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Analysing the situation of dissolving of government by the Council of Ministers

June 04, 2021
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This article is written by Harsha C.

Abstract

The Constitution of India provides for a Council of Ministers, with the Prime Minister as its head. The President of India exercises his authority on the advice of the Council of Ministers. In the Parliamentary form of Government, the President is the nominal head of the State and the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister is the real executive head of the State. Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that, “The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People” (or Lok Sabha). This means that, if the ministry loses the confidence of the ‘Lok Sabha’, all ministers including those, who are from Rajya Sabha have to go. The entire ministry is obliged to resign. This means that, ministers fall and stand together. This is called “Rule of Collective Responsibility” further ‘individual responsibility” means that individual minister holds the office during the pleasure of the President. It means, that this is a ‘powerful tool of the President in the hands of the Prime Minister. Losing confidence of the Prime Minister leads to dismissal by the President. 

This article finds and analyses the extent of responsibility of ministers and times government has fallen due to collective responsibility, no confidence, coalition governments.

Introduction

The Council of Ministers has a very close relationship with the Parliament. Thus, each member of the Council of Ministers, being a member of the either House of Parliament, actively participates in the proceeding of the Parliament.

He is liable for defending the policies of the government in general and his Ministry in particular. He cannot take shelter on the plea that he has been misguided by civil servants of his Ministry. He also cannot criticise his civil servants on the floor of the House, because they are not there to defend themselves.

The Parliament in turn controls the Council of Ministers in many ways. It checks its activities by putting questions, rejecting the Bills initiated by the Minister, by way of moving adjournment motions and ultimately by moving a vote of no-confidence against the government.

In the history of the Indian Parliament, many times votes of no-confidence have been moved against “the Council of Ministers, however, it was only in 1979 that for the first time such a motion was carried out.

This time the motion was moved by the leader of the opposition Y.B. Chavan and due to political defections in the Janata Party, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai resigned from his office.

The Council of Ministers has a very close relationship with the Parliament. Thus, each member of the Council of Ministers, being a member of the either House of Parliament, actively participates in the proceeding of the Parliament.

He is liable for defending the policies of the government in general and his Ministry in particular. He cannot take shelter on the plea that he has been misguided by civil servants of his Ministry. He also cannot criticise his civil servants on the floor of the House, because they are not there to defend themselves.

This article tries to find the extent of liability of ministers to government and governments’ liability to people. 

It provides an opportunity for the government to defend its policies and programmes. However, a vote of no-confidence against the government can also have its own repercussions, because if the government feels that it is likely to be defeated on the floor of the Lok Sabha, then instead of resigning, it may request the President to dissolve the House.

This is what happened in 1979, when the then Prime Minister Choudhary Charan Singh, knowing that Congress (I) had withdrawn its support from the government and that was not likely to survive, not only resigned however also advised the President to dissolve the House. 

Since in India there is a system of joint and collective responsibility, therefore, what the President is supposed to know is the decision of the Council of Ministers as a whole. He is not bound to accept the advice of any single Minister. The decisions of the Council of Ministers are, of course, communicated to him through the Prime Minister.

It was this right to information that created a rift between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Giani Zail Singh. The latter had a grudge that the former was not keeping him fully informed regarding the affairs of the state. The differences were thus wide that the President once threatened to dismiss the government, although the Prime Minister enjoyed the confidence of the Lok Sabha.

In India, a very difficult situation about his right to dismiss a member of the Council of Ministers was created by President Zail Singh. During the last months of his office, the President felt irritated regarding some of the criticisms made by prof. K.K. Tiwari, a Minister in the Council of Ministers headed by Rajiv Gandhi. He had thus earned President’s dissatisfaction. 

The annoyance was so deep that the President advised the Prime Minister drop him from the Council of Ministers or otherwise he will dismiss him on his own.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Prime Minister dropped prof. Tiwari from his Council of Ministers and thus the crisis was averted. Had the Prime Minister not dropped prof. Tiwari, the crisis have perhaps taken a distinct turn and a new precedent would have been set in the parliamentary history of India. 

There is no fixed strength of the Council of Ministers in the Constitution. It is, however, preferred that the total strength of the Council of Ministers should not exceed 1/10 of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. It is so felt on account of two important reasons. Firstly, that otherwise administrative expenditure will become too heavy because each Minister is to be provided several facilities and infrastructure.

Though as compared with the Council of Ministers, the cabinet is a small body, yet in several cases, it’s felt that it’s also an unwieldy body for taking any effective and quick decisions. Moreover, the Prime Minister sometimes feels that it shall not be expedient for him to disclose his mind on some far-reaching political issues in the presence of all his cabinet colleagues.

It is also feared that in the presence of so many persons if a secret is disclosed that can also travel outside the cabinet and the very purpose of taking quick and sudden decisions is lost.

Therefore, usually, a prime Minister has three or four trusted colleagues in whom he can lay faith and with whom he honestly discusses each political problem. This has come to be referred to as an inner cabinet or some time as a ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ where decisions are just cooked and placed before the cabinet or Council of Ministers for its approval. 

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 can form the Council of Ministers. Of course, technically the Ministers too will be appointed by the President, however on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Each Minister must be a member of either House of Parliament at the time of his appointment, however, 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, however, there is practically no choice with him however 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 manner he likes, however, 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 check that all regions of the country get correct representation. Although usually there is no issue regarding it, yet sometimes a problem arises when a particular political party sweeps at the polls however not in a particular part of the country.

It is also to be seen that all religions in the country are properly represented. Of course, India is a secular state, however, the fact remains that there are religious minorities in the country that can in no manner be unnoticed. If it is desired that these should significantly contribute to national growth and development, it is equally essential that these ought to 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.

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’s 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 can form the government.

When a political party, in order to consolidate its position or to have a majority in a bid to form government engineers defections, it rewards the defectors by making their leaders as Ministers, thus increasing the strength of the Council of Ministers.

It is the 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.

Working Principles of Council of Ministers

As regards the working principles of the Council of Ministers, the primary and foremost principle is the leadership of the Prime Minister. All his colleagues in the Council of Minister should accept his leadership and that too without any reservation.

If someone in the cabinet or Council of Ministers does not feel like accepting his leadership, the only solution left for the Minister concerned is to gracefully leave his ministerial job, because there are many other ways open to the Prime Minister to shunt him out of the Council of Ministers.

His resignation can be called, he may be given a minor portfolio, that he might not wish to handle and thus leave the cabinet on his own, and he may be sacked by the President on the recommendations of the Prime Minister and so on.

Then another basic principle is that of joint and collective responsibility. The Council of Ministers as a full 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 Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency without consulting her cabinet. In 1962 at the time of Chinese aggression, Nehru wanted a 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 implies that the cabinet functions as a team. All major policy problems are decided by the cabinet as a whole before these are brought before the House. It’s open to every Minister to express his viewpoint when discussions behind the doors are going on. He has every right to differ and disagree.

It is another issue whether his viewpoint is appreciated or not by his colleagues. However 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 viewpoint on any issue on which the cabinet has taken a decision. Each Minister in the Parliament should leave an impression has that the cabinet is a united one body.

Then another feature of the system is that of maintaining secrecy. In cabinet meetings, several secret issues are discussed and disclosed. Each Minister receives many reports and documents on which he is needed to make decisions.

They initiate all important measures and ensure that these get through. They defend policies and programmes of the government and ensure those policy decisions once taken and approved by the House are implemented.

Vote of No-confidence

Centre Government in India

Three prime ministers who lost no-confidence motions in the past:

Janata dal politician VP Singh held the prime minister’s post from 1989 to 1990, his National Front coalition government propped up precariously by Left parties as well as the right-wing BJP in an effort to keep the Congress out of power. He managed to rule for just eleven months before the saffron party withdrew support over the Ram temple issue, causing the government to lose a no-confidence motion on November 10, 1990. Singh immediately handed over his resignation to President R Venkataraman.

The former prime minister lost the confidence motion by a vote of 142 to 346 in the Lok Sabha, with eight abstentions. His government required 261 votes to survive.

