11 Duties of the Prime Minister of India

The powers of the Prime Minister are enormous and his authority is onerous. He has been rightly termed as the ‘key-stone of the Cabinet-arch’ ‘a moon amongst the lesser stars’ or ‘a sun around whom ministers revolve like planets’. He is likened to the Prime Minister of England whose powers are over-whelming. The under mentioned functions of the Prime Minister portray the magnitude of his authority.

Duties of the Prime Minister of India

1. Forms the Government:

The Constitution specifically provides that the President shall appoint the ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. Prior to the passage of 42nd Amendment Act 1976, his advice used to be accepted by the President, inconsonance with conventions of a parliamentary democracy. 

The President cannot thrust his own choice on an unwilling Prime Minister. It is the latter who is to constitute a team, which should work with him smoothly. He may include or exclude anybody from his Cabinet. Pandit Nehru included such individuals. His Cabinet included Dr. John Mathai, an industrialist, C. D. Deshmukh, a retired I.C.S., C.C. Biswas, retired judge of Calcutta High Court, G. Aiyyanger, K.C. Niyogi and T.T. Krishnamachari former Dewans of the old native states.

V.K. Krishna Menon rightly remarked on the earlier cabinets of Pt. Nehru, “Perhaps it would be wrong to call them composite cabinets but they certainly contained persons who were not Congress party members or even if they were, were new entrants. Those cabinets may therefore be regarded as more formal.” Though there are no constitutional restrictions on his choice, yet P.M’s. hands are fettered to some extent, by party compulsions, geographical considerations, and due representation to the various communities inhabiting our land. The personal likes and dislikes also matter.

A strong Prime Minister may not like to be led by party high command or dictated by any extraneous consideration. To quote a few illustrations Mrs. Gandhi had in the past appointed Ch. Bansi Lal, once considered strong man of Haryana as the Defence Minister and G.S. Dhillon, Speaker of the Lok Sabha as the Cabinet Minister.

Next time she showed special consideration for Rao Birendra Singh, once Chief Minister of Haryana and Chairman of the Vishal Haryana Party and Giani Zail Singh ex Chief Minister of Punjab. Her illustrious son Mr. Rajiv Gandhi included in his Cabinet Ch. Bansilal and Sh. K.C. Pant who had suffered an eclipse earlier. Likewise Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister or his successors Deve Gowda and I.K. Gurjral had constituted their Council of Ministers.

However the hands of the latter two P.Ms were fettered as they had to appease 13 constituents which had formed United Front and were keen to have men of their choice in the Council of Ministers. A.B. Vajpayee leading NDA held the reins of the coalition ministry effectively but his hands also were clipped to quite a great extent. Certain ministers were to be taken as they were the choices of the coalition partners. Likewise Dr. Manmohan Singh P.M., heading UPA Government—a coalition, even in the second tenure could not keep out the ministers recommended by his coalition partners.

Even Parliament session remained stalled for many days, on account of opposition’s displeasure over the inclusion of certain ministers whom they chose to call ‘tainted’ ministers. In these cases both the P.M.s in succession at times happened to be helpless as the coalitional exigencies so necessitated it.

2. Allocation of Portfolios:

The Prime Minister allocates portfolios to the individual Minister according to his choice. He is empowered to review the allocation of offices among his colleagues, from time to time. Though the Prime Minister possesses discretionary authority to assign portfolios yet important party whips must get portfolios of substantial importance, otherwise they would not accept the offices of insignificant nature.

For instance, Morarji Desai resigned when Mrs. Indira Gandhi, as the Prime Minister, deprived him of finance portfolio. However, very rarely, the assignment is declined as it may mean end of political career or at least its eclipse for times to come. After March, 1977 elections Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister assigned portfolios to the Ministers as he wished.

Nobody could question Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s shuffling of her pack as she pleased after January, 1980 elections. Rajiv Gandhi also changed portfolios of ministers very often. For instance N.D. Tewari was earmarked external affairs and Shiv Shankar was entrusted commerce. Sometimes later, Natwar Singh was allocated External Affairs portfolio. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao believed in occasional change of portfolios though with caution.

Later I.K. Gujral the Prime Minister supported by a coalition of 13 parties and banking upon outside support of Congress retained the CoM constituted by Deve Gowda his predecessor. However to Jaipal Reddy of Janata Dal, he entrusted Information and broad-casting ministry. A.B. Vajpayee who led NDA found his hands fettered while allocating portfolios due to pulls and pressures of coalitional parties. Jaswant Singh said to be the Front runner for Finance portfolio was not included in the Cabinet due to R.S.S. axe on him. Instead Yashwant Sinha a former bureaucrat was allocated this key portfolio L.K. Advani President BJP got Home. Samata Party President George Fernandes was earmarked Defence whereas Prime Minister himself kept External Affairs.

