The special position of superiority given to the Prime Minister is essential in the interest of the principle of collective responsibility to the House of the People as laid down under Article 75(3). The essence of collective responsibility is that all members of the Council of Ministers will speak in public with a united voice.
This does not necessarily mean that all of them see eye to eye with one another on every problem the Ministry faces. The different points of view are expressed freely in the meetings of the Council so as to arrive at the best decision in the circumstances.
Once such a decision is taken, every Minister is expected to stand by the decision without any reservation. Thus, responsibility for governmental action becomes collective on the part of the Ministry which will “sink or sail as a whole”, as a united body.
Nevertheless, if a Minister violates the principle by openly criticising the decision of the Ministry, he cannot be prosecuted in a court of law for a breach of the principle of collective responsibility. Obviously, there is no legal sanction for collective responsibility.
What is expected of a Minister as normal practice is that he should tender his resignation if he finds himself so sharply in conflict with his colleagues that it is no longer honestly possible for him to defend the Government’s policies.
But if he fails to do so, the Prime Minister can enforce collective responsibility through either of two ways. He may advise the President to dismiss the Minister, for the President has appointed the Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.
If the Prime Minister is not inclined to adopt this course, he may tender the resignation of the entire Ministry and form a new Ministry excluding the undesirable Minister. Thus, the realisation of the principle of collective responsibility is made possible by placing the Ministers under the Prime Minister in the matter of appointment as well as dismissal.
A striking feature of the Cabinet system of government is that Ministers who hold the top positions in the executive are, at the same time, members of Parliament also.
But a rigid adherence to this rule might deprive the executive of the services of men of ability who may not, for the time being, members of the legislature. To avoid this difficulty, the Constitution provides a maximum period of six months for a Minister to become a member of the legislature if he is already not such a member.
We have already seen the position of importance which the Constitution confers upon the Prime Minister. Though the President appoints him formally, it is only a constitutional formality, as the person appointed has the political and parliamentary support to claim such an appointment.
Similarly, though the President also appoints the other Ministers, they are so appointed only on the advice of the Prime Minister and, in reality, they are the nominees of the Prime Minister. The Ministry’s decisions and actions are transmitted to the President only through the Prime Minister.
Again, the Ministry is jointly responsible to the House of the People whose leader is the Prime Minister. Thus, the Prime Minister is a connecting link between the Ministry and the President on the one hand, and also between the Ministry and the Parliament on the other.
This special position that he enjoys both in the Government and in Parliament makes his office the most important under the Constitution of India.
The long lists of powers that are vested in the President are normally powers exercised in reality by the Prime Minister. As the leader of the party that commands the majority in Parliament and thus in fact as the leader of Parliament itself, and in addition, as the head of the Council of Ministers, he really leads the Council of Ministers, Parliament and the Nation.
This is what makes him the most powerful functionary under the governmental system established by the Constitution. During any period of emergency, his power will increase as the administration of the area affected by the emergency comes directly under the Union Government.
Naturally the personality of the Prime Minister will have an influence either in enhancing the actual powers of the President or limiting them to his constitutional functions.
India is gradually developing a well-defined party system which is an indispensable aid to the evolution of a successful Parliamentary government. The national election in the United States once every four years is meant primarily to select the President who would become the head of the Nation and the chief of the executive.
In India, the general election once every five years becomes a great battle which determines the party that will rule the country. But, to some extent, it will also decide the person who will become the Prime Minister of India.
For, the party which secures a majority in Parliament is sure to have its leader appointed Prime Minister by the President. In fact, the President himself is often the nominee of the party and the leader of the party is sure to have a substantial influence in the selection of the Presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, the office of the President is one of great dignity and authority. Although a constitutional head of the State, the British monarch enjoys great dignity mainly because of the hereditary nature of the office behind which there lies the history of centuries.
But an indirectly elected constitutional head of the State who holds office for a limited period often becomes a mere figure-head as the French President under the Fourth Republic was. The framers of the Constitution have a very difficult task in designing the office of the President.
For unlike the British monarch’s, his was to be an elective office. But like that of the British monarch his was to be of great dignity. In the words of Nehru: “We want to emphasise the ministerial character of the Government that power really resided in the Ministry and in the legislature and not in the President as such.
At the same time, we did not want to make the President a mere figure-head like the French President. We did not give him any real power but we have made his position one of great authority and dignity.” From the working of the Constitution so far, it is not an exaggeration to say that the framers have been vindicated in their expectations.