Indian Constitution for Dummies: Prime Minister & Council of Ministers

The President of India is the Constitutional Executive Head. The real head of the Government is the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers. All decisions are taken in the name of the President. But, the President cannot act on his own. According to the Constitution, the President can only act on aid and advise of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

The President appoints the Prime Minister and on the advice of the Prime Minister, the President appoints the Council of Ministers. Allocation of portfolios to the ministers is also done by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

As per convention, the leader of the majority party in the legislature is invited by the President to form the Government. In case there is no single largest party, the leader of coalition is appointed as the Prime Minister. Basically, the President should appoint a person who is in the position to win the confidence of the majority in that House.

The Prime Minister enjoys a central position to the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers enjoy office during the pleasure of the President.

The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers has ministers of different ranks or categories. These ranks are not specified in the Constitution but rather done informally, following the English practice.

There are three ranks of Council of Ministers:

  1. Cabinet Ministers: an informal body of senior Ministers who form the inner circle of the Council of Ministers.

A Cabinet Minister leads a ministry.

  1. Ministers of State form the outer circle of cabinet. Ministers of State with an Independent Charge has a charge of a ministry. He/she is a junior minister who does not report to a cabinet minister.

A Minister of State without an independent charge is a junior minister reporting to a cabinet minister. He/she is usually given a specific responsibility in that ministry.

  1. Deputy Ministers: Then there are the Deputy Ministers who have not been given an independent charge of the ministry. Deputy Ministers assist Ministers of State or Cabinet Ministers. They do not take part in any Cabinet deliberations.

The Council of Ministers hardly meets as a body. It is the Cabinet which meets as and when summoned by the Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers attend cabinet meetings of their own right. Ministers of State only attend the meetings on invitation.

Size of the Ministry

In order to limit size of a ministry, the Constitution of India has been amended in 2004. The total number of ministers of the Council of Ministers (including the Prime Minister) should not exceed 15% of the total members of the Lok Sabha. The same law applies to states legislatures too.

Non-Member can be a minister

A minister must be a member of either House of the Parliament. A person who is not a member of either house can be appointed as a minister but he cannot continue as a minister for more than 6 months unless he becomes a member of either house of the Legislature (by election or nomination).