Before discussing the features of Parliamentary Government, it’s important to understand why our constitution framers adopted such a system of Government?
Why did India adopt the Parliamentary form of Government?
When the Constitution of India was written, India already had the experience of running the Parliamentary system of Government under the Government of India Act of 1919 and the Government of India Act of 1935 (it is also stated that the Indian Constitution is a carbon copy of the Government of India Act, 1935). So, one of the biggest reasons for choosing this system was to ensure that government would be sensitive to public expectations and would be responsible and accountable. And as people had experience in this system, it would be easy for the people to understand the election procedure and how the government works.
The alternative to the Parliamentary form of government was the Presidential Form of Government. However, this wasn’t very feasible, mainly because, first of all, understanding the Presidential System and the procedures for elections in such a system, would’ve been very difficult for the people of India. Apart from this, the Presidential executive puts much emphasis on the president as the chief executive and as a source of all executive power. So, there’s always a danger of personality cult in the presidential executive. The Constitutional framers indeed wanted to have a government with a strong executive branch, but however, they wanted that there should be enough safeguards to check against the personality cult. And one of the important features of the Parliamentary form of Government is that there’s a mechanism to ensure that the executive would be answerable to and controlled by the people’s representatives i.e. the Legislature. As we all know that the Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the lower house of the Parliament (Lok Sabha).
However, it couldn’t be said that the problem of personality cult was completely ruled out. There were leaders with a personality cult, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This problem was mitigated during the coalition era, but after the landslide victory of Narendra Modi in both the 2014 and 2019 General elections, emerged another leader with a personality cult. But it couldn’t really be stated that a leader with a cult personality isn’t good for the country, as every country needs a strong leader.
So, the Constitution of India provides for a Parliamentary form of Government, for both the Central and State Governments. The provisions regarding Parliamentary System at the Centre are mentioned in Articles 74 and 75, and the provisions regarding the Parliamentary form of Government at the State is mentioned in Articles 163 and 164.
Features of the Parliamentary form of Government
Parliamentary form of Government is also described as-
The Parliamentary form of Government is also called Responsible Government or Cabinet Government or Westminster model of Government. This form of Government is prevalent in India, Britain, Japan, Canada, etc.
Ivor Jennings called the Parliamentary form of Government a ‘cabinet system’, as in this form of Government, the Cabinet is the nucleus of power. It is also called ‘responsible government’ because the real executive i.e. the Cabinet, is accountable to the Parliament of the country and they remain in power as long as they enjoy the majority support of the Legislature.
It is called the ‘Westminster Model of Government’ because the Parliamentary System originated in Westminster, Britain.
Majority Party Rule
In the Parliamentary form of Government, the political party which secures the majority of seats in the Lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha), forms the Government. And the leader of that political party is appointed as the Prime Minister of the country by the President. And the other ministers are also appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. In case when no single political party is able to secure the majority of seats, the President invites the different political parties to form a coalition government.
Nominal and Real Executives
Unlike the Presidential form of Government, where the President is the real executive, in the Parliamentary form of Government, the President is the nominal executive. In the Parliamentary form of Government, the Prime Minister is the real executive. The President is the head of the state, and the Prime Minister is the head of the Government.
The Indian Constitution, under Article 74, provides for a council of ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, to aid and advice the President in the exercise of his functions. And the advice of the council of ministers is binding on the President. So, this is one of the characteristic and distinctive features of the Parliamentary Government.
Principle of Collective Responsibility
The Parliamentary form of Government works on the principle of collective responsibility, under which the council of ministers are collectively responsible to the Lower House (Lok Sabha). In the words of M.P. Jain, “A notable principle underlying the working of parliamentary government is the principle of collective responsibility which represents ministerial accountability to the legislature.” So, this principle implies that the council of ministers works as a team, as a unit, and are responsible as a body for the general conduct of affairs. And all the ministers stand and fall together in the Parliament and the Government is carried on as unity. The provisions for this are mentioned in Article 75 of the constitution. So, the Lok Sabha can remove the council of ministers headed by the Prime Ministers by passing a vote of no confidence.
The leadership of the Prime Minister
One of the main features of the Parliamentary Government is the leadership of the Prime Minister. In this system of government, the Prime Minister is the leader of the Parliament, the leader of the council of ministers, and the leader of the party. It can also be considered that he is the leader of the nation, whereas, in the Presidential form of Government, the President is considered the leader of the nation. So, the Prime Minister plays the most crucial and significant role in the functioning of the Government.
Membership in the Parliament
In the Parliamentary form of Government, the council of ministers are also the members of the Parliament, either the upper house or lower house. They play an active role in the deliberations and voting in the Legislature. They also have the power to introduce a Bill in the house, called Government Bill. In fact, a person cannot be a minister in the Government until and unless he is a member of either house of Parliament. Even if such a person becomes a minister, he has to gain membership in either of the houses within 6 months of him being a minister, if not, the person would be disqualified and removed from his office.
As we know that the political party which secures the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha forms the Government. So, most of the time the members of the same political party, who share the same ideology, form the council of ministers. So, there’s a political hegemony in the Parliamentary System. However, in the case of a coalition government, the members of the council of ministers belong to different political parties and may have different political ideologies.
Powers to dissolve the Lower House (Lok Sabha)
Another important features of the Parliamentary Government is that the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, can dissolve the Lower House of the Parliament i.e. the Lok Sabha. And as we discussed earlier, the Prime Minister’s advice is binding on the President. So, the Prime Minister, though indirectly, has the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha before the expiry of its term and hold fresh elections. In other words, the Executive has the power to dissolve the Lower House of Parliament in the Parliamentary System. This provision is often used by the Prime Minister to conduct fresh elections when he thinks that the conditions are favorable and conducting elections now would enhance his majority in the Lower House. This was done by Indira Gandhi, who dissolved the Lok Sabha before the expiry of its term and conducted fresh elections in 1971. And this was indeed successful as Indira Gandhi won a landslide victory and enhanced her majority in the Lok Sabha.
Secrecy in the functioning of the ministers
In the Parliamentary system of Government, the ministers operate on the principle of secrecy of procedure and do not divulge information about their decisions, policies, and proceedings. In fact, the ministers take the oath of secrecy before entering the office. And this oath of secrecy is administered by the President.
So, these are the 9 important features of Parliamentary Government.
Interested in Polity?