Category : UPSC





Contents of the Chapter

  • Power and position of President
  • Discretionary Power of the President
  • President’s role in Choosing the Prime Minister
  • The Vice President of India
  • Size of the Council of Ministers




In any organisation, some office holder has to take decisions and implement those decisions. We call this activity administration or management. But administration requires body at the top that will take policy decisions or the big decisions and supervise and coordinate the routine administrative functioning. You may have heard about the executives of bi companies, banks or industrial units. Every formal group has a body of those who function as the chief administrators or the executives of that organisation. Some office holders decide the policies and rules and regulations and then some office holders implement those decisions in actual day to-day functioning of the organisation. The word executive means a body of persons that look after the implementation of rules and regulations in actual practice.


In the case of government also, one body may take policy decisions and decide about rules and regulations, while the other one would be in charge of implementing those rules. The organ government that primarily looks after the function of implementation and administration is called the executive.


Executive is the branch of government responsible for the implementation of laws an policies adopted by the legislature. The executive is often involved in framing of policy. The official designations of the executive vary from country to country. Some countries have presidents/ while others have chancellors.


The executive branch is not just about presidents, prime ministers and ministers. It also extends to the administrative machinery (civil servants). While the heads government and their ministers, saddled with the overall responsibility of government policy, altogether known as the political executive, those responsible for day to day administration a called the permanent executive.



Every country may not have the same type of executive. You may have heard about the President of the USA and the Queen of England. But the powers and functions of the President of the USA are very different from the powers of the President of India. Similarly, the powers of the Queen of England are different from the powers of the King of Nepal. Both India and France have prime ministers, but their roles are different from each other


To answer this question we will briefly outline the nature of executive existing in some of these countries. The USA has a presidential system and executive powers are in the hands of the president. Canada has a parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy where Queen Elizabeth It is the formal chief of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. In France, both the president and the prime minister a part of the semi presidential system.


The president appoints the prime minister as well as the ministers but cannot dismiss them as they are responsible to the parliament. Japan has a parliamentary system with the Emperor as the head of the state and the prime minister as the head of government. Italy has a parliamentary system with the president as the formal head of state and the prime minister as the head of government. Russia has a semi-presidential system where president is the head of state and prime minister, who is appointed by the president, is the head of government. Germany I has a parliamentary system in which president is the ceremonial head of state and the chancellor is the head of government. In a. presidential system, the president is the Head of state as well as head of Government. In this system the office of president is very powerful, both in theory and practice. Countries with such a system include the United States, Brazil and most nations in Latin America.


In a parliamentary system, the prime minister is the head of government. Most parliamentary systems have a president or a monarch who is the nominal Head of state. In such a system, the role of president or monarch is primarily ceremonial and prime minister along with the cabinet wields effective power. Countries with such system include Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom as well as Portugal. A semi-presidential system has both a president and a prime minister but unlike the parliamentary system the president may possess significant day-to-day powers. In this system, it is possible that sometimes the president and the prime minister may belong to the same party and at times they may belong to two different parties and thus, would be opposed to each other. Countries with such a system include France, Russia, Sri Lanka, etc.



When the Constitution of India was written, India already had some experience of running the parliamentary system under the Acts of 1919 and 1935. This experience had shown that in the parliamentary system, the executive can be effectively controlled by the representative or the people. The markers of the Indian Constitution wanted to ensure that the government would be sensitive to public expectations and would be sensitive to public expectations and would be responsible and accountable, The other alternative to the parliamentary executive was the presidential form of government. But the presidential executive puts much emphasis on the president as the chief executive and as source of all executive power. There is always the danger of personality cult in presidential executive. The makers of the Indian Constitution wanted a government that would have a strong executive branch, but at the same time, enough safeguards should be there to check against the personality cult. In the parliamentary form there are many mechanisms that ensure that the executive will be answerable to and controlled by the legislature or people’s representatives. So the Constitution adopted the parliamentary system of executive for the governments both at the national and State levels.


Power and position of President

Article 74 (1): 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. Provided require the Council of Minister to reconsider such advise and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.


According to this system, there is a President who is the formal Head of the state of India and the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, which run the government at the national level. At the State level, the executive comprises the Governor and the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers. The Constitution of India vests the executive power of the Union formally in the President. In reality, the President exercises these powers through the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The President is elected for a period of five years. But there is no direct election by the people for the office of President. The President is elected indirectly. This means that the president is elected not by the ordinary citizens but by the elected MLAs and MPs. This election takes place in accordance with the principle of proportional representation with single transferable vote.


The President can be removed from office only by Parliament by following the procedure for impeachment. The only ground for impeachment is violation of the Constitution.


Do you know what the word shall means here? It indicates that the advice is binding on the President. In view of the controversy about the scope of the President's powers, a specific mention was made in the Constitution by an amendment that the advice of the Council of Ministers will be binding on the President. By another amendment made later, it was decided that the President can ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider its advice but, has to accept the reconsidered advice of the Council of Ministers.


