Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

Glossary of

Political India


This glossary has been made to help those who are new to India to navigate the lively debates and discourses of the sub-continent. The entries include commonly used abbreviations, personalities, organisations and expression that appear frequently in newspapers and discussions.


While the focus of the glossary is on society and politics also some cultural and practical words have been included.







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ABVP Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, student’s and youth wing of RSS.

Adivasi Tribals, subjugated community - the original inhabitant of a region, classed today as Scheduled Tribe.

Advani, Lal Krishna (1927-), Deputy PM of India, Union Cabinet Minister, Home Affairs. A hard-line Hindu leader of BJP. Accused of raising the emotions on the issue of Ayodhya.

AICC All India Congress Committee. The apex body of the Congress party.

AIIMS See All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

AIR All India Radio

All India Institute of Medical Sciences India’s premier public hospital situated in Delhi.

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji (1891-1956), chiefly responsible for drafting of the Constitution of India and a champion of human rights. Honoured with the highest national honour, ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1990. Started a social movement for the Dalit castes with the slogan of ‘Educate-Agitate-Organise’, aimed at annihilation of caste and the reconstruction of Indian society on the basis of equality of human beings.

Ayodhya A town in Uttar Pradesh. Believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama. Holds the site of the Babri Mosque.

Babri Mosque A mosque at Ayodhya. Believed to have been built by Babar, the first Mughal emperor of Indiain 16th cent. Demolished on 6th Dec 1992 through mob action of Hindutva suppoters.

Bahujan Samaj Party A political party representing the oppressed castes and claiming to follow the ideology of Ambedkar. Established in the 1980s, largely based in UP. The symbol of the party is an elephant. First President: Kanshi Ram. Present President: Mayawati.

Baniya Trader community, the lowest among the upper caste in Indian caste hierarchy.

Begar Forced labour, often without any re-numeration.

Bhajan Hymn, Hindu devotional song

Bhakta Devotee

Bhartiya Jan Sangh See Jan Sangh.

Bhartiya Janata Party A political party, originated from the RSS. Formed in 1980. The biggest partner in the present ruling coalition. President: Venkiah Naidu. (See BJS too)

Bhave, Vinoba Leader of the Sarvodaya (Rise of All) Movement. Launched the Bhoodan Movement. Active initiating element of the JP-movement and ongoing activities for ‘Gram Swaraj’ (Village Self-Rule).

Bhoodan Yajna Movement Launched in the 1950’s by Vinoba Bhave to motivate landlords to voluntarily give land to be redistributed to the landless. Large tracts were handed over.

BJP See Bhartiya Janata Party.

BJS Bhartiya Jan Sangh, see Jan Sangh.

Bollywood The Indian (Hindi) film industry centered in and around Mumbai (Bombay).

Brahman Priestly class, highest in the Indian caste hierarchy.

BSP See Bahujan Samaj Party.

Busti Slum

CBI Central Bureau of Investigation, an autonomous govt. agency for criminal investigation.

Chandrashekhar (1927- ), Former PM of India (1990-91), President of the Janata Party (1977-88). Known as a firebrand idealist with revolutionary fervour. Joined the Socialist Movement in 1951 Praja Socialist Party. Founded and edited YOUNG INDIAN, a weekly published from Delhi in 1969. Inspired by JP and his idealist view of life. Established fifteen Bharat Yatra Centres to train social and political workers for mass education and grass root work in backward pockets of the country. Member of the Parliament since 1962 except for a brief period from 1984 to 1989.

CM Chief Minister (of a state in India, analogous to the Prime Minister at the centre).

Communist Party of India Founded 1925, out of the fusion of militant anti-imperialist patriotism and internationalism, of the struggle for national liberation and the class struggle for socialism. The party relies mainly on mass organisations for its activities, fronts and movements, traditional strongholds West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Formed at the Seventh Congress of CPI held in Calcutta 1964 as a result of a split. The CPI(M) was born in the struggle against revisionism and sectarianism in the communist movement at the international and national level, in order to defend the scientific and revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism and its appropriate application in the concrete Indian conditions. Over the years, the Party has emerged as the foremost Left force in the country. In West Bengal, the CPM-led Left Front government has been in power since 1977 and in Kerala the Front led by CPM has been on and off in power. In 1996 it helped form a United Front of like-minded parties to install a government with Janata Dal party’s H.D.Deve Gowda as Prime Minister.  

