Prime Minister & Council Of Ministers


No discussion of government or politics in India, would normally take place without mentioning one office: the Prime Minister of India.

The President exercises his powers only on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is headed by the Prime Minister. Therefore, as head of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister becomes the most important functionary of the government in our country.

In the parliamentary form of executive, it is essential that the Prime Minister has the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha. This support by the majority also makes the Prime Minister very powerful. The moment this support of the majority is lost, the Prime Minister loses the office.

For many years after independence, the Congress party had the majority in the Lok Sabha and its leader would become the Prime Minister. Since 1989, there have been many occasions when no party had majority in the Lok Sabha. Various political parties have come together and formed a coalition that has majority in the House. In such situations, a leader who is acceptable to most partners of the coalition becomes the Prime Minister. Formally, a leader who has the support of the majority is appointed by the President as Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister then decides who will be the ministers in the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister allocates ranks and portfolios to the ministers. Depending upon the seniority and political importance, the ministers are given the ranks of cabinet minister, minister of State or deputy minister. In the same manner, Chief Ministers of the States choose ministers from their own party or coalition. The Prime Minister and all the ministers have to be members of the Parliament. If someone becomes a minister or Prime Minister without being an MP, such a person has to get elected to the Parliament within six months.

Size Of The Council Of Ministers

Before the 91st Amendment Act (2003), the size of the Council of Ministers was determined according to exigencies of time and requirements of the situation. But this led to very large size of the Council of Ministers. Besides, when no party had a clear majority, there was a temptation to win over the support of the members of the Parliament by giving them ministerial positions as there was no restriction on the number of the members of the Council of Ministers. This was happening in many States also. Therefore, an amendment was made that the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 percent of total number of members of the House of People (or Assembly, in the case of the States).

Does Parliament Controls The Executive?

Yes, The most important feature of parliamentary executive is that the executive is routinely under the control and supervision of the legislature.

The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. This provision means that a Ministry which loses confidence of the Lok Sabha is obliged to resign. The principle
indicates that the ministry is an executive committee of the Parliament and it collectively governs on behalf of the Parliament. Collective responsibility is based on the principle of the solidarity of the cabinet. It implies that a vote of no confidence even against a single minister leads to the resignation of the entire Council of Ministers. It also indicates that if a minister does not agree with a policy or decision of the cabinet, he or she must either accept the decision or resign. It is binding on all ministers to pursue or agree to a policy for which there is collective responsibility.

In India, the Prime Minister enjoys a pre-eminent place in the government. The Council of Ministers cannot exist without the Prime Minister. The Council comes into existence only after the Prime Minister has taken the oath of office. The death or resignation of the Prime Minister automatically brings about the dissolution of the Council of Ministers but the demise, dismissal or resignation of a minister only creates a ministerial vacancy.

The Prime Minister acts as a link between the Council of Ministers on the one hand and the President as well as the Parliament on the other. It is this role of the Prime Minister which led Pt. Nehru to describe him as ‘the linchpin of Government’.

It is also the constitutional obligation of the Prime Minister to communicate to the President all decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration of the
affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation. The Prime Minister is involved in all crucial decisions of the government and decides on the policies of the government. Thus, the power wielded by the Prime Minister flows from various sources: control over the Council of Ministers, leadership of the Lok Sabha, command over the bureaucratic machine, access to media, projection of personalities during elections, projection as national leader during international summitry as well as foreign visits.

However, the power which the Prime Minister wields and actually puts into use depends upon the prevailing political conditions. The position of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers has been unassailable whenever a single political party has secured majority
in the Lok Sabha. However, this has not been the case when governments have been led by coalitions of political parties. Since 1989, we have witnessed many coalition governments in India. Many of these governments could not remain in power for the full term of the Lok Sabha. They were either removed or they resigned due to loss of support of the majority. These developments have affected the working of the parliamentary executive.

  • In the first place, these developments have resulted in a growing discretionary role of the President in the selection of Prime Ministers.
  • Secondly, the coalitional nature of Indian politics in this period has necessitated much more consultation between political partners, leading to erosion of prime ministerial authority.
  • Thirdly, it has also brought restrictions on various prerogatives of the Prime Minister like choosing the ministers and deciding their ranks and portfolios.
  • Fourthly, even the policies and programmes of the government cannot be decided by the Prime Minister alone. Political parties of different ideologies come together both as pre-poll and post-poll allies to form a government. Policies are framed after a lot of negotiations and compromises among the allies. In this entire process, the Prime Minister has to act more as a negotiator than as leader of the government.

At the State level, a similar parliamentary executive exists, though with some variations. The most important variation is that there is a Governor of the State appointed by the President (on the advice of the central government). Though the Chief Minister, like the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the Assembly, the Governor has more discretionary powers. However, the main principles of parliamentary system operate at the State level too.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Constitution At Work

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