In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Formation of Council of Ministers 2. Working Principles of Council of Ministers 3. Council of Ministers—Its Problems.
Formation of Council of Ministers:
The constitution provides that there shall be a Prime Minister, who will be nominated by the President who will in turn appoint other Ministers, who will form the Council of Ministers. Of course, technically the Ministers too will be appointed by the President, but on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Each Minister must be a member of either House of Parliament at the time of his appointment, but in case he is not, he should become so within a period of six months. If he fails to do so he will have to leave his ministerial position and also that of the House.
Though the President appoints Ministers, yet there is practically no choice with him but to appoint only such persons as Ministers, who are recommended by the Prime Minister.
Of course, Prime Minister is quite free to constitute his cabinet and the Council of Ministers in the way he likes, yet he is to act under certain restraints and various factors are to be taken into consideration by him while selecting his team.
He is to see that all regions of the country get proper representation. Though usually there is no difficulty about it, yet sometimes problem arises when a particular political party sweeps at the polls but not in a particular part of the country.
This is what happened in 1977, when Janata Party swept the polls in the North and East India, but had not much following in the South. Again the same situation was created in 1989 when after general elections held in that year National Front, BJP and Left parties won convincingly except from southern states from where Congress(I) candidates were returned to the Lok Sabha.
It, therefore, created a problem of giving adequate representation to the south in the cabinet. Needless to say that in the absence of such a representation there can be grudges and grouses and disintegrating forces can come to the front.
It is also to be seen that all religions in the country are properly represented. Of course, India is a-secular state, but the fact remains that there are religious minorities in the country which can in no way be overlooked. If it is desired that these should significantly contribute in national growth and development, it is equally essential that these should be equal participants in the Council of Ministers.
Then another constraint on the Prime Minister is that at the time of cabinet formation the women should get adequate and proper representation. India is still a caste ridden society and the Prime Minister is to ensure that members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and backward classes get proper representation, both in the Cabinet and Council of Ministers.
Younger elements in every ruling political party also want their share in the Council of Ministers.
But a serious problem in cabinet formation comes from within the party. In each political party there are factions and there are also regional leaders who command some following. There are very active political workers, who have certain aspirations. They wish to hold ministerial berths. It is very difficult to satisfy all of them.
But the danger is that in case they are not satisfied then they may defect. Their position becomes strong when numerically they can become a majority by aligning themselves with the opposition, resulting in the downfall of the government. In order to check defections it is essential that the factions in the party should be kept satisfied to the extent possible.
At times when a political party has no absolute majority but is short of few members, it induces some independent or others to support it on the promise of their being inducted in the Council of Ministers so that the party is can form government.
When a political party, in order to consolidate its position or to have majority in a bid to form government engineers defections, it rewards the defectors by making their leaders as Ministers, thus increasing the strength of Council of Ministers.
Then there are certain pressure groups also in the country. It is, of course, most desirable that extraneous pressure groups are not allowed to play their part in cabinet formation, but some times their pressure is so weighty that these are also to be provided a place in the cabinet.
It is prerogative of the Prime Minister to distribute portfolios among his cabinet colleagues. Sometimes this also results in serious problems because all those who matter in the party wish that they should be given an important portfolio.
Some of the important portfolios include External Affairs, Commerce, Trade, Home, Finance, Defence, Railways, etc. While allocating portfolios Prime Minister is to take some points into consideration.
He is to see that all those Ministers who have held some portfolio earlier and were again being inducted into the cabinet should preferably be given the same old portfolio because, they have got some experience of working of that department. Then the Prime Minister is also to take into consideration the wishes and preferences of the person going to be allocated a portfolio.
It is also to be seen that the person concerned has capacity and necessary talent to handle the portfolio. For the Prime Minister some difficulty arises when two senior, trusted and influential persons want to have the same portfolio. In that case he is to use his tact and ability.
The situation becomes difficult for the Prime Minister, when in the party there is not much of homogeneity, as it happened with the Janata Party in 1977, when Prime Minister Morarji Desai was placed in a difficult situation both at the time of formation of Council of Ministers and allocation or portfolios.
The problems were so serious that he could not expand his cabinet even once, throughout his term of office as Prime Minister. Similarly for quite some time Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao could not make major change in his Council of Minister.