Choice of nominees of each coalition partner and also the portfolio allocated to them to a great extent speaks of compulsion of coalitional politics. The PM’s hands remained fettered due to undue pressures of all powerful coalition partners viz., AIADMK, Lok Shakti, Akali Dal and extra constitutional centre of authority RSS. The present incumbent—P.M. Dr. Manmohan Singh is no exception. Certain portfolios were specifically asked for by some ministers. For example Mamata Banjerjee in the second UPA tenure persistently asked for Railways and got it.

3. Shuffling of his Pack:

The Prime Minister can shuffle his pack as he pleases. As a captain of the team and head of the administration, he can drop out any of his colleagues if in his opinion the presence of such a colleague is detrimental to policy of the Government. If difference of opinion between him and any minister arises, it is the latter who quits. He can demand his resignation. In the 1st UPA Government, Shibu Soren a JMM Party leader had to resign on the P.Ms’ asking due to an old case reopened against him. In August, 2006 External Affairs minister was ousted.

Later M.S. Gill was appointed Minister of Sports in place of Manishanker Iyer, keeping in view Common Wealth Games, 2010, Besides Young Turks like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Minister of State Communication and Jatin Prasad Minister of Steel were inducted in the CoM. In the recent past Dr. Manmohan Singh changed the portfolios of certain ministers, e.g., Ajay Makan replaced H.S. Gill as Sport Minister. Kapil Sibal was given additional charge of A. Raja’s portfolio of Telecom as the latter was involved in 2G Spectrum scam.

If a minister is reluctant to resign, on his own accord, he can dismiss him or eliminate him by formulating a new ministry and excluding his name from it. According to the letter of law, dismissal of the minister can take place by the President though on the advice of the Prime Minister. But this is a mere formality. Dr. Ambedkar said “……….. No person shall be retained as a member of the Cabinet, if the Prime Minister says that he shall be dismissed. It is only when members of the Cabinet both in the matter of their appointment as well as in the matter of their dismissal are placed under the Prime Minister that it would be possible to realize our ideal of collective responsibility…” It may however, be pointed out that dismissal is a very harsh step. Hence, generally, that may not be resorted to.

Reconstituting the Cabinet and excluding the undesirable minister or elevating him to Governorship or ambassadorship are the methods which may be adopted by a Prime Minister. “A Minister who becomes a round peg in a square hole may be kicked upstairs to cosier atmosphere, a governorship or ambassadorship.” Mrs. Shanmukhan Chetty, John Mathai, S.P. Mukherji, K.C. Neogy, C.H. Bhabha, M.L. Sexena, V.V. Giri, Dr. Ambedkar, C.D. Desmukh, M.C. Chagla and Morarji Desai had to resign as they could not pull on well with the Prime Minister. Dr. Ambedkar correctly observed. “The Prime Minister is really the keystone of the arch of the Cabinet and unless and until we create that office and endow that office with statutory authority to nominate and dismiss Ministers, there can be no collective responsibility.”

In November, 1980 Kamlapati Tripathi tendered his resignation which was readily accepted. On July 19, 1984 the Cabinet was reshuffled. P.V. Narasimha Rao was shifted to Home Ministry whereas P.S. Sethi was deprived of Home portfolio and entrusted Planning. S.B. Chavan was made Minister without portfolio. Rajiv Gandhi, dropped some of the stalwarts of her Cabinet and inducted those who had suffered disgrace at her hands. He dropped once a strongman and a close ally—Arun Nehru from his Cabinet. Rao Birendra Singh was axed earlier, G.S. Dhillon was dropped in reshuffle done on February 14, 1988.

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao also dropped some of the Ministers whom he considered non performing type or who were directly linked with scam or scandal. Deve Gowda heading a coalition of 13 parties and as such comparatively weaker Prime Minister also reshuffled his pack on June 28 and again on July 5, 1996. I.K. Gujral, during his brief tenure could hardly pluck courage to do so. Both Deva Gowda and I.K. Gujral heading coalitional CoMs could not act as strong Prime Ministers as they had to bank upon the support of coalition partners and also outside support of Congress which was ultimately withdrawn.

A.B. Vajpayee also headed a coalition. Hence the coalition partners were treated tactfully. Coalitional politics fetters P.M.’s hands considerably. Dr. Manmohan Singh heading UPA Government shuffled his pack on October 25, 2006 in his first tenure and again in the recent past in his second tenure as well. Remours are afloat for another reshuffle.

