution in China thus making it difficult for the government to exert its influence in decision making. Similarly, the government finds it difficult to exert its power in India as well because of the myriad of factors at play in the country. First, most political parties in India are narrowly focused and created in order to cater to a specific group. Because the government is often composed of alliances of these narrowly focused groups then national policy making often gets compromised in order to make room for these narrow interests.

India is also a highly polarized nation that is divided on the basis of race, class or caste. Consequently, there is serious lack of homogeneity in the country. One can say that political divisions based on party politics are more intense and more divergent in India than China. Corruption and dirty games are quite prevalent in India and political assassinations or instances of violence organized by opposing political parties are nothing new. Resource allocation in India is quite unfair because of the differences that arise between regional and state entities. This is in fact the reason why India is classified as a failed democracy.

China is characterized by institutionally based political powers. In other words, politics is less dependent on personalities here than it is in India. In India, top positions are often held by members of the same family. For instance, Jawaharlal Nehru was the country’s Prime Minister for almost two decades then Indira Gandhi who is his daughter then held the same position. Nehru’s grandson called Rajiv Gandhi also became Prime Minister and his widow became Congress President. Consequently, personalities are more important in India than institutions (Wax, 2008).

The political system of China is rather difficult to classify because one may think of it as a merger between a communist and socialist state. The reason for this difficulty lies in the country’s rapid privatization of a vast number of sectors such as housing and education. On the other hand, the CCP is still considered a communist state and tensions can be seen as it tries to control information flow to the people. The country still holds communist ideals and this has been carried forward from its historical inclinations in the past (Cheng, 2001).

Conversely, India is to be considered a socialist state. Previously, the country supported a mixed economy but is now more inclined towards privatization, deregulation and foreign participation in the economy. Both China and India at least adhere to this last principle in their different economic models. In essence, although China is a one party state, people within its borders do not hold the same opinions and do not sing the same tune.

Comparison of political cultures

India is considered to be a partial political democracy in that it has not yet achieved all the qualities that are required in order to make it a full democracy. India has greater political pluralism and civil liberties than its Asian counterpart China (Hermann, 2004). Furthermore, the degree of press freedom in India is much higher than it is in China. In fact, India recently created the RTI or Right To Information law which allowed citizens to speak out against corrupt entities in their institutions by making formal complaints. This has proven to be a very important tool for democracy in this country. Conversely, no such provision or law exists in China. In fact, cases of media censorship have been common in the latter country from time to time.

The political cultures in both China and India are relatively weak but these nations have different explanations as to why this is so. In fact, what would have been a strong point in one country actually ends up being the very shortcoming in that same nation. In India for example, one would expect that the great level of pluralism within this country would facilitate public debate and hence foster democracy; however, the opposite thing has occurred. This nation’s political processes are now considered chaotic. About twenty percent of all legislators in India are facing criminal charges so one can say that the political culture is quite removed from modern day understandings of democratic policy making processes. Similarly, China is a one party state and one would presume that this system encourages people to make policies quickly and in an informed way.

However, that is not the case; a lot of factions are prevalent within this country. When people have similar political ideologies then they can form associations and this affects policy making processes. However, similar ideologies are just one of the many determinants of policy direction in this country. Some groups may coalesce because of their family ties, educational backgrounds or even their places of birth. In such instances, political views will rarely matter and policies may be passed in order to pay homage to one’s alliance.

Decision making is quite informal in China and this makes it quite difficult to predict how policy issues will be decided. Furthermore, because allies sometimes break away from their alliances to form new ones, then policy making decisions can be quite shifty in this country and one can find it very difficult to fully understand why certain stances have been taken by leaders who appeared to support a certain similar policy in the past.

The political process in both China and India is complicated by difficulties in central and local governments. China has a centralized and hierarchical system that requires lower level officers to report to higher level representatives. However, because of the great geographical barriers that exist in this nation, political superiors find it hard to follow through on instructions amongst their subordinates and subordinates also find it difficult to comply with all requirements from higher ranking officials. Eventually, a lot of policy slippage is bound to occur in this nation.

