Forging the Union Executive: Ensuring a Representative Cabinet

July 15, 2019 | Vineeth Krishna

On 30 May 2019, two weeks after the 2019 election results, 58 members of parliament took an oath as Union Ministers. Article 75,  Constitution of India, 1950 gives the President the power to appoint ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.

 

On 30 December 1948, the Constituent Assembly took up Draft Article 62 (Article 75, Constitution of India, 1950) for debate. Draft Article 62 was highly influenced by the Government of India Act 1935. In this scheme, the leader of the party that commanded a majority was invited to form the government and would then choose his/her cabinet (the term back then referred to ‘all ministers’, different from how it is used today) colleagues.

 

Mahboob Ali Baig rejected this approach. He moved an amendment proposing that the prime minister and his ministers be selected by members of parliament ‘in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote’.

 

Baig wanted to secure the representation of all sections of parliament in the cabinet particularly the minorities; He wanted to de-link the composition of the cabinet with the number of seats a party enjoyed in parliament.

 

Some Assembly members responded to Baig’s proposal aggressively. Baig was Muslim, and members viewed his proposal as being motivated by sectional (Muslim) interests that they felt had played a key role in partition. However, not all members engaged with Baig’s proposal in this manner.

 

Mahavir Tyagi argued that Baig’s proposal would lead to chaos: if cabinet members were elected by some proportional method, it would end up having a mix of individuals from different parties and ‘no Cabinet can live even for a day if all members of the Cabinet are not of one mind’.

 

B.R. Ambedkar responded last in the debate. Unlike other members who viewed the articulation of minority interests with scorn, Ambedkar sympathised with Baig’s aim to secure representation of minorities: If the cabinet ‘is controlled by a certain group, there is no doubt about it that the administration will function in the interests of the group represented by that particular body of people in control of administration…’.

 

He argued that minority representation in the cabinet could be secured in another way: a Schedule of the Constitution was going to contain ‘Instruments of Instructions’ to the President of India  – similar to the one found in the Government of India Act –  that would direct the President to include members of minority communities in the cabinet.  For Ambedkar, this was better than

 

‘…foisting upon the Prime Minister a colleague simply because he happens to be the member of a particular minority community, but who does not agree with the fundamentals of the policy which the Prime Minister and his party have committed themselves to.’

 

The Assembly seemed convinced: Baig’s amendment was rejected. The Historical Constitution and the Constituent Assembly debates reveal that the constitutional choice regarding the executive was not straightforward – it was preceded by rigorous debate and conflict over alternative systems. While India settled on Article 75, the problems of representativeness of the executive remain in 2019.

Vineeth Krishna

Research Associate

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