Working Principles of Council of Ministers:
As regards the working principles of the Council of Ministers, the first and foremost principle is the leadership of Prime Minister. All his colleagues in the Council of Minister must accept his leadership and that too without any reservation.
If some one in the Cabinet or Council of Ministers does not feel like accepting his leadership, the only way out left for the Minister concerned is to gracefully leave his ministerial job, because there are several other ways open to the Prime Minister to shunt him out of the Council of Ministers.
His resignation can be called, he can be given a minor portfolio, which he may not like to handle and thus leave the cabinet on his own, he can be sacked by the President on the recommendations of the Prime Minister and so on.
One more feature of the cabinet system in India is absence of the head of the state from cabinet meetings. Though every cabinet decision is taken in his naive, yet he does not attend cabinet meetings. He is not a party to the decisions taken in these meetings.
Then another basic principle is that of joint and collective responsibility. The Council of Ministers as a whole is responsible to the Lok Sabha. If an action of any Minister is appreciated, that is a credit for the whole Council of Ministers and if there is mounting criticism on the working of any Ministry for that the music is to be faced by the Council of Ministers as a whole and not by one Minister who becomes a point of target.
A vote of no-confidence in the Lok Sabha against a particular Minister is to be treated as a vote of no confidence against the whole Council of Ministers. So the basic principle is that the cabinet sinks and swims together.
All will come to power together and go out of that collectively. It may, however, be mentioned that the principle of collective responsibility does not strictly apply to the Prime Minister, who is at times required to take decisions without consulting his cabinet colleagues.
In 1975, Mrs. Indra Gandhi imposed emergency without consulting her cabinet. In 1962 at the time of Chinese aggression Nehru sought nuclear umbrella from the U.S.A. without consulting his cabinet. He also took police action in Hyderabad again without taking his cabinet into confidence.
One more basic principle is that of cabinet solidarity. It means that the cabinet functions as a team. All major policy issues are decided by the cabinet as a whole before these are brought before the House. It is open to every Minister to express his view point, when discussions behind the doors are going on. He has every right to differ and disagree.
It is another issue whether his view point is appreciated or not by his colleagues. But once the decision has been taken, the whole Council of Ministers is expected to speak with one voice outside. No Minister is supposed to express his personal view point on any issue on which cabinet taken a decision. Every Minister in the Parliament must leave an impression has that the cabinet is a united one body.
In India there have been several instances when the Ministers resigned because their view point was not accepted by the cabinet as a whole. M.C. Chhagla resigned because he felt that the cabinet was not appreciating his view point on education policy. C.D. Deshmukh also resigned due to his differences with the cabinet.
In 1974, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, dismissed the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Works and Housing, Mohan Dharia because he was openly giving vent to his views on several important policy issues which were not in keeping with the policy decisions taken by the government as a whole.
Similarly Prime Minister Morarji Desai called for the resignation of his Home Minister Charan Singh when the latter characterised, the cabinet as a pack of impotent persons and voiced his grievances about dealing with the then ex-P.M. Smt. Indira Gandhi.
Recently Arjun Singh resigned from the Council of Ministers because of his approach to several problems was not appreciated by the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao.
The examples can be multiplied when Ministers in the central cabinet as well as in the states resigned from the Council of lylinisters, on account of their differences with their colleagues on issues which according to them should have been accepted by others.
Then another feature of the system is that of maintaining secrecy. In cabinet meetings several secret issues are discussed and disclosed. Each Minister receives several reports and documents on which he is required to take decisions.
It is required of everyone not to disclose anything to the public. He must continue to maintain secrecy even after his resigning from the cabinet or of his having been dropped by the Prime Minister from the Council of Ministers. Each Minister is under oath to maintain secrecy.
Then cabinet system in India functions on the principle that ultimate responsibility for all failures is that of the political executive and not of the permanent executive. In India there is a permanent executive which aids and advises political executive in the formulation of policies and programmes.
But policy guidelines are given by the political executive. In case any policy fails the responsibility ultimately is that of the Minister concerned which heads the department and not that of the Secretary of the department, who acted behind the scene only.
In India, Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as Railway Minister, when there was a serious railway accident near Mughal Sarai. He accepted his moral responsibility because of his being political head of the department. V.K. Krishna Menon resigned as Defence Minister, after India’s debacle in war against China and T.T. Krishnamachari resigned as Finance Minister, after Mundra Deal with LIC came to light.
