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Political and Permanent Executive

In a Democratic Country, Two Categories Make Up the Executive

One that is elected by the people for a specific period is called the political executive. Political leaders who take the big decisions fall in this category.


In the second category, people are appointed on a long-term basis. This is called the permanent executive or civil services.

Persons working in civil services are called civil servants. They remain in office even when the ruling party changes. These officers work under political executive and assist them in carrying out the day-to-day administration. The civil servant is usually more educated and has more expert knowledge of the subject. The advisors working in the Finance Ministry know more about economics than the Finance Minister. Sometimes the ministers may know very little about the technical matters that come under their ministry. This could easily happen in ministries like Defence, Industry, Health, Science and Technology, Mining, etc. the minister has the final say on these matters because in a democracy the will of the people is supreme.

The minister is elected by the people and thus empowered to exercise the will of the people on their behalf. He is finally answerable to the people for all the consequences of his decision. That is why the minister takes all the final decisions. The minister decides the overall framework and objectives in which decisions on policy should be made. The minister is not, and is not expected to be, an expert in the matters of her ministry. The minister takes the advice of experts on all technical matters. But very often experts hold different opinions or place before him more than one option. Depending on what the overall objective is, the minister decides. Actually this happens in any large organisation. Those who understand the overall picture take the most important decisions, not the experts. The experts can tell the route, but someone with a larger view decides the destination.

In a democracy elected ministers perform this role. Prime Minister and Council of Ministers is the most important political institution in the country. Yet there is no direct election to the post of the Prime Minister. The President appoints the Prime Minister. But the President cannot appoint anyone he likes. The President appoints the leader of the majority party or the coalition of parties that commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, as Prime Minister. In case no single party or alliance gets a majority, the President appoints the person most likely to secure a majority support. The Prime Minister does not have a fixed tenure. He continues in power so long as he remains the leader of the majority party or coalition.

After the appointment of the Prime Minister, the President appoints other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Ministers are usually from the party or the coalition that has the majority in the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is free to choose ministers, as long as they are members of Parliament. Sometimes, a person who is not a Member of Parliament can also become a minister. But such a person has to get elected to one of the Houses of the Parliament within six months of appointment as minister. Council of Ministers is the official name for the body that includes all the Ministers. It usually has 60 to 80 Ministers of different ranks.


Cabinet Ministers are usually top-level leaders of the ruling party or parties who are in charge of the major ministries. Usually the Cabinet Ministers meet to take decisions in the name of the Council of Ministers. Cabinet is thus the inner ring of the Council of Ministers. It comprises about 20 ministers.


Ministers of State with independent charge are usually in-charge of smaller Ministries. They participate in the Cabinet meetings only when specially invited.

Ministers of State are attached to and required to assist Cabinet Ministers. Since it is not practical for all ministers to meet regularly and discuss everything, the decisions are taken in Cabinet meetings. That is why parliamentary democracy in most countries is often known as the Cabinet form of government. The Cabinet works as a team. The ministers may have different views and opinions, but everyone has to own up to every decision of the Cabinet.

No minister can openly criticise any decision of the government, even if it is about another Ministry or Department. Every ministry has secretaries, who are civil servants. The secretaries provide the necessary background information to the ministers to take decisions. The Cabinet as a team is assisted by the Cabinet Secretariat. This includes many senior civil servants who try to coordinate the working of different ministries.


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