After its victory in the Lok Sabha elections 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind had on Saturday invited the National Democratic Alliance parliamentary party leader Narendra Modi to form the government at the Centre. The Modi-led NDA won 353 seats while the BJP on its own bagged 303 seats.
While inviting Modi to form the government under Article 75(1) of the Indian Constitution, Kovind also asked him to tender advice on the names of the members of the Council of Ministers. Article 75(1) 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."
India will get a new Council of Ministers led by Modi on 30 May, when Kovind administers them the oath of office and secrecy at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Before the new government is inaugurated, here is a primer on what the constitution says about the Council of Ministers.
Council of Ministers holds real executive power
To begin with, the president administers the oath of office and secrecy to the Prime Minister of India and his Council of Ministers as prescribed under Part I and II of the Third Schedule of the Constitution. A minister can either take oath in the name of God or as a solemn affirmation.
The Union Council of Ministers led by the prime minister act as the advisor to the President. Article 74(1) of the Indian Constitution elucidates, "There shall be a Council of Ministers with the prime minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice. The president may require the council of ministers to reconsider such advice and president shall act in accordance with such advice reconsidered."
After the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976, the president is also expected to act according to the advice given by the Union Council of Ministers. This particular Article was amended under the 44th Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which added that the President can ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider their advice once. However, if the Council of Ministers resend the same advice, then the president is bound to accept it.
It is the constitutional duty of the prime minister to communicate to the President all decisions of Council of Ministers relating to general administration and legislation. Moreover, the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers cannot be inquired into any court of law as per Article 75(2) of the Constitution.
The prime minister-led Union Council of Ministers collectively hold the real executive power in the Indian political system. This means that all executive actions are taken by the Council of Ministers, although in the name of the President. Hence, the President, the constitutional head of state, is the nominal executive. The Vice-President of India completes the executive branch of the Indian government.
Council of Ministers accountable to Lok Sabha
While the ministers in the council hold office during the pleasure of the president (which in real, means to the satisfaction of Council of Ministers), they are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. “Collective responsibility” means members of the Council of Ministers “follow an integrated policy, for which all of them accept responsibility and on which they stand or fall together," The Hindu noted in an op-ed written in 2000.
The idea of “collective responsibility” requires ministers to publicly support the decisions as a whole and show no disagreement with these decisions outside the meeting room. However, if a minister fundamentally disagrees with a decision, he or she can resign from the Council of Ministers. In the past, several ministers have resigned due to fundamental differences of opinion on key issues.
Since the Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, they must enjoy the support of the majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Otherwise, the Lower House of the Parliament could either initiate a no-confidence motion or defeat the Council of Ministers on a major issue of policy.
A member of the Council of Ministers needs to be a member of either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. Article 75(5) of the Indian Constitution demands that a newly sworn-in member of the Council of Ministers, if not already a Member of the Parliament, needs to enter the Parliament within six months. For instance, Nirmala Sitharaman was made a Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra Pradesh after she was made a minister in 2014. Eighteen ministers in the 16th Lok Sabha led by Modi belonged to the Rajya Sabha, including 12 Cabinet Ministers. The rest were Lok Sabha MPs.
After the 91st Amendment in 2003, the total number of ministers in the Council of Ministers cannot exceed 15 percent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. This implies that the total size of the Council of Ministers cannot exceed 81.
Modi had 71 members in the Council of Ministers for the 16th Lok Sabha. His predecessor Manmohan Singh began with 67 ministers in 2004 (14th Lok Sabha) and by the time he demitted office in 2014 (15th Lok Sabha), his Council of Ministers had increased to 78.
Cabinet ministers – the senior-most in the Council of Ministers
There are three ranks within the Indian Council of Ministers — Cabinet, Minister of State (Independent Charge) and Minister of State. The Cabinet rank is the senior-most in the Council of Ministers. Someone with a Cabinet rank is the overall in-charge of a ministry. There were 25 Cabinet rank ministers in the 16th Lok Sabha.
Interestingly, there was no mention of the word Cabinet in the original Constitution. The word was added during the 44th Amendment to the Constitution in 1978. Yet, the roles and powers of the Cabinet are not well-defined. Thus, the Cabinet’s role in Indian politics is more or less governed by parliamentary conventions of the Westminster system (parliamentary system of government developed in the United Kingdom).
The Union Cabinet is the top-most decision-making body within the Union Council of Ministers. In fact, there are a number of crucial committees, which are open to only Cabinet Ministers. Some of these committees include the Cabinet Committee on Security, Cabinet Committee on Appointments, Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs and Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
Perhaps, the most well-known committee is the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the prime minister. The Committee also consists of the top four Cabinet Ministers – Home, External Affairs, Defence and Finance.
Below the Cabinet rank ministers come Ministers of State (Independent Charge). These ministers independently handle a ministry and do not have a Cabinet Minister to oversee their work. In the Council of Ministers for the 16th Lok Sabha, several important portfolios like power, culture and tourism, labour, communications, etc, were handled by those with the rank of Minister of State (Independent Charge).
The lowest ranking minister in the Union Council of Ministers is the Minister of State. A Minister of State is a junior minister who serves under a Cabinet Minister. Often, major ministries like Home, Finance and External Affairs have more than one Ministers of State. For example, Kiren Rijiju and Hansraj Ahir are the two Ministers of State in the Home Ministry headed by Rajnath Singh. While Ministers of State (Independent Charge) of key ministries are often called for Cabinet meetings, this is not the case for those with a rank of Minister of State.
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Updated Date: May 28, 2019 17:38:40 IST