The position of the Council of Ministers in the states is very much similar to that of the Council ol Ministers at the Union level. The ‘real’ governance of the state is carried on by the council of ministers headed by the Chief Minister. The conventions that apply in a parliamentary model also apply to the state council of ministers.
(a) Presence of a Titular Head of the State: As already pointed out, the Governor is the chief executive of the state. Except during President’s rule, he is a titular head of the state. Besides, he acts as a link between the President and the state council of ministers. Through him, the Union government maintains supervision over and provides guidance to the state government.
(b) Leadership of the Chief Minister: Although, in theory, the position of the Chief Minister in the cabinet is that of primus inter pares, in practice, he is the sun around which all the lesser planets revolve. He is the captain of the ‘cabinet-ship’ and all ministers look up to him for direction and leadership.
He holds the cabinet together as a team. All-important decisions in the cabinet are taken by him and a member who does not agree with him generally has to resign. He is also responsible for the appointment of ministers, distribution of portfolios and their dismissal. In theory, although the ministers are responsible to the Legislative Assembly, in fact they are responsible, chiefly, to the Chiel Minister.
(c) Collective Responsibility: This is an age-old norm of cabinet government that all the ministers “sink or swim” together. They must voice the same opinion before the state legislature. In cabinet meetings, they can differ from each other but any public exposure of these differences is considered undesirable.
In no case is a minister expected to speak against a government decision or policy or vote against it in the Assembly. Cracks in the cabinet solidarity give the opposition parties an eagerly awaited chance to embarrass the government or to pull it down. In maintaining this solidarity, several factors play a role, the most important ones being the personal standing of the Chief Minister (his personality, qualities of leadership, decision-making style etc.), the size of the cabinet (if small, it is easier to hold together and the strength of the Chief Minister’s party in the State Assembly (in case, he is heading a coalition ministry, he may find it difficult to hold it together).
A decision, once taken, is the decision of the cabinet. If it proves wrong, a minister cannot absolve himself of blame by saying that he was not present in the cabinet meeting when the decision was taken. On the floor of the Assembly, all the members of the council of ministers are collectively responsible for all acts of omission or commission by any of their colleagues.
(d) Cabinet Secrecy: The Cabinet follows certain norms of secrecy. All deliberations are closed to public scrutiny and only those cabinet decisions are made public which are intended or designed to be so.
This is necessary because any premature leak of a Cabinet decision could harm not only to the state, its economy and prestige, but also the nation at large. So great is the emphasis laid on secrecy that, even after a minister resigns or after his term is over, he is bound by his oath of office, law and conventions to preserve secrecy regarding cabinet proceedings?
(e) Composition: As at the Centre, at the state level too, the Council of Ministers is generally a three-tier organization consisting of:
1. Cabinet Ministers;
2. Ministers of State; and
3. Deputy Ministers.
Only rarely are parliamentary secretaries appointed. In case they are, they constitute the fourth rung of the hierarchy of the council of ministers.
The Cabinet is a small body consisting of ministers holding the most important portfolios such as those of Home, Finance, Planning and Industries. As a rule, they are the only ones who attend cabinet meetings, though the second and third category of ministers may be invited to these meetings, in case their presence is needed during deliberations.
The rank of Ministers of State is given to ministers who are politically less powerful and hold portfolios of relatively less importance when compared to their seniors. They might be given independent charge of a department or may be attached to individual cabinet ministers.
On the other hand, Deputy Ministers are given independent charge of a department only in rare cases. A Deputy Minister is attached to a Cabinet Minister and performs functions, which the Cabinet Minister delegates to him. His role is mainly to relieve the burden of the Cabinet Minister, and to assist him in legislative business related to his departments.
Among the members of the council of ministers, the portfolios are allocated by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. Reshuffle in state ministries and reallocation of portfolios among ministers has been a very common device used by Chief Ministers for making political adjustments as well as for enhancing administrative effectiveness. However, there has hardly been any effort made at the state level to develop certain specialist ministers who continue with a specific portfolio for a considerable time. Politically, such specialist ministers are considered a threat to the informal authority of the Chief Minister.