The Janata dal leader was propelled to prime ministership after the 1996 general elections, which dealt a decisive blow to the Congress however also left no other party with enough seats to form a government. That was when Gowda was chosen to lead the united front coalition government with Congress support on June 1, 1996, making him the 11th prime minister of India. However, his fall came almost as abruptly ten months later, when the Sitaram Kesri-led Congress withdrew its support. In a no-confidence motion taken up on April 11, 1997, Gowda’s 13-party coalition succeeded in bagging just 158 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP veteran faced two no-confidence motions through his tenures as prime minister, the primary of that his government lost by a single vote on April 17, 1999, after the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK withdrew support. A few other factors were responsible for his defeat, the most significant among them being the Bahujan Samaj Party’s surprise decision to vote against the government and the revolt of National Conference MP Saifuddin Soz. However, Vajpayee wasn’t done yet. He spearheaded the BJP back to power a few months later, and when the Opposition brought up another no-confidence motion against his government in 2003, it won by an overwhelming majority of 312 to 186 votes. 

State Government

It also includes the Chief Minister apparently because he is the head of this council. This implies that so long as the ministry enjoys the confidence of the council because it will hold office. However, the phrase is not as simple as it sounds and may lead to several complicated problems.

What happens when a Chief Minister and his party men are reduced to a minority in the legislature through defections? The Governor, in this case, can ask the C.M. to prove his strength on the floor of the Assembly. 

Theoretically, the Chief Minister holds office during the pleasure of the Governor. However, in actual practice, the Chief Minister remains in the office so long as he continues to be the leader of the majority in the State legislative assembly. The Governor can dismiss him in case he loses his majority support.

The State legislative assembly can also remove him by passing a vote of no-confidence against him. in this case, it’s also taken to be a vote of no-confidence against the entire Council of Ministers and it resigns forthwith.

Once appointed, a Chief Minister can remain in office for five years (which is the tenure of the State legislature Assembly). He can be appointed afresh after every election to the State legislative assembly if he continues to remain the leader of the majority in the Assembly. 

Kerala:

Uttar Pradesh:

Punjab:

In 1977, elections were again held in the state and this time also there was no coalition experiment in the real sense of the term. 

West Bengal:

Bihar:

Conclusion

Throughout my study I discovered that there were a number of arguments claiming the superiority of coalition governments. Coalition governments lead to more accordant politics meaning that a government with different ideologies would have to concur in regard to government policy. Another argument in favor of coalition governments suggests that it “Better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country” (www.americanchronicle.com) I believe this is a valid and important argument in favor of coalitions as single party governments.

It can be argued that coalitions aren’t very stable and often collapse and that they are unable to take a long-term view of proceedings within a country. I believe the positives of coalition governments outweigh the negatives by a long shot. I believe it is a fair to suggest that coalition governments create a more authentic and compelling political system. Coalitions are beneficial as the choices they make represent the majority in society. Issues will be debated on and thoroughly tested before any decision is made. In contrast single-party governments may be guilty of imposing bad policies that aren’t well structured or thought out. 

Coalition is good for ensuring no party is in power for too long and therefore no “adversarial political culture” develops as we see happening in countries where coalition governments do not occur frequently. All in all it is clear there are many pros and cons of a coalition working as a single party government in a country, in my opinion the merits of a coalition certainly outweigh the negative aspects of two or more parties working as a single-party government. 

Bibliography

  1. Council of Ministers and the Parliament | India (politicalsciencenotes.com)
  2. President and Council of Ministers | India (politicalsciencenotes.com)
  3. Difference between the Cabinet and Council of Ministers (politicalsciencenotes.com)
  4. Council of Ministers: Formation, Working Principles and Problems (politicalsciencenotes.com)
  5. Three prime ministers who lost no-confidence motions in the past | Hindustan Times
  6. Law regarding Dismissal of the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers of India (preservearticles.com)
  7. Chief Minister: Method of Appointment, Functions and Position (yourarticlelibrary.com)
  8. Essay on the Coalition Politics in India (indiaessays.com)

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