Parliamentary System

Parliamentary System

This article deals with ‘Parliamentary System– Indian Polity.’ This is part of our series on ‘Polity’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.


In India, there is a Parliamentary form of government at the State and Centre levels.

Centre Article 74 and Article 75 speak about it.
State Article 163 and Article 164 speak about it.

Definition of Parliamentary System

Parliamentary System

Government in which the Executive is responsible to the Legislature for its policies is known as Parliamentary System of Government.

It is also known as

  1. Cabinet System
  2. Responsible Government
  3. Westminster Model of Government

Features of the Parliamentary System

  • The President is the nominal (de jure) head, while the Prime Minister is the real (de facto) Executive.
  • The Party, which secures a majority of seats in Lok Sabha, forms the government.
  • Ministers are collectively responsible to Parliament (i.e. they swim and sink together).
  • Usually, members of the Council of Ministers belong to the same Political party and hence share the same ideology.
  • There is a double membership. Ministers are members of the Executive and legislature.
  • The Prime Minister plays a leadership role, and he is the leader of the council.
  • President can dissolve the lower House on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Merits of the Parliamentary System

  • Harmony between the Legislature and Executive as members of Executive are members of the Legislature, too.
  • Government is responsible as it is answerable to Parliament for acts of omission and commission.
  • Prevents despotism as Executive is controlled by various tools like No Confidence Motion, