The executive power is vested by the Constitution in the President of India but in the words of Ambedkar, he is a constitutional head who ‘occupies the same position as the King under the English Constitution. He is the head of the state but not of the Executive. He represents the nation but does not rule the nation.’ The head of the Executive is in fact the Prime Minister at the head of the Council of Ministers, which is responsible to the Parliament.
If the President dies in office, or is unable to perform his duties because of absence, illness, or any other cause, or is removed or resigns, the Vice-President is enjoined upon by Article 65 to act as the President. This has happened on two occasions when Presidents—Dr Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed—died in office and Vice-Presidents V.V. Giri and B.D. Jatti had to step in. For this reason, the choice of Vice-President has to be made with great care. In normal times, the main function of the Vice-President, who is elected for five years by both houses of parliament, but is not a member of any legislature, is to act as the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
The Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister
The real executive power vests under the Constitution in the council of ministers headed by the prime minister. The President appoints as prime minister the leader of the party that has a majority in the Lok Sabha or, if no party has a clear majority, a person who has the confidence of the majority of the members of the Lok Sabha. Other ministers are selected by the prime minister and appointed by the President. Ministers may be appointed without being members of parliament, but they must become members of any one house either by election or nomination within six months. The council of ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and has to resign as soon as it loses the confidence of the Lok Sabha.
The Indian parliament has two houses – the upper house being called the Rajya Sabha or the Council of States and the lower house the Lok Sabha or the House of the People. The Rajya Sabha has 250 members, of whom 238 are elected by elected members of the state legislative assemblies or Vidhan Sabhas via a system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote, while another 12 are nominated by the President, on the advice of the government, to represent different fields such as education, social work, media, sports, etc. Every two years, one-third of the members of the Rajya Sabha retire; but individual members' terms are for six years, so that the Rajya Sabha is a permanent body. The Vice-President of India is the chairperson and a deputy chairperson is elected by Rajya Sabha members from amongst themselves. The people directly elect the Lok Sabha for five years. It may be dissolved before its term is over. In case an Emergency is in force, the Lok Sabha can extend its term for one year at a time but not beyond six months after the Emergency has ended. In practice, only once has the Lok Sabha's term been extended for a year in 1976 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared the Emergency.
All Indian citizens, eighteen or above, are eligible to vote. The winning candidate is the one that is first past the post, that is, the one who gets the maximum number of votes. There is no rule that the winner must get at least 50 per cent of the votes, as is the practice in many other countries, though many thoughtful observers have been urging that this system is adopted to ensure the representative nature of the candidate Elected and encourage candidates to look beyond vote-banks to wider sections of voters. There is no proportional representation.
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