The Prime Minister’s office is the most powerful office in the country while the cabinet is the strongest institution. The Prime Minister is the strongest person under the Constitution of India; he is a real centre of power. He is the head of the government and sole custodian of all the executive authority.
In the Parliamentary form of a system, there are two heads working at the Centre. One is the nominal head viz the President and the other is the prime minister who is the real head of the country. He is vested with all-important powers and functions of the country, is the head of the government and chairs the Council of ministers and has authority over them. The person holding the office of prime minister is appointed by the President as defined under Article 75 of the Constitution. The President is a nominal head but both the heads have to work in coordination with each other in a Parliamentary form of government. The relation between the president and prime minister in accordance with their functioning of the government :
The Council of Ministers is headed by the PM and should work on aid and advice of him, the President has to work according to the instructions given by the Prime Minister. However, the President has additional power to ask the council to reconsider his advice but in the end, he has to work according to the advice given after the reconsideration.
The President has the power to appoint the Prime Minister while the other ministers have to be appointed by him on advice of the Prime Minister. The ministers retain the office post till the President, however, the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the lower house of the government that is Lok Sabha.
APPOINTMENT AND TENURE
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. India being a country following the Parliamentary form of government, the Prime Minister so appointed is from the majority party of the Lok Sabha. Whenever there is a majority formed by a party in Lok Sabha elections, the president plays this important role in the appointment of the head of the government. However, in case no party wins a majority, the actual role of President comes in as he has the full authority to appoint the Prime Minister. But constitutionally there is no specific provision for selection of President from Lok Sabha only there have been instances in Indian history when the Prime Minister has been appointed from Rajya Sabha. During the years from 1950 to 1996, the person holding the office of Prime Minister has always been from Lok Sabha however, this is just a convention. Finally, this practice was broken as in 1996 Indira Gandhi, 1997 IK Gujral, 2004, 2009 they were appointed from Rajya Sabha. The most recent one from 2004, 2009 was the case of Dr Manmohan Singh as he was a member of Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister can be from any of the houses be it upper or the lower House.
Someone who is not a member of either house of the Parliament cannot hold office permanently specifically this provision means that if any person is not a member of any of the houses of the Parliament he can become both prime minister or even minister but one condition presiding to this is that he or she has to be elected as a member of any of the house within the period of six months. And if he fails to acquire this position he loses the office.
Stated under the section Prime Minister holds the office until the pleasure of the President. This in literal sense means that he holds the office unless and until he enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha or the Upper house. The house even has the power to pass the no-confidence motion against him and after which he can be dismissed by the President. In another case, the president can ask the Prime Minister any time to prove his majority if he thinks that he is losing the majority and his failure to do so will lead to either dismissal by the President or give resignation himself.
POWERS AND FUNCTIONS
COUNCIL OF MINISTERS
The duty of formation of the Council of ministers rests with the President but only on the advice of the Prime Minister as stated under Article 75 of the Constitution. He after appointing Prime Minister appoints ministers with aid and advice of Prime Minister. Generally most of the members of the council are appointed from the Lok Sabha. It depends upon the Prime Minister that whoever he wants to make the part of the cabinet and has full authority to determine the strength of the ministry. Moreover, this strength cannot exceed 15% of the total members in the Lok Sabha. He is the main medium of communication between the President and the Cabinet. He updates the President with all the decisions taken up by the Ministry and in turn, puts the President’s view on it for the cabinet. Further, the person holding the office of Prime Minister acts as the chief coordinator of all the activities which are taken up by the departments of the government and strives to achieve coordination and cooperation amongst these departments.
CHAIRMAN OF CABINET
The Prime Minister being the head of the cabinet presides over all the meetings. All matters and agenda of the meetings are decided upon by him. He can even accept or reject a proposal for discussion in the ministry. There is a home for discussion but no place for the opposition and all the members have to conform to views and policies of him. The Prime Minister has even had the authority to ask any minister of the cabinet to resign however if the minister fails to do so he can even approach the President for the dismissal. For example in the year 2010 April, Mr Shashi Tharoor was compelled to give resignation because then PM Mr Manmohan Singh asked him to do so.