Sometimes, central government officials can give their local subordinates directives that contradict one another. In such situations, the local representative will have to choose which side to obey. Sometimes, this can be done in the interest of the people but in other scenarios, it can be done in order to benefit that respective local representative. In the end, policy goals may not be reached owing to these differences. India is also an immensely population nation. Coordination of rules and laws in all areas is rather difficult. India has a federal system rather than a hierarchical system of government as is the case with China.

Here, a series of twenty states and union territories (these are seven in number) form part of its political system. However, because certain states are overpopulated while others are under populated, then the country’s legislation arm is highly imbalanced (Dunleavy et. al., 2007). For example, the largest Indian state has about 175 million people and about fifteen percent of the nation’s parliamentarians hail from this state. Consequently, policies are made to reflect the wishes and the intentions of this group of people.

In China, policy socialization largely depends on informal networks created amongst the political elite. These networks can be traced as far back as the 1930s. Patterns created then have been carried forward into modern times. Policies will be made depending on the nature of connections involved amongst previous and current policy makers. They establish some kind of patron client system that depends on how one associated with another. For example, the secretary of the CPP after 1989 was Hu Jintao. He was a close associate of Hu Yaobang who happened to be his mentor but was also a reformer. The latter individual followed in Jintao’s footsteps in terms of policy making because he was part of his relationship network.

In other words, it is rather difficult to predict policy making processes because of these relationships. Most of them are not apparent to outsiders hence explaining why the political culture in China is still a long way from successful. The lack of transparency in political affiliations and alliances is what makes this group have so much difficulty. India’s political culture is not transparent in another way also. First of all, the government depends upon coalitions which are often times uncooperative. This makes it difficult to pass economic reforms and policies. Additionally, India’s political scene is marred by a lack of accountability. Immense corruption impedes government functioning and causes many policies to be disregarded or to be implemented poorly.

Generally, speaking, the key agents for political socialization in the Chinese political atmosphere are the CPP. This is the prevailing party in the country. It possesses a series of networks that have stretched into different areas of society. Sometimes these can be found in private, local and foreign companies, universities and research institutions such that the part can organize and exert control over those institutions informally (Shambaugh, 2009). The other major actor in Chinese politics is the government. Through its ministers, several policy- related roles are carried out by it. People advance to senior positions through its complex personnel selection system. The military through the people’s liberation Army is another major political player.

This entity makes or formulates policies in the military arena and merges leadership in the government as well as the CPP. In India, the strongest political player is the central government unlike China which has the CPP as its strongest player. This central government has the capacity to dismiss the state government. In other words, there is less autonomy of the local government when compared to other systems in the world but when compared to China; these states are definitely more powerful since India has a federal system while China has a centralized one. In terms of political parties India differs from China because no single party is powerful as the case is the CCP. In India, only the party with the largest majority will be granted the greatest level of power so power can fluctuate from time to time depending on the winning party. Coalitions are common so one cannot say that there is a strong party. However, the Indian National Congress has held power for over four decades thus leaving only two decades to other parties. Unlike China which has a very strong military arm, India’s judicial arm is a more powerful political entity.

Interest articulation and aggregation

In Both China and India, interest articulation takes place despite the seeming complications in political systems. China has a variety of interest groups that possess tremendous influence in the nation. Similarly, India has a several interest groups. However, in China, interest groups are mostly centered on economic objectives. For example, they may be institutionally affiliated or based on corporations (Lampton, 2001). Usually, these groups may require favorable policies from government department as a result of their relationships with the government.

On the other hand, Indian lobbyists often target political parties and attempt to strengthen political parties by articulating a certain issue that may be missing from the current political scene. In fact, the effect of political interest groups was witnessed during the passing of the Anti Monopoly law. This law was dragged on for a period of 13 years because interest groups within the country had the capacity to halt it. However, it should be noted that interest group powers do not supersede government powers in China. Although lobbyists have considerable influence, most of them do not have the ability to actually pass certain policies and must await their decisions.

The Chinese presume that interest groups are not as important and should not supersede the powers of the government (Paon, 2003). In other words, the Chinese government supposes that it is the only which is endowed the unique abilities to deal with and protect citizen’s interests so all other social groups are not as important. In fact, the CPP has always attempted to demonstrate its superiority over other political entities so it may limit the degree of freedom accorded to these interest groups. This opposition to lobbying in China and the lack of formality is indicative of its non democratic nature.

