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Government, Executive

exclusive powers, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Administrative Service, electoral college

The head of state of India is the president. The role of president, modeled on the British constitutional monarch, is largely nominal and ceremonial. Most powers assigned to the president are exercised under direction of the cabinet. The presidentís major political responsibility is to select the prime minister, although that choice is circumscribed by a constantly evolving set of conventions (for example, that the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in parliament should be given the first opportunity to form a government).

The president is elected for a five-year term by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of the national and state legislatures. The president is eligible for successive terms. The vice president is elected in the same manner as the president and assumes the role of the president if the president is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his or her duties.

A council of ministers, or cabinet, is headed by a prime minister and wields executive power at the national level. The council, which is responsible to parliament, is selected by the president upon the advice of the prime minister. Each council member heads an administrative department of the central government. In most important respects, the Indian cabinet system is identical to that of Britain. There is a constitutionally fixed division of responsibilities between national and state governments, so that the national government has exclusive powers over areas such as foreign affairs, while the states are responsible for health-care systems and agricultural development, among other areas. Some areas are the joint responsibility of both the national and state governments, such as education.

The actual administration is carried out by a many-tiered civil service, almost all of whom are recruited by a competitive, merit-based examination. At the top is the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), whose senior members serve as the administrative heads of departments, responsible only to their minister. All members of this service are assigned to particular states and spend most of their early career serving in those states. They typically start as district-level administrators and rapidly move to head state-level departments. Additional central government civil services include the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Police Service, and services for audits and accounts, posts and telegraphs, customs and excise, and railroads.

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