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Founded 1969 by revolutionary communists belonging to the CPI(M) after the Naxalbari uprising. The Party derives its world outlook from Marxist philosophy and accepts the integrated system of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong.

Cong(I) See Congress.

Congress, Indian National Congress (INC) at the time of inception and through the freedom movement. A political party in India, played crucial role in the Indian Freedom Movement. Started by A.O. Hume in 1882 to gain Indian Public Opinion but gradually evolved and gained mass support and spearheaded the Independence Struggle with Gandhi, Nehru etc. as its leaders. Cong swept the state as well as Parliamentary elections till the 1960s. Indira Gandhi made Congress (I) I standing for Indira, and INC disintegrated. Since then its share in power has been reducing gradually. Present President: Sonia Gandhi.

CPI See Communist Party of India

CPI(M) See Communist Party of India (Marxist)

CPI(ML) See Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)

CPM See Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Crore Ten million

CSE Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental think tank in Delhi.

Dalal Commission agent

Dalit The oppressed and the lowermost section in the Hindu caste hierarchy.

Dharamshala Religious rest houses. Also a place in the UP hills (middle Himalayas) where the Dalai Lama’s Government-in-exile is housed.

Dharna A way of showing dissent and putting moral pressure by sitting at a specific place, originally at the doorstep of the person to whom the view point is to be expressed.

Dravidian A general term for the cultures and languages of the deep south of India, including Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.

DRDO Defence Research and Development Organisation

DU Delhi University

Emergency National Emergency, June 1975-Jan 1977. Imposed by the president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad on recommendation of Indira Gandhi, the then PM; when a judge in Allahabad, Indira Gandhi’s home constituency, found her landslide victory in the 1971 elections invalid because civil servants had illegally aided her campaign. Amid demands for her resignation, Gandhi decreed a state of emergency on June 26 and ordered mass arrests of her critics.

Gandhi, Indira (1917-84), PM of India (1966-77, 1980-84). Daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first PM of India). Assassinated in 1984 by two of her own security guards who were from the Sikh community. This led to massive riots against the community. (Also see Emergency)

Gandhi, Rajiv (1944-91), PM of India (1984-89), eldest son of Indira Gandhi. Flew for Indian Airlines until his brother died in 1981 and was drafted into politics by his mother. Succeeded her after her assassination in 1984 but was assassinated himself in 1991 by Tamil extremists during an election campaign.

Gandhi, Sonia (1946-) Present President of Congress, fifth of the Nehru family to take over this prestigious post. Widow of Rajiv Gandhi. Born Sonia Maino in Turin, Italy. Married Rajiv in 1968 and acquired Indian citizenship in the early 1980s.

Gaon Village

Gherao A way of industrial protesting by locking-in the employer.

Gowda, H. D. Deve (1933-), Former PM of India (1996-97) heading the United Front coalition govt. consisting of secular socialist and left parties. Elected to the Karnataka assembly in 1962, became the CM. At first an independent, later joined the Cong. Jailed during emergency. Important leader of Janata party and then of Janata Dal.

Gujaral, I. K. (1919-), Former PM of India (1997-98). Architect of the ‘Gujaral principle’ for India’s foreign policy; that it should look inwards and work on the principle of generosity with benign and accommodating bilateralism. Participated in the freedom struggle, jailed in 1942 during the Quit India Movement. Ambassador to USSR (1976-80). Union Minister of state (1967-76), Union Minister of External Affairs (1989-90 & 1997-98, as the PM).

Harijan Literal: People of God, a name given to the untouchables by Gandhiji.

Hartal Strike

HC High Court, the second in the hierarchy of Indian Judicial System.

Hindutva The ideology that presents ‘Hindu’-religion as the core organising principle of South Asian society and advocates that ‘Hindus’ should be organised into a strong, monolithic structure. Ideology presently propagated by the RSS.

HT Hindustan Times, a leading English daily.

IB Intelligence Bureau, Indian govt’s internal intelligence gathering agency.

IGI Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.

Jan Sangh A political party, predecessor of BJP. Formed in 1951 from RSS. Under the leadership of Slyama Prasad Mookherjee to gain political recognition and acceptance of the Indian masses. Renamed Bhartiya Jan Sangh in 1980 after the disintegration of Janata Party.