Similarly G.L. Nanda resigned as Home Minister when demonstrators demanding ban on cow slaughter were mishandled by the police. Of course, no Minister was directly involved, in any of the affair mentioned above but did not hesitate to resign and accept full responsibility for the failures of permanent executive for creating a peculiar situation.
Then as in all countries which have parliamentary form of government the head of the state is just a nominal head and real power and authority is vested in the de facto head, i.e., the Prime Minister. In India President has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
This has been amply made clear, after the passing of Constitution Amendment Act in this regard. He does not attend the session of the House. On the other hand, the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues are always present in the House.
They initiate all important measures and ensure that these get through. They defend policies and programmes of the government and ensure that policy decisions once taken and approved by the House are implemented.
There is thus combination of legislative and executive powers. Though everything is done in the name of the President, yet he is only titular head. He can only advice, make suggestions to the Prime Minister informally but cannot force his view point on him.
Another feature of the parliamentary form of government in India is that there is a wide gap between theory and practice. In fact, it is one of the salient features of parliamentary system of government.
A reading of the constitution will leave an impression that the President of India is much more powerful than may dictators of the world, though in actual practice he does not exercise on his own, any power vested in him by the constitution. Real power is vested in the Prime Minister who heads a Council of Ministers.
Council of Ministers—Its Problems:
India became free in 1947 and its constitution was inaugurated in 1950. since then several Council of Ministers have come and gone. There have been changes in the body from time to time, though the same person continued to occupy the chair of Prime Minister of India. In a parliamentary form of government it is ideal that there should be political homogeneity and all Ministers should belong to the same political party.
But in India in the beginning perhaps due to shortage of talents, in the party or perhaps with a view to giving the party benefit of talents available outside the party, some persons not belonging to the party were inducted in the cabinet, by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Some such persons, as already pointed out, included Dr. S.P. Mukherjee, Shanmukham Chetty, B.R. Ambedkar, John Mathai, C.D. Deshmukh and M.C. Chhagla.
But a serious problem for all the Prime Ministers in India has been the desire of some of die party colleagues, to whom the Prime Minister wants to induct in the cabinet, to hold a particular portfolio. It is well known fact that Sardar Patel all along wanted to hold Home portfolio.
In 1962, T.T. Krishnamachari was-offered ministerial post, but he refused to join the cabinet unless he was given finance portfolio. In April 1962, it was publicly announced that Manubhai Shah was going to join central cabinet, but he refused to join it unless he was made a Minister of the cabinet rank.
In 1963, the then Food Minister S.K. Patil decided to quite the central cabinet rather than to leave his portfolio and accept the new portfolio of Railway. In 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to change the portfolio of then Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai, for which the latter was not prepared.
He decided to quit the cabinet. Then in 1977, when Prime Minister Morarji Desai sought the resignation of the Home Minister Charan Singh, there was considerable pressure on the Prime Minister that ousted Home Minister should be taken back in the cabinet. He bowed to pressure but only on one condition that Home portfolio will not be given back to Charain Singh.
There was considerable political activity and strains within the party and ultimately Charan Singh was persuaded by his party colleges to join the central cabinet as Finance and not as Home Minister.
Then another problem in India has been about the personality of the Ministers. Of course, the Prime Minister has unrestricted freedom of choosing his cabinet colleagues. But still in India, there have all along been certain heavy political weights, who have been finding berth in the cabinet.
Even if in some cases their inclusion would not have been very much cherished but still their induction in the cabinet was always a foregone conclusion e.g., the persons like Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Y.B. Chavan and Sardar Swaran Singh to quote just few examples.
Even such popular and powerful Prime Minister as Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru could relieve some of the senior party colleagues from the central cabinet under Kamraj Plan and not otherwise. Similarly Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao kept silence when some of his senior cabinet colleagues did not respond favourably to his suggestion of leaving Ministerial positions for doing party work.
Still another problem connected with the Council of Minister is internal groupism. Each senior Minister is always interested that in the cabinet and Council of Ministers he should have as many of his camp followers as possibly he can have. This will always give him an edge over other Ministers.
In case there is any difficult situation, with the help of his supporters, such a Minister is always in a better position to bargain, as compared with the others. It also becomes difficult to drop him from the cabinet or to change his portfolio without his liking, because of fear of defections.