[18th June 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Constitutional respect should not be reduced to optics

PYQ Relevance:

Q The size of the cabinet should be as big as governmental work justifies and as big as the Prime Minister can manage as a team. How far is the efficacy of a government then inversely related to the size of the cabinet? Discuss.(UPSC IAS/2014)

Q To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India? (UPSC IAS/2021)

Mentor comment: In a parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister (PM) is the head of government, responsible for running the country and implementing policies. Chosen from the majority party in parliament, the PM leads the executive branch, oversees the cabinet, and represents the government domestically and internationally. The PM must maintain the confidence of the parliament to remain in power.

Why in the News?

  • On June 7, 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised the nation by paying his respects to the Constitution of India at the Alliance meeting.
  • This move was probably in response to the accusations by the opposition who alleged the threat of ‘changing’ the constitution.

Role of the Prime Minister in a Parliamentary Democracy

  • Head of the Council of Ministers: The Prime Minister is the head of the Council of Ministers.
  • Constitutional Mandate: Article 74 of the Constitution mandates that the Prime Minister advises the President in their functions.
  • Choice of System: B.R. Ambedkar and the framers chose the parliamentary system over the presidential system to ensure greater responsibility of the executive to the Legislature and the electorate.

Row over Immediate Actions

  • Oath of Office: On June 9, 2024, Mr Modi and his Cabinet Ministers took the oath of office administered by the President of India.
  • Pre-emptive Financial Sanction: On June 10, the Prime Minister pre-emptively cleared a significant financial sanction of PM-KISAN without the formal allocation of ministerial portfolios, raising questions about the constitutional validity of such actions.

Optics over Procedure

  • Cabinet Meeting Decisions: The first cabinet meeting, without allocated portfolios, approved significant welfare measures like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
  • Procedural Concerns: Questions arise about the initiation, circulation, and approval process of these decisions, suggesting a focus on optics rather than constitutional procedure.
  • Extended Tenures: Mr. Modi extended the tenures of key officials without reconstituting the Cabinet Committee, relying on the old Appointments Committee, raising further procedural concerns.

Coalition Dharma and Constitutional Morality

  • Disregard for Norms: These actions reflect a disregard for coalition principles and constitutional norms.
  • Dr. Ambedkar’s Emphasis: B.R. Ambedkar emphasized the need for constitutional morality and the cultivation of democratic sentiments, which appear to be lacking in the current scenario.
  • Article 77: It provides for the President to make rules for government business transactions, ensuring ministerial accountability, which seems undermined by the centralization of power in the PMO.

Current Government’s functioning

  • Shift in Power: There is a noticeable shift towards an extraordinary accumulation of power in the Prime Minister’s Office, contrary to the principles of collective responsibility.
  • Business Rules: The Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules designate business to specific ministries and departments, not the PMO.
  • Cabinet Secretariat: The Cabinet Secretariat’s role is to provide secretarial assistance, but recent actions suggest a breakdown of this framework.

Role of opposition in parliamentary democracy

  • Accountability and Oversight: The opposition scrutinizes government actions and policies, ensuring transparency and preventing abuses of power.
  • Alternative Policies: It offers constructive criticism and proposes alternative solutions to address national issues and improve legislation.
  • Representation of Diverse Interests: The opposition voices the concerns and interests of various segments of society, ensuring a balanced and inclusive democratic process.

Way forward

  • Strengthen Institutional Checks: Implement stricter enforcement of constitutional mandates and parliamentary procedures to ensure balanced power distribution and prevent centralization in the PMO.
  • Enhance Opposition Collaboration: Foster a cooperative environment where the opposition can effectively scrutinize government actions, propose constructive alternatives, and represent diverse societal interests, promoting a more transparent and accountable government.


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