1. Composition and Structure:
The composition of the cabinet reflects a concern for a degree of regional balance and for the representation of important communities—Muslims, Sikhs, SCs, STs and OBCs. They are heads of their departments.
The Cabinet has four major functions; to approve all proposals for the legislative enactment of Government policy, to recommend ail major appointments, to settle interdepartmental disputes and to co-ordinate the various activities of the Government and oversee the execution of its policies.
Only members are entitled to attend the weekly meetings of the Cabinet, but ministers of State, Chief Ministers and technical experts may be invited to attend discussions of subjects with which they have special concern.
Votes are rarely taken in the Cabinet; decisions usually are reached after discussion by a sense of the meeting.
Only major issues are referred to the Cabinet, and frequently even these, such as the preparation of the budget, are decided by the appropriate minister in consultation with the Prime Minister.
Speaking about merit of Cabinet system, Herman Kiner says “on the whole the Cabinet system offers quick, vigorous, thoughtful and responsible leadership.”
2. Rise of Cabinet Dictatorship and Decline of Parliament:
In recent times there has been talk of decline of Parliament and rise of cabinet dictatorship. Such tendencies are seen in relation to the disciplined party system and effective majority system.
In Parliamentary system, the party or coalition commanding majority in the lower House forms the Government. This ensures the Government commanded by the Cabinet to have virtually all its wishes carried by the Parliament.
While Jawaharlal Nehru promoted free discussions and debate among ministers, Mrs. Indira Gandhi tried to consolidate the position of PM. But post 1989 phase and era of coalition and minority Governments marked some decline in the authoritarian position of Prime Minister.
In India the notion of Cabinet dictatorship is relative and not absolute. Cabinet has not shown tendencies that are contrary to the norms of democracy. Following points support the evidences.
1. Party System:
The fragmented and increasingly federalized party system with divergent ideologies and programmes has rendered it impossible for a single political party to command absolute majority.
Unlike Britain where two party system with disciplined party workers and fixed electoral votes, India has witnessed transformation in her party system from one party dominance system to multiparty coalition politics.
2. Closely connected to fragmented party politics is the politics of coalition which has become more than a reality in Indian context.
The members of Cabinet represent different political party, region and socio-economic milieu. Hence, there has arisen a politics of compromise and accommodation. Perhaps no Government can inhibit and promote authoritarian tendencies.
3. There has increased the role and influence of PM as coordinator and leader. He remains first among equals and ensures that Government survives and continues to perform. In this perspective, he exercises restraints and accommodates different perspectives and voices.
4. The role of second chamber in a federal polity like India has also checked cabinet dictatorship. The Government is criticized for its acts of omission and commission.
Barring few financial and money matters, the Rajya Sabha enjoys co-equals powers with the Lok Sabha. Similarly Articles 244 and 312 confer it special powers with regard to federal structure.
5. The enlightened public opinion and mass media have enhanced the mechanism of democratic control. Every issue has come to be debated to evolve national consensus and no Government can ignore them.
Despite this optimism, it cannot be denied that the powers of the Parliament have been usurped by the Cabinet. Both, the constitutional provisions and the practical reality confirm to such suspicion.
3. Constitutional Provision:
Article 74-which provides that the President shall exercise his powers only with advice of the Council of Ministers he can return a matter for reconsideration, only once.
In Article 352, a provision was added by the 44 Amendment. It provides that the President can impose national emergency only when the Cabinet recommends it in writing.
4. Practical Reality:
It is a matter of everyday experience wherein one witnesses that the whole business of the Parliament are allocated to affairs of Government for either policy making or its criticism through debates and discussion.
Nevertheless, the powerful position of the Cabinet in India should not be described as its ‘dictatorship.’ But, one cannot refuse to accept that there have been continuous decline in calibre of our Ministers. They have become rubber stamp of vested interests.