After the votes are counted on 23 May, the focus will shift on the political parties which can form the next government at the Centre. By then, it would be clear whether the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance remains in power or the Rahul Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance returns after five years. With regional parties vying for a significant role at the Centre, the rise of a third front is also probability after 23 May.
Whatever may be the result on 23 May, the President of India will be crucial in determining who will form the next government -- and in turn become the prime minister.
President's role in government formation: Here is what the Constitution says
Article 75(1) of the Constitution states: "The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister." However, beyond these words, the process of government formation is not dealt with in much detail in the Constitution.
Thus, the process of government formation in India is built on some historical conventions. As per the long-followed convention, the president invites the leader of the majority party to form the government. Thus, the leader of the party which secured over half of the seats in the Lok Sabha was invited to form the government between 1952 and 1984.
It is important to note that the leader of the Parliamentary Party is usually appointed prime minister by the president. For instance, PV Narasimha Rao was elected the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party on 20 June 1991 before being appointed as the prime minister. In a similar vein, Narendra Modi was elected as the BJP parliamentary party leader before being appointed prime minister on 20 May 2014.
The rise of coalition politics in the 1990s led to no single party being able to secure a majority on its own. This meant a party required the support of smaller parties to cross the magic figure of 272. For instance, BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee required the support of AIADMK and TDP to gain a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. Moreover, Modi, despite winning an outright majority in the Parliament, too chose to seek the support of his NDA allies.
Since 1989, the phenomena of the "single largest party" became common in the Indian political system. Additionally, directing a new government to prove its majority on the floor of House within a stipulated period became a much-followed convention at the Centre and state level.
Until 1989, the Congress party remained the dominant party in the Indian political system. However, in the general election held towards the end of that year, Congress lost power to an Opposition coalition led by the Janata Dal. This led a hung Parliament for the first time since 1952.
Nevertheless, Congress remained the "single largest party" despite losing over 200 seats. The then president R Venkataraman invited Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi to form the government. However, he declined to stake claim. Later, Venkataraman invited VP Singh, the leader of the National Front Parliamentary Party, to form the government. However, the president asked him to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha within 30 days.
"Since the Congress (I), elected to the ninth Lok Sabha with the largest membership, has opted not to stake its claim for forming the government, the President invited Mr V.P. Singh, leader of the second largest party/group, namely, the Janata Dal/National Front to form the government and take a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha within 30 days of his assuming office," the 1989 communique said. The National Front, which included Janata Dal, AGP, TDP, and Indian Congress (Socialist), was provided external support by the BJP and the Left. This gave the coalition a slender majority in the Parliament.
Seven years later, the Lok Sabha elections again threw up a hung Parliament. This time, however, President Shankar Dayal Sharma chose to appoint Vajpayee — the leader of the single largest party — as prime minister. However, the president advised Vajpayee to secure a vote of confidence by 31 May 1996. But Vajpayee resigned on 28 May after failing to garner enough support. Later, as AG Noorani noted in a Frontline article, Sharma sworn in HD Deve Gowda of the United Front and asked him to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha.
In 1998, President KR Narayanan appointed Vajpayee, who enjoyed the backing of over 280 MPs, as the prime minister. Narayanan adopted an elaborate procedure to ensure the stability of the government. He asked Vajpayee "to furnish documents in support of his claim from concerned political parties and individuals." Taking a leaf out of Venkataraman's rulebook, he also asked the BJP stalwart to secure a vote of confidence on the floor of the House within 10 days of taking office.
When the NDA led by Vajpayee won a comfortable majority in the 1999 polls, Narayanan did not seek any prima facie proof of parliamentary majority or on assurance of a vote of confidence within a stipulated time.
In the 2004 elections, the Congress-led UPA alliance formed the government. Although it lacked a majority, the Left Front decided to support the coalition from outside. Once the Congress was able to provide the proof of support from allies and other regional parties, President APJ Abdul Kalam appointed Manmohan Singh as prime minister. Interestingly, Kalam did not ask Singh to prove his majority within a specific amount of time.
In the 2009 elections, UPA coalition comfortably formed the government with the support of 322 MPs. Thus, President Pratibha Patil did not ask Singh to prove his strength in the Lok Sabha. After the last elections too, Modi was not asked by President Pranab Mukherjee to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha.
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Updated Date: May 17, 2019 16:01:47 IST