Janata Dal A political party formed in 1980 after the disintegration of Janata Party.  A political bloc of different social segments, which formed a govt. in 1989 on the plank of corruption in the Congress govt.

Janata Literal meaning - People; the masses

Janata Party A political party in India, established before the 1977 elections comprising of many anti-Emergency political parties, Congress (O), Lok Dal, Jan Sangh, Socialist Party among others, under the leadership of JP. The first political party to establish a non-Congress government when it won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai became the PM.  A clear split occurred after JP’s death in 1978 between Morarji Desai’s supporters and Charan Singh’s supporters. Later on different constituents parted ways to form Bhartiya Janata Party, Janata Dal, Janata Party and others.

JD See Janata Dal.

JNU Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

JP Movement A student’s non-violent movement under JP’s leadership, primarily in Bihar. Started in March 1974, as an outrage against increasing inflation, corruption and unemployment, biggest after the independence struggle. Considered a landmark for the Indian democracy. Led to certain constitutional amendments, converted to anti-emergency movement as Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in June 1975.

JP See Narayan, Jay Prakash.

JPC Joint Parliamentary Committee

Kalyug/Kaliyug Literal: The dark era. The fourth, degenerate period.

Karsevak Literal: Volunteer for manual labour. Hindu fundamentalist forces of the Sangh Parivar, large groups of Karsevaks were mobilised to demolish Babri Mosque and construct Ram Temple.

Kharif The autumn crop.

Kshatriya The warrior class, second in the Indian caste hierarchy.

LAC Line of Actual Control, the present border between India and China.

Lac/Lakh Hundred thousand

Laloo See Yadav, Laloo Prasad.

Legislative Assembly The lower house of the legislature of Indian states, parallel to the LS. Composed of 32-426 members, chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies based on population for a term of five years. The Chief Minister of the state is  leader of  the LA. Most States have a unicameral legislature with only an assembly.

Legislative Council Upper house of the legislature of Indian states, parallel to the RS. Members elected indirectly by the Assembly or appointed by the Governor to fixed terms with one- third retiring every second year. Only seven States have bicameral legislatures with a smaller Legislative Council functioning alongside the Legislative Assembly. 

LoC Line of Control, the present ‘working’ border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir.

Lohia, Ram Manohar (1910-67), socialist leader of a fearless and dynamic personality, a man of independent thought. Toiled to create a society which would ensure justice to the poor, the backward and women. In his life span of 57 years Ram Manohar Lohia suffered imprisonment twenty times. The government of free India imprisoned him as many as twelve times.

Lok People or people’s, also used in the ‘folk’ sense, for example, Lok Geet- Folk Song.

Lok Sabha The lower house of the Indian parliament, consisting of 545 members, elected every five years, although it may be dissolved earlier by the President on the recommendation of the PM .

LS See Lok Sabha.

Mandal Commission Second Backward Classes Commission, appointed under Article 340 of the Indian Constitution, commonly called Mandal Commission after its chairman B.P. Mandal. Submitted its report in 1980, which included recommendations like a certain reservation of seats to be provided for socially, economically and educationally weak sections of the society in the services of the Union and their Public Undertakings. Implementation announced by the V.P. Singh govt. in 1990, which led to street protests by upper caste youth and women.

Mandal See Mandal Commission.

Mandir A Hindu temple.

Mantra Sacred formula, incantation or spell.

Masjid Mosque

Mayawati A political leader of BSP. The chief minister of UP thrice, MP (RS) (1994-96). An active social worker for the downtrodden, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Has been member of the Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Mela Fair, fete

MLA Member of the Legislative Assembly

MP Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India.

MP Member of the Parliament

Murti A statue of God.

NAM Non-Alligned Movement

Namaste /Namaskar Traditional Hindu greeting with joining hands at the chest as a sign of respect, often accompanied by a small bow.

Namaz Muslim prayer

NAPM See National Alliance of People’s Movements.