In India, most lobbying strategies are focused on parties rather than interest groups. Consequently, the strength of political parties is substantially improved and this also implies that policies will not be as dependent on interest groups as they are in China. It is preferable for lobbyists to target political parties as objectives rather than actual policy issues because this has the effect of strengthening institutional structures. This is the reason why prospects for improvement in interest articulation are likely to be much higher in India rather than China.

Comparison of how public policy is crafted in these two countries

Unlike India, China considers political parties as major parties in the political process. This party has four major leadership groups that assist in the process of policy making. It has a central organization that works its way to local representatives. Since the party has some communist ideals, it usually incorporates them in the policy making process. In India, no single party is responsible for policy making but cooperation occurs amongst various parties.

China has been going through 30 years of market reform yet its policy making still occurs vertically with weak linkages between policy makers beneath the CCP. Usually, there will be policy silos which are too narrow. Consequently, top officials will not know what other stakeholders in relevant policymaking functions are doing. Many have described China as a fragmented authoritarian system that pushes accountability to lower ranking officials and places responsibility amongst senior individuals. Excessive competition amongst government departments and protection of political turfs severely hampers the policy making process in China (Cheng, 2001).

Similarly, India has a policy making process that is also marked by weak ties between policy makers. The difficulties in Chinese policy making process have arisen out of a weak legal system which has unclear boundaries for all concerned. Conversely, India’s fragmentation in policy making arises out of uncoordinated government structures. Ministries in India have departments which do not understand what the other is doing. For instance the transport ministry has five departments instead of just one and actions taken in one area are unlikely to be known by the other.

Both China and India have excessive overlap in policy making functions and this slows down the process. In India, most parliamentarians are responsible for both policy making as well as policy implementation but most tend to focus on overseeing policy implementation and this hampers the overall efficiency of the process. In China, it is common to find a policymaker in the capacity of a minister also wearing other hats such as representation in the CPP and so on.

Possible directions in the future

India is a democratic nation (albeit partly) and operates on a consensual basis. Furthermore, it does not exert excessive control among its followers. It is likely that India will become more democratic in the future owing to recent developments in its legislative circles. The country passed a law that would increase levels of accountability within. Globalization and economic prosperity are likely to increase the need for greater transparency and this will mean greater involvement of the people and improved fairness. Interest articulation is likely to increase going by the involvement of civilian populations in human rights articulation. Also, because emphasis in lobbying activities often goes to political parties rather than personalities then it is likely that this will continue into the future.

China is also likely to be more democratic albeit at a slower rate than its Asian counterpart India. This is because the CPP will keep struggling to maintain its grip on power but in order to do so; it will need to accommodate more divergent views. Economic prosperity will cause the government to reexamine its brittle hierarchal policy making system because the process will be under greater scrutiny from the international community. Interest articulation is likely to reduce as the government’s roles as representative of its people is likely to increase.


As stated earlier, politics in both China and India are greatly flawed owing to the nature of political systems. The one party nature of China’s politics has caused a negative attitude towards lobbying in government, poor cohesion between government officials, formation of relationship networks which distort policy making, media censorship and more accountability at the top than the bottom. Conversely, India’s inefficiency has been created by its multiparty state. Most political parties are narrow and this increases the need for consensus thus slowing down policy making. There is an overlap between policy implementation and policy making entities in India’s system and too much corruption has undermined this system. Both countries must tackle those problems in order to forge ahead as strong global leaders.


Cheng, Li. (2001). Four misperceptions in the west. Paper delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC.

Dunleavy, P., Diwakar, R. & Dunleavy, C. (2007). The effective space of party competition. London: London school of economics and political science.

Hermann, K. (2004). A history of India. NY: Routledge.

Lampton, D. (2001). The making of Chinese foreign and security policy in the era of reform. Stanford: Stanford university Press.

Paon, P. (2003). Out of Mao’s Shadow: the struggle for the soul of a new China. London: Simon and Schuster.

Shambaugh, D. (2009). China’s Communist party; Atrophy and Adaptation. California: university of California Press.

Wax, E. (2008). With Indian politics, the bad gets worse. Washington Times.

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