A prime ministerial form of government

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge of the office at PMO in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI Photo (PTI5_27_2014_000070B)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge of the office at PMO in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI Photo (PTI5_27_2014_000070B) | Photo Credit: PTI

During the first joint sitting of Parliament on June 9, President Pranab Mukherjee congratulated the people of India for a decisive mandate. In the last 30 years, because of fractured verdicts leading to the formation of coalition governments, plural power centres emerged that impacted the role of the Prime Minister. This also led to the erosion of the pre-eminent position of the Prime Minister.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned legitimacy from the people, independent of his constitutional and institutional power structure, and has built a direct rapport with them. Past experience shows that in our federal set-up, a Prime Minister with a national image can be more powerful than an individual who is identified with a region of the country. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi emerged as strong Prime Ministers. In this context it appears that with the victory of Mr. Modi, India has reached the stage of a prime ministerial government.

In Germany, the powerful position of the Chancellor diminishes the role of the cabinet. The prime ministerial government in Germany is called the “Chancellor Democracy.” The Chancellor answers to Parliament and the ministers answer to him/her. But the Indian Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament, to the people, and to his/her own party. The American president acts with the help of advisors, who sometimes overshadow the authority of the ministers.

At the heart of the Cabinet

Article 74(1) of our Constitution expressly states that the Prime Minister shall be “at the head” of the Council of Ministers and should aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions.

The Prime Minister is at the heart of the Cabinet. Under the Westminster model of government, policy formulation and decisions on important matters are the responsibilities of the ministers. Despite the constitutional provisions of the Westminster model of cabinet government in India, the Prime Minister is the undisputed chief of the executive.

The office of the Prime Minister first originated in England. William Harcourt calls him “luna inter stellas minores” or “A moon among lesser stars.” Dr. Ambedkar had once said that if any functionary under the Indian Constitution was to be compared with the U.S. President, he is the Prime Minister and not the President.

The twin objectives of the Prime Minster appears to be to grant greater autonomy to the States and have a centralised structure for governing the Union.

Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat for a period of nearly 13 years. However, in the case of the other five former Prime Ministers who had functioned as Chief Ministers , i.e., Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, P.V. Narasimha Rao and H.D. Deve Gowda, their tenures as Chief Minister were less than five years. Mr. Modi, because of his long tenure as Chief Minister, is of the view that it is only the progress of States that will strengthen the federal structure of the Constitution.

While addressing the BJP’s National Council meeting on January 26, Mr.Modi spoke at great length on the issue of Centre-State relations and stressed the need to give greater autonomy to the States.

Within 15 days of assuming office as Prime Minister, Mr.Modi has met a number of Chief Ministers and discussed the problems related to their State governments. He also made it clear that he will work to strengthen the federal structure of the country and has further instructed his office to prioritise issues raised by the States and with sensitivity.

The various measures initiated by Mr. Modi so far indicate that he is trying to establish an effective federalism in which national unity is strengthened, and democracy and people’s participation become more real. In S.R.Bommai vs Union ofIndia (1994), the Supreme Court ruled that the States have an independent constitutional existence and have as important a role to play in the political, social, educational and cultural life of the people as the Union does.

A centralised structure of governance in which the leader has a strong control over decision-making would work best for India. A government headed by a dynamic, efficient and strong Prime Minister who can wield enormous powers by virtue of his personality, is described as a prime ministerial form of government.

Instructions to ministers

Mr.Modi has set a deadline of 100 days for all his ministers to chart out a course of action, and has also circulated a list of “do’s and don’ts” among them. It is also reported that he would meet all the ministers and department secretaries individually for ideas and feedback. He has asked ministers to communicate with the public extensively and carefully, and use social media effectively. He has asked all the ministers in his cabinet to submit to him the details of their assets, liabilities and business interests within two months.

He has also directed the ministers to sever all connections with businesses in which they had interests before being appointed ministers. These directives have been incorporated in the code of conduct for ministers issued by the Home Ministry after the government took charge.

All this shows that India is heading towards a prime ministerial form of government.

(K.Subramanian is senior advocate and former advocate-general of Tamil Nadu.)

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2022 11:51:46 pm |