4. Chairman of the Cabinet:

As a Chairman of the Cabinet, the P.M. presides over the meetings of the Cabinet and determines what business is to be transacted in these meetings. In case of difference of opinion amongst the ministers in the meetings of the Cabinet, he can impose his decision. He controls the agenda of the Cabinet meetings. He may accept or reject proposals for Cabinet discussions.

A comparative study of functioning of Prime Ministers during the last decades reveals that the Prime Minister can impose his will on the ministers and effectively control the Cabinet meetings only if he commands stable majority at his back and has equation with the high command of the Party. Prime Ministers heading coalitions have been comparatively more ineffective and more non assertive in the Cabinet meetings. An Editorial so commented “More than his predecessor Mr. Deve Gowda, Mr. Gujral gave the impression of having been a back-seat driven Prime Minister.

5. Coordinator:

The Prime Minister is the chief coordinator of government business. He is to coordinate the activities of several heads of departments and various ministers. He is to see that the Governmental mechanism works harmoniously. Due to the rapid growth of the activities of the State, the functions of the Government have got multiplied considerably. Hence, the head of the Government is to share his burden with his trusted colleagues. Co-ordination is done through various committees of the Cabinet and not the Prime Minister alone. A general supervision of the departments is still done by him. The departmental heads invariably consult him in all major and minor matters.

6. Leader of the Lok Sabha:

The Prime Minister of India is a leader of the Lok Sabha unlike that of England, where the Prime Minister designates another colleague as the leader of the House in order to lessen his onerous burden of responsibilities, though the ultimate responsibility still rests with the Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister makes all important policy announcements.

All questions on critical and baffling issues are addressed to him. He initiates and leads in the debates of a general nature. He shields his colleagues on the floor of the House, for their errors of omission and commission. He assists the speaker in maintaining order and discipline in the House. He keeps liaison with the opposition parties so that the areas of disagreement are removed as much as possible.

In the words of Kaul, the Prime Minister “exercises direct influence on the course of business. The whole policy of the Government and measures dealing with the course of its business is concentrated in his person.

7. Link between the President and the Cabinet:

He is the chief link between the President and the Cabinet. He communicates to the President all decisions of the Cabinet, relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation. He is to furnish such information to the President, as and when the latter asks for.

The President may require him to submit for the consideration of the Council any matter on which a decision was taken by an individual minister. The critics are of the view that Rajiv Gandhi did not take President Giant Zail Singh in his confidence for many matters that transpired between him and the Cabinet. Prime Ministers Narsimha Rao, Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral have been showing proper protocol by keeping in touch with President Dr. S.D. Sharma. I.K. Gujral has been a frequent visitor of Rashtrapati Bhavan during his brief tenure as Prime Minister. A.B. Vajpayee also has been following the tradition and so is the case with the present incumbent—Dr. Manmohan Singh.

8. Makes Major Appointments:

He exercises vast patronage in the matter of appointments. In reality, all major appointments viz., Governors, ambassadors, members of Public Service Commission etc. etc. are made by him, though in the name of the President of India. He may consult his colleagues if he so wishes. Likewise some of the removals are effected through him.

Rajiv Gandhi appointed Arjun Singh—a leader of the masses as Governor of Punjab to help solve ticklish Punjab problem in most turbulent times in the history of our country. The latter was instrumental in Rajiv-Longowal Punjab Accord. I.K. Gujral during his short tenure is said to have done maximum in accommodating his friends in high assignments. A journalist assessing the tenure of Gujral commented “The only thing that would outlive Mr. Gujral will be the army of friends whom he had put in different positions of office for terms more lasting than his own…”

9. Spokesman of Government Policy:

He is the chief spokesman of the Government on all matters of domestic and foreign policy. His role in shaping general policy is decisive. He represents India in various International and Commonwealth conferences. Jawaharlal was a frequent visitor of foreign countries for various international agreements and treaties.

Indira Gandhi did not lag behind in this respect. She has been hailed like her father as cultural ambassador of the spiritual East to the material West. She has been described by the foreign journalists, as a soft dove symbolizing peace with sharp claws. Rajiv Gandhi was also doing commendable work in cementing India’s relations with the foreign countries. He has left indelible stamp on the NAM and erstwhile Soviet Russian block.

In the initial stage, Reagan’s administration was also impressed by his visit to USA. His role in stabilizing SAARC cannot be under-estimated. Narasimha Rao espoused policy of liberalisation and privatization to bring country out of economic destitution. Gujral doctrine has been widely appreciated by the South Asian countries and also the West. He has been a powerful spokesman for smooth relations between India and Pakistan and also among SAARC countries.