We have already seen that President is the formal head of the government. In this formal sense, the President has wide ranging executive, legislative. Judicial and emergency powers. In a parliamentary system, these powers are in reality used by the President only on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers have support of the majority in the Lok Sabha and they are the real executive. In most of the cases, the President has to follow the advice of the Council of Ministers.


“We did not give him any real power but we have made his position one of authority and dignity. The constitution wants to create neither a real executive nor a mere figurehead, but a head that neither reigns nor governs; it wants to create a great figurehead..”


Discretionary Powers of the President

The President has no discretionary power under any circumstances? This will be an incorrect assessment. Constitutionally, the President has a right to be informed of all important matters and deliberations of the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister is obliged to furnish all the information that the President may call for. The President often writes to the Prime Minister and expresses his views on matters confronting the country.


President’s role in Choosing the Prime Minister

After 1977, party politics in India became more competitive and there have been many instances when no party had clear majority in the Lok Sabha. What does the President do in such situations? No politi-cal party or coalition secured majority in the elections held in March 1998. The BJP and its allies secured 251 seats, 21 short of a majority. President Narayanan adopted an elaborate procedure. He asked the leader of the alliance, Atal Behari Vajpayee, “to furnish documents in support of his claim from concerned political parties.” Not stopping at this the President also advised Vajpayee to secure a vote of confidence within ten days of being sworn in.


Besides this, there are at least three situations where the President can exercise the powers using his or her own discretion. In the first place, we have already noted that the President can send back the advice given by the Council of Ministers, and ask the Council to reconsider the decision. In doing this, the President acts on his (or her) own discretion. When the President thinks that the advice has certain flaws or legal lacunae, or that it is not in the best interests of the country, the President can ask the Council to reconsider the decision. Although, the Council can still send back the same advice and the President would then be - bound by that advice, such a request by the President to reconsider the decision, would naturally carry a lot of weight. So, this is one way in which the president can act in his own discretion.


Secondly, the President also has veto power by which he can withhold or refuse to give assent to Bills (other than Money Bill) passed by the Parliament. Every bill passed by the Parliament goes to the President for his assent before it becomes a law. The President can send the bill back to the Parliament asking it to reconsider the bill. This ‘veto’ power is limited because, if the Parliament passes the same bill again and sends it back to the President, then, the President has to give assent to that bill. However, there is no mention in the Constitution about the time limit within which the President must send the bill back for reconsideration. This means that the President can just keep the bill pending with him without ally tin limit This gives the ‘President an informal power to use the veto in a very effective manner This is sometimes referred to as ‘pocket veto’.


We saw that there is no time limit on the President for giving his assent to a bill. Do you know that such a thing has already happened? In-1986, the Parliament passed a bill known as Indian Post office (amendment) bill. This bill was widely criticised by many for it sought to curtail the freedom of the press.


The then President, Gyani Zail Singh, did not, take any decision on this bill. After his term was over, the next President, Venkataraman sent the bill finally back to the Parliament for reconsideration. By that time, the government that brought the bill before the Parliament had changed and a new government was elected in 1989. This government belonged to a different coalition and did not bring the bill back before the Parliament. Thus, Zail Singh's decision to postpone giving assent to the bill effectively meant that the bill could never become a law!


Then, the third kind of discretion arises more out of political circumstances. Formally, the President appoints the Prime Minister. Normally, in the parliamentary system, a leader who has the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha would be appointed as Prime Minister and the question of discretion would not arise. But imagine a situation when after an election, no leader has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. Imagine further that after attempts to forge alliances, two or three leaders are claiming that they have the support of the majority in the house. Now, the President has to decide whom to appoint as the Prime Minister. In such a situation, the President has to use his own discretion in judging who really may have the support of the majority or who can actually form and run the government.


The Vice President of India

The Vice President is elected for five years. His election method is similar to that of the President, the only difference is that members of State legislatures are not part of the electoral college. The Vice President may be removed from his office by a resolution of the Rajya Sabha passed by a majority and agreed to by the Lok            Sabha. The Vice President acts as the ex-officio considerably increased the importance of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and takes over the office of the President when there is a vacancy by reasons of death, resignation, removal by impeachment or otherwise. The Vice President only until a new President is elected, B. D. Jatti acted as President on the death of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed until a new President was elected.


Since 1989 major political changes have presidential office. In the four parliamentary elections held from 1989 to 1998, no single party or coalition attained a majority in the Lok acts as the President Sabha. These situations demanded presidential intervention either in order to constitute, governments or to grant a request for dissolution of Lok Sabha a Prime Minister who could not prove majority in the House. It may thus be said that presidential discretion is related to political conditions. There is greater scope for presidential assertiveness when governments are not stable and coalitions occupy power.


