Jawahar Lal Nehruwas the first Prime Minister of India. The Prime Minister is the most important functionary at the Centre. According to the Constitution, there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall act according to that advice. In fact, the President is bound to exercise all the powers exactly according to the advice of the Council of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister.
It is the Prime Minister who is the real head of the Union executive. The Prime Minster is appointed by the President, but the President has to invite only that person to be the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority in the Lok Sabha. Earlier the person to be invited used to be the leader of only one political party commanding absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. But with the initiation of the phase of coalitions, he or she may be the leader of a group of more than one political party.
In the changed situation, the President invites the person who is the leader elected by the political party that has the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha and who receives the support of other political parties to manage the needed majority. Besides being the leader of the majority in Lok Sabha, to be the Prime Minister, the person has to be a Member of Parliament. If he or she is not a Member at the time of appointment, he or she has to acquire it within six months from the state of his appointment as PM.
The Constitution does not make any specific provision for the powers of the Prime Minister, though he or she is the most powerful functionary of the Union government. The only provision in the Constitution is that the President shall exercise powers on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head, and that advice will be binding.
But in practice, it is the Prime Minister who makes and unmakes the Council of Ministers. It is on his or her recommendations that the President appoints the members of the Council of Ministers and distributes portfolios among them. He or She presides over the meetings of the Cabinet and communicates its decisions to the President.
The Prime Minister acts as the link between the President and the Council of Ministers. If, due to any reason, he or she submits resignation, the entire Council of Ministers stands dissolved. As and when the necessity arises, he or she may recommend to the President that the Lok Sabha be dissolved and fresh general elections be held.
The Prime Minister is not only the leader of the majority party, or the leader of the Parliament but he or she is also the leader of the nation. His or Her office is the office of power, while that of the President is the office of honour, respect and dignity. The Prime Minister is the Ex-officio Chairman of the Planning Commission as well as of the National Development Council. He or She represents the nation at the international conferences as the head of the government.
The members of the Council of Ministers are appointed by the President on the recommendations of the Prime Minster. The Council of Ministers has three categories of Ministers - Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers. These Ministers work as a team under the leadership of the Prime Minister.
The Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the President, but they cannot be removed so long as they have the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha, According to the Constitution, Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. If the Lok Sabha passes a ‘no-confidence motion’, the entire Council of Ministers including PM has to resign.
A no-confidence motion is a legislative motion brought by the members of the Lok Sabha, expressing lack of trust in the Council of Ministers. That is why, it is said that the ministers swim and sink together.
The functions of the Council of Ministers are the same as those of the Prime Minister. The proceedings of the Cabinet or Council of Ministers are kept secret. The Council of Ministers is a large body of Ministers. The top category, known as the Ministers of Cabinet rank are about 20 to 25 and they hold the charge of important departments.
Then there is a group of ministers, called Ministers of State, some of them hold independent charges of ministries while others are attached to Cabinet Ministers. Yet another category of ministers known as Deputy Ministers are attached to Cabinet Ministers or Ministers of State. The Cabinet meeting is attended only by the Ministers of Cabinet rank, but if need be the Ministers of State also may be invited to attend such meetings.
The Prime Minister occupies a key position in the Union government. He or She is the ‘principal spokesperson’ and defender of the policies of the government in the Parliament. The Council of Ministers functions as his or her team. The nation looks to him or her for needed policies and programmes and required actions. All international agreements and treaties with other countries are concluded with the consent of the Prime Minister.
He or She has a special status both in the government and in the Parliament. The Prime Minister chooses his team (Council of Ministers) very carefully and gets willing cooperation from them. However, in a coalition government the Prime Minister has to seek help from like-minded political parties. The experience of the last ten to twelve years has shown that in such a scenario he or she has to be very vigilant and diplomatic.
He or She has to take major decisions regarding defence and security of the country. He or She has to formulate policies not only for providing better living conditions but also to maintain peace, friendly relations with the neighbouring countries.