P.M. Vajpayee made historic declaration of triple nuclear explosion at Pokhran on May 11, 1998. Dr. Manmohan Singh recently announced that his government will enact a National Employment Guarantee Act to provide at least 100 days of employment to one adult in the family. As a forceful spokesman of Indians aspiration to be a global power, he has made impact in USA, erstwhile USSR, UK and France.

10. Leader of the Nation:

The Prime Minister is not only the leader of the majority party or head of the government, but he is also the leader of the nation. He is to shape the destiny of the nation. It is said “when he speaks, the Nation has spoken”. The first three General Elections have been in reality the elections of Prime Minister.

The slogan on the occasion of General Election was “Vote for the Congress and strengthen the hands of Nehru”. K.R. Srinivasan Iyengar, writing on “Prime Minister”, said, “when he enters an Assembly, be it a Select Committee or a mass rally, the effect is invariably the same. All eyes converge towards him, all hands clap in eager affectionate welcome as if to a preordained tune, and in hushed expectancy watch his intrepid movements and strain to catch his words and whispers. The men are a little out of breath, the women are almost oven whelmed”. Jawaharlal Nehru, and Lal Bahadur Shastri, proved mirror of public opinion by their speeches.

The nation listened to them with rapt attention. Nehru, in particular, was the personification of Indian Nation. His illustrious daughter Mrs. Indira Gandhi excelled her father in certain respects.

The nation extolled her to mystical heights by giving her massive vote in the mid-term and later General Elections. She symbolized the Indian nation which considered her as a beacon-light in the hour of dismay and distress. She led the nation successfully when Pakistan challenged our territorial integrity. She was hailed as the leader of the masses. Her massive victory, after crushing defeat in 1977 stood witness to the fact that she had not failed to captivate hearts of teeming millions once again.

Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest (with Benazir Bhutto coming in power in Pakistan in November 1988 he ceased to be the youngest) Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. He succeeded in carving for himself a niche in India’s history and in fact Indians’ mind. Suave, mild, affable but iron willed and firm, Rajiv captivated the hearts of Indian masses.

He was acknowledged as a young dynamic leader of the Nation. He embodied hopes and aspirations of the young. Had he not been assassinated, he would have been again heading the Government of the country and guiding the destiny of the nation.

The Nation faced insatiability of Government for a few years, because no leader could match the political acumen of stalwarts like Pt. Nehru, Lal Bahadur, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi. A.B. Vajpayee who headed NDA emerged as the ray of hope for the teeming millions facing grinding poverty and destitution but his ‘India shining’ and “feel good” boost made him lose one year of tenure as P.M. as he proponed elections with the hope of massive victory on false assumptions. The Indians pinned high hopes on the new leader Dr. Manmohan Singh, who is a renowned economist, having a clean image and of unimpeachable integrity. His Nuclear Deal for civil purposes with USA and efforts to improve G.D.P. earned him appreciation from a grateful nation in his first tenure enabling him to come to power again with greater strength.

11. As Leader of the Party:

The Prime Minister in India has emerged as the leader of the Party, though ordinarily the President of the party supporting the Prime Minister could afford to be more assertive yet in case of India both Pt. J.L. Nehru and his daughter. Mrs. Indira Gandhi succeeded in making the Congress President to their respective lines. Only for a brief spell of time, after the death of Pandit Nehru, K. Kamraj, Congress President assumed the job of “King maker” and was instrumental in bringing Lai Bahadur Shastri at the helm of governmental affairs.

However his political ascendancy was only a matter of time. Since Mrs Indira Gandhi meteoric rise on the political horizon, the Congress Presidents once again started dancing to the Prime Minister’s tune. The split of the Congress and the rout of the syndicate at the hands of the New Congress in the Lok Sabha election in March 1971 and States’ election of February 1972 restored the old glory of the Prime Minister’s office and Indira Gandhi emerged as the leader both of the party and the Government.

The Congress party was named after her. Congress (I)’s victory reflected that her leadership was unassailable. Her successor Rajiv Gandhi was not only the Prime Minister but the President of the Congress (I). His writ ran in the party. Thus the substance of power lies with the government while the party only exercises its influence. Government means the Prime Minister and his palatable team of yesmen.

In BJP led government A.B. Vajpayee enjoyed supreme position as the leader of the party. In the present UPA Dr. Manmohan Singh, is likely to toe the lines laid down by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi— the Congress president and chair-person of coordination committee of UPA. She is being portrayed as the king maker. However she has not been over assertive and has shown highest regard for Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has gradually gained ground among the Indian masses as well.

Submitted by : Professor Charlie, Category : India