HEAD OF PARLIAMENT
Being the leader of the majority in Lok Sabha he also holds the position of head of the Parliament and further in consultation with the Speaker of Lok Sabha decides upon agenda to be discussed in Lok Sabha. In addition to this, the calling and proroguing of the Parliament are determined by him and the president acts only on his advice. An additional power also rests with him which he can advise the President regarding the dissolution of Lok Sabha. This is literal sense members hold office until the pleasure of the Prime Minister.
Apart from it, all important appointments are made by the person holding the office of Prime Minister. These powers for appointments are actually the powers of the president but he does so with the advice and opinion of the prime minister. He aids the president to appoint governors for the state, attorney general, auditor general members and chairman of the Public service commission. Moreover, all high-rank positions’ appointments are made by the President on the advice of him. Furthermore, if we talk about emergency provisions in the Constitution in words the powers have been given to the President but in reality, these powers lie with the Prime Minister as it can only be implemented on advice of the cabinet which actually works under the advice of the Prime Minister. As under Article 352 of the Constitution president can declare a national emergency but this has to be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within one month of its issue of notice. Once it is approved by houses it can get extended up to 6 months and can also be extended beyond it. However, power to proclaim emergency initially rests with the President but he can only do so after receiving a requirement to declare a national emergency but this has to be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within one month of its issue of notice. Once it is approved by the houses it can get extended up to 6 months and can also be extended beyond it.
The person holding the office of prime minister is also the chairman of various commissions of the government including the National Development Council, Inter-State Councils, National Water Resources Council.
HEAD OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Prime Minister always plays an important function in determining the country’s foreign policy and other relations with countries around the world; it is not necessary that he holds the portfolio of foreign affairs rather he has the influence in about all the foreign policy decisions.
MOST POWERFUL OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT
In India, the Prime Minister exercises real power in all aspects of government offices and its activities be it legislative executive or even financial. He acts as the captain of the team and is like the steering wheel of the government. Reasons to justify these statements are listed below
- The President always works in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. The Constitution gives him the duty of being the chief advisor of the President.
- He controls the whole organisation and working of the Cabinet
- Once he resigns, the Lok Sabha will be dissolved.
- He has the absolute power to form the ministry of the government.
- He is the head of the government, Leader of the majority and hence plays a primary role in Indian political system.
Hence he is the government centre of gravity and its cornerstone.
LIMITATION TO POWERS
As stated above, the person holding the office of prime minister enjoys absolute powers however he cannot act like a dictator because his office is a democratic position and he only gains power through effective participation in countries democratic processes. Basically limited to his enjoyment of absolute power or put up by the opposition parties, his own party colleagues, president of India, press, constitution and in some way even the public. And this prevents them from taking away all the powers and using it in an arbitral way. Office of Prime Minister rather than being an absolutely powerful one is the one which works upon democratic processes and its actual working depends on the individual’s personal views, qualities and his activeness in status towards political affairs of the country. And hence his office cannot be converted to an authoritarian one by anyone and has to work according to democracy.
In a country following a parliamentary form of government consisting of two heads to govern the nation who hold the major executive powers and offices of the nation, the prime minister is the real custodian of the powers. According to the provisions enshrined in our constitution the Council of Ministers supports and advises the President, with the Prime Minister as the head. The President appoints the Prime Minister. The constitution names the president as head of the state de jure , but his or her de facto executive powers are vested in the prime minister and their council of ministers. In all these 73 years of independence the country has witnessed 14 prime ministers, 15 including Gulzarilal Nanda who twice acted in the role of which 6 having at least one full term. The first person to hold the office of prime minister in the country was Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru.
- The Constitution of India, 1950, art. 75.
- The Constitution of India, 1950, art.78.
- The Constitution of India, 1950, art.77.
BY JANAVI CHHABRA | GURU GOBIND SINGH INDRAPRASTHA UNIVERSITY