For the most part, the President is a formal power holder and a ceremonial head of the - nation. You may wonder why then do we need a President? In a parliamentary system, the Council of Ministers is dependent on the support of the majority in the legislature. This also means that the Council of Ministers may be removed at any time and a new Council of Ministers will have to be put in place. Such a situation requires a Head of the state who has a fixed term, who may be empowered to appoint the Prime Minister and who may symbolically represent the entire country. This is exactly the role of the President in ordinary circumstances. Besides, when no party has a clear majority, the President has the additional responsibility of making a choice and appointing the Prime Minister to run the government of the country.


Size of the Council of Ministers

Before the 91st Amendment Act (2003), the size of the Council of Minister was determined according to exigencies of time and requirements of the situation. But this led to very large size of the Council of Ministers. Besides, when no party had a clear majority, there was a temptation to win over the support of the members of the Parliament by giving them ministerial positions as there was no restriction on the number of the members of the Council of Ministers. This was happening in many States also. Therefore, an amendment was made that the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 percent of total number of members of the House of People (or Assembly the case of the States).




No discussion of government or politics in India, would normally take place without mentioning one office: the Prime Minister of India. The President exercises his powers only on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is headed by the Prime Minister. Therefore, as head of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister becomes the most important functionary of the government in our country.


In the parliamentary form of executive, it is essential that the Prime Minister has the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha. This support by the majority also makes the Prime Minister very powerful. The moment this support of the majority is lost, the Prime Minister loses the office. For many years after independence, the Congress party had the majority in the Lok Sabha and its leader would become the Prime Minister. Since 1989, there have been many occasions when no party had majority in the Lok Sabha. Various political parties have come together and formed a coalition that has majority in the House. In such situations, a leader who is acceptable to most partners of the coalition becomes the Prime Minister.


Formally, a leader who has the support of the majority is appointed by the President as Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then decides who will be the ministers in the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister allocates ranks and portfolios to the ministers. Depending upon the seniority and political importance, the ministers are given the ranks of cabinet minister, minister of State or deputy minister. In the same manner. Chief Ministers of the States choose ministers from their own party or coalition. The Prime Minister and all the ministers have to be members of the Parliament. If someone becomes a minister or Prime Minister without being an MP, such a person has to get elected to the Parliament within six months. But remember that the most important feature of parliamentary executive is that the executive is routinely under the control and supervision of the legislature.


The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. This provision means that a Ministry which loses confidence of the Lok Sabha is obliged to resign. The principle indicates that the ministry is an executive committee of the Parliament and it collectively governs on behalf of the Parliament. Collective responsibility is based on the principle of the solidarity of the cabinet. It implies that a vote, of no confidence even against a single minister leads to the resignation of the entire Council of Ministers. It also indicates that if a minister does not agree with a policy or decision of the cabinet, he or she must either accept the decision or resign. It is binding o all ministers to pursue or agree to a policy for which there is collective responsibility. In India, the Prime Minister enjoys a pre-eminent place in the government. The Council of Ministers cannot exist without the Prime Minister. The Council comes into existence only after the Prime Minister has taken the oath of office. The death or resignation of the. Prime Minister automatically brings about the dissolution of the demise, dismissal or resignation of a minister only creates a ministerial vacancy. The Prime Minister acts as a link between the Council of Ministers on the one hand and the President as well as the Parliament on the other. It is this role of the Prime Minister which led Pt. Nehru to describe him as he linchpin of Government’. It is also the constitutional obligation the Prime Minister to communicate to the President all decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation. The Prime Minister is involved in all crucial decisions of the government and decides on the policies of the government.


Thus, the power wielded by the Prime Minister flows from various sources: control over the Council of Ministers, leadership of the Lok Sabha, command over the bureaucratic machine, access to media, projection of personalities during elections, projection as national leader during international summitry as well as foreign visits. However, the power which the Prime Minister wields and actually puts into use depends upon the prevailing political conditions. The position of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers has been unassailable whenever a single political party has secured majority in the Lok Sabha. However, this has not been the case when governments have been led by coalitions of political parties. Since 1989, we have witnessed many coalition governments in India. Many of these governments could not remain in power for the full term of the Lok Sabha. They were either removed or they resigned due to loss of support of the majority. These developments have affected the working of the parliamentary executive.


In the first place, these developments have resulted in a growing discretionary role of the President in the selection of Prime Ministers. Secondly, the coalitional nature of Indian politics in this period has necessitated much more consultation between political partners, leading to erosion of prime ministerial authority. Thirdly, it has also brought restrictions on various prerogatives of the, Prime Minister like choosing the ministers and deciding their ranks and portfolios. Fourthly, even the policies and programmes of the government cannot be decided by the Prime Minister alone. Political parties of different ideologies come together both as pre-poll and post-poll allies to form a government. Policies are framed after a lot of negotiations and compromises among the allies. In this entire process, the Prime Minister has to act more as a negotiator than as leader of the government. At the State level, a similar parliamentary executive exists, though with some variations. The most important variation is that there is a Governor of the State appointed by the President (on the advice of the central government). Though the Chief Minister, like the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the Assembly, the Governor has more discretionary powers. However, the main principles of parliamentary system operate at the State level too.


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