Narayan, Jay Prakash  A veteran socialist leader and freedom fighter. Participated actively in Civil disobedience movement. Sentenced to jail in 1939 for his opposition to Indian participation in WWI. Escaped and tried to organise violent resistance to the govt. before his recapture in 1943. Released in 1946, tried to persuade the Cong. leaders to adopt a more militant policy against the British rule. In 1948 left the Cong. and formed Praja Socialist Party in 1952 with most of the Cong Socialists. In 1954 announced that he would devote his life exclusively to the Bhoodan Yajna Movement. Floated a new agenda for ‘reconstruction of Indian Polity’ by means of a four-tier hierarchy of village, district, state and union councils in 1959.  Seeing rise of corruption and increasingly undemocratic govt. of Indira Gandhi, came back to politics in 1974 and gained a following of students, opposition politicians and the masses. (See JP Movement) Wanted Mrs. Gandhi to resign and was put in jail during emergency where his health broke down. In 1977, became the advisor of the Janata Party after defeating Cong.

Nark Hell

Narmada Bachao Andolan Literal: Save Narmada Movement. A people’s movement started in 1985 with ideals of justice, equality and democracy, employing non-violent tactics like sit-ins, fasts, rallies and marches under the leadership of Medha Patkar. The movement has attracted a national and international network of support but receives no funds from outside India. It succeeded in exit of the World Bank from Sardar Sarovar dam in 1993, halt of Sardar Sarovar dam construction 1994-99 and withdrawal of foreign investors from Maheshwar dam 1999-2001.

National Alliance of People’s Movements, a federation of movement groups formed in the early 1990s for co-ordination on issues of survival, alternative development, decentralisation and people’s control against western capitalistic technology.

Naxalites Ultra-leftist groups. The term originated after a political movement begun in Naxalbari, West Bengal, as a peasant rebellion, characterised by violence.

NBA See Narmada Bachao Andolan.

OBC See Other Backward Classes.

Organizer An English weekly, mouthpiece of RSS

Other Backward Classes A section of ‘lower’ castes people in India who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reser-vations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc

Panchayat Assembly of arbitrators, often chosen by the community from amongst themselves, five in number with one Sarpanch-the head of four Panches.

Panchjanya A Hindi weekly, mouthpiece of RSS.

PIB Press Information Bureau, Indian govt’s PR agency.

PM Prime Minister, executive head of the central govt. Elected by the MPs of her/his party. Must be a member of LS and is its leader also. Present PM: Atal Behari Vajpayee.

POK The northernmost part of Kashmir which the Indian govt. calls Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

President of India The nominal head of state, elected for a five-year term by elected members of the state assemblies and the parliament. Present President: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a nuclear scientist.

PTI Press Trust of India, a Delhi-based news agency.

Puja A Hindu term for worship.

Rabi The spring crop.

Raj Rule

Raja King

Rajkumar Prince

Rajya Sabha The upper house of the Indian Parliament consisting of 250 members. One-third of them retire every other year; the term of a member is six years. A majority of members are apportioned by state, each state’s delegates are chosen by its assembly and twelve nominated by the President.

Rao, P.V. Narsimha (1921-), PM of India (1991-96), Cong(I), CM of Andhra Pradesh (1971-73). Elected to the Indian Parliament in 1972. Held several cabinet posts under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi including foreign affairs minister (1980-84). Moved decisively towards free-market reforms, reducing govt’s economic role, instituting austerity measures, and encouraging foreign investment. Convicted in Sept. 2000, allegedly conspiring to buy votes in parliament prior to a 1993 no-confidence vote and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh Literal: National Volunteers Association. A Hindu fundamentalist organisation started in 1925 by Dr. K. B. Hedgewar. Banned in 1948 following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a right-wing Hindu- Nathuram Godse. RSS went underground before re-emerging in the 1960s. Since then it has slowly gained prominence and political influence, culminating in the rise of BJP. (See BJS and BJP too)

RAW Research and Analysis Wing, Indian government’s international secret investigation bureau.

RBI Reserve Bank of India, India’s Central Bank, established on 1 April 1935, nationalised on 1 January 1949. Present Governor Y.V. Reddy, considered to be a liberal.

RJD Rashtriya Janata Dal, a regional political party of Bihar and Chattisgarh, founded by Laloo Prasad Yadav now ruling the state of Bihar with Rabri Devi as the CM. Party symbol: A lantern. First and present president: Laloo Prasad Yadav.

RS See Rajya Sabha.

RSS See Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh.

SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Sadhu A male Hindu mendicant.

Sadhvi A female Hindu mendicant.

Samajwadi Jan Parishad A small socialist party formed in 1994 as a result of merger of non-party, non-electoral movement groups, Socialist Front Maharashtra and Samta Sangathan among others, aiming at greater impact for social transformation. First President: Kishen Pattnayak. Present President: Vinod Prasad Singh.

Samajwadi Party A regional party with secular credentials established in 1992. The party is in favour of ‘Indo Pak Bangladesh Mahasangh’. Believes in Democratic Socialism and assistance to agriculture, small and medium scale industry. Opposes uncontrolled entry of multinational companies to India. First and present President: Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Samta Party A political party in India, an offshoot of Janata Dal. Formed in 1994 after two senior leaders in the Janata Dal, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar broke away mainly against what they called corrupt and undemocratic practices of Laloo. The party is largely based in Bihar.  A crucial ally in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The party manifesto claims it to be a secular party opposing communalism, committed to the eradication of corruption at all levels and stressing on the need for increased security of the nation and believing in mobilising people for the same. Party Symbol: a torch. Samata Party leader George Fernandes rose to international fame for his opposition to multinationals. He was instrumental in packing off Coca-Cola from India when he was a minister in the Janata Party government during 1977-79. Fernandes was also an ardent campaigner against the BJP, which he then criticised as a communal party.

Sangh Parivar A cluster of organisations related to RSS including VHP, BJP etc.

Sant An ascetic, saint

Sarkar Government

Sarvodya Movement Conceived by Vinoba Bhave. Central aim: to contribute to the awakening of the world by responsible action through the dimensions of Self, Family, Village community, Urban community and National community. It would result in the ultimate goal: the awakening of all (‘Sarvodya’; Sarva=All, Udaya=Awakening/rising). Spearheaded by Gandhi with his philosophy of Truth, Non-violence and Self-sacrifice.

SC See Scheduled Castes.

SC See Supreme Court.

Scheduled Castes A number of ‘lower’ castes in the Indian caste hierarchy who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reservations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc.

Scheduled Tribes Tribal people in India who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reservations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc.

Seva Service

Shiv Sena A political group prsent mainly in Maharasthra advocating the Hindutva agenda.

Singh, V.P. (1931-), former PM of India (Nov 1989-90) heading the National Front govt. Elected President of UP Congress 1984. Announced implementation of the Mandal Commission Report on Reservations for OBCs and became a ‘messiah’ of the downtrodden.

Sloka A verse.

SP See Samajwadi Party.

ST See Scheduled Tribes.

Sudra Caste of labourers, fourth in the Indian caste hierarchy.

Supreme Court The apex court of the country, consisting of 25 judges.

Swaraj Self-rule

Swarg Heaven

Swatantrata Independence

UNI United News of India, a Delhi-based news agency.

UP Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.

Vajpayee, Atal Behari (1926-), Present PM of India (1996, 1998-). Foreign minister (1977-79) in the Janata Party Govt. Prominent leader of the BJP since its conception and before that of the BJS, considered the moderate face of BJP.

Varna The concept of caste system.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Literal: The Earth is a Family.

VHP See Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad A hardline Hindu outfit founded in 1964 by a group of senior RSS leaders to give Hindus what they believed would be a clearly defined sense of religious identity and political purpose and to ‘Hinduise’ the Indian nation.

Women’s Reservation Bill A long awaited bill to be staged in the parliament, providing for 33% reservation for women in the parliamentary elections.

Yadav, Laloo Prasad (1948-), A secular, socialist political leader from Bihar. Has made his presence felt on the national political scene with his steady stream of earthy aphorisms. Leader of the opposition in the Bihar Legislative Assembly for two terms, CM of Bihar (1990-97). Was re-elected to the 12th Lok Sabha for a third term. Presently running the Bihar government through his wife Rabri Devi

Yadav, Mulayam Singh (1939-), A political leader inspired and influenced by the socialist thoughts and ideology of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. Jailed nine times during different agitations for the protection of rights and welfare of farmers, labourers, youth, students, minorities and backward classes. Took a strong stand against the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu hardliners. This further enhanced his reputation as a key supporter of the minorities.

Zamindar A big powerful landlord.