It is a well-known fact that we have, following Britain, adopted the Cabinet system (also known as the Parliamentary system). Such a system has some salient features:- 1) there are two types of executives – nominal and real.
The King/President is the nominal hand, but the real power is exercised by the Cabinet; 2) the Cabinet is responsible to the lower Chamber of Parliament in the sense that it steps down if and when it is outvoted in this Chamber; 3) the Ministers are members of either House of the Parliament; 4) the Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet. Though the King/President formally appoints the Ministers, the Prime Minister actually chooses them, distributes and re-distributes portfolios and dismisses them whenever he chooses. Our Constitution has accepted these conditions in toto.
First, according to Art. 53 (1), our President is the head of the State. But, under Art. 74 (1), there is a Cabinet to ‘aid and advise him’ and he has to act upon its advice. Thus, according to Dr MV Pylee, ‘he has little effective power at his disposal’.
Secondly, as Art 74 (3) indicates, the Cabinet is responsible to the lower House of Parliament. In other words, it has to quit office whenever it is defeated in it.
Thirdly, Ministers are, according to Art. 75 (5), members of either House of Parliament. If anyone of them is an outsider, he must be its member within six months. Fourthly, the Prime Minister ‘is the keystone of the Cabinet-arch.’ He actually forms the Cabinet and its members go away with his departure.
Though the decisions are often taken jointly, a dominant Prime Minister actually decides everything and the Cabinet becomes a mere ‘registering body’. This is why, Dr BC Rout has regarded him as the ‘captain of the Cabinet-team’. He is actually the ‘working head’ of the state, endowed with such a plentitude of power as no other Constitutional ruler of the world possesses. This system is adopted in the provinces as well.
So, the Governor acts as the nominal head and he is guided by his Cabinet which is responsible to the Assembly. The Ministers are members of the state legislature and they hold office during its majority support.
For all these reasons, Dr SC Kashyap has observed that the Constitution has basically adopted, both at the Union and state-levels, the Parliamentary system of Government. Of course, the Constituent Assembly accepted this model with the support of an overwhelming majority.
As WH Morris-Jones writes, ‘On the principle of Cabinet government, there was no deep cleavage of opinion, but there were sufficient Presidential enthusiasts’. For example, Prof. KT Shah liked a semi-Presidential pattern, GS Gupta and Shibbanlal Saksena were in favour of the American model with slight modification and Mehboob Ali preferred the Swiss system.
According to them, India consisted of various, and even, conflicting political parties and, hence, their quarrels would surely affect the stability of the Cabinet by lack of majority support in the popular House. They held that India badly needed the stability in system and that only the American or Swiss model could afford it.
But, Dr BR Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, and Dr KM Munshi and Alladi KS Ayyar, two of its members, ably countered this argument by pointing out that history sufficiently proves that the British system was, in spite of responsibility, remarkably stable.
In their view, it wonderfully combined ministerial responsibility and political stability and, hence, our Constitution could safely adopt it. Dr Munshi added to it a unique point – India was acquainted with it for nearly two centuries and, this is why we should not make a new experiment with the Constitutional model.
Thus, finally, the British model was accepted with eagerness. But, now it seems that the system is not working as desired by the Founding Fathers. The rapid rise and fall of provincial Cabinets indicates that we have lamentably failed to follow the British model. The British system is based upon the bi-party arrangement – the majority-party rules the country and the other, almost similarly strong, leads the Opposition.
So, the Government acts in the face of a strong opposition, but it safely survives due to its numerical majority. But, in India, there are nearly 500 parties based upon religion, region, language, caste, leadership and class. Due to the divergent allegiance, the voters differently choose the candidates and, thus, often no party can secure an absolute majority in the legislature. So, in a frantic bid for the taste of power, some of them form a coalition Cabinet, but before long, they part. As a result, the cabinets often fail to complete their term.
Secondly, due to the lack of partydiscipline and personal morality, some members often change their party as a result of which the Cabinet has to step down. In fact, from March to December, 1967, 314 MLAs crossed the floor for personal greed or political gain. Significantly, the figure rose to 550 during 1967-1969. As a result, an alarming number of state-Cabinets collapsed untimely in those days. At one stage, sixteen Cabinets of Orissa went out of office in the same number of months. Thus, the cabinet’s responsibility has often badly affected their stability.
At the Centre, however, the condition has not been so precarious. But though Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpayee (third time) and MM Singh, remained in power for the full term, some Prime Ministers like Charan Singh, Morarji Desai, VP Singh, Chandra Sekhar, Vajpayee (two times), Deve Gowda and IK Gujral could not complete their terms due to the lack of majority support. Thus, within twenty-one years (1977- 1998), as many as nine Cabinets had to quit office due to organisational split or withdrawal of support of the allies.
As such, it is crystal clear that Cabinet system has sometimes failed to bring about the desired result. Even, Dr KM Munshi, one of the makers of the Constitution, had subsequently admitted that they were too ambitious in this matter. Now some people seriously feel that a switchover to the American system brooks no delay.
In this system, however, the Cabinet is responsible only to the President and, hence, its defeat in the Parliament cannot bring it down. But, as our Supreme Court has opined the Cabinet system is part of the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution and that it cannot be changed.
Secondly, the model actually matters little – its success depends upon the leaders who work with it.
Unless they are selfless, sincere and moralists, a change of model can hardly solve our problems.
(The writer is a Griffith Scholar, Author and Reader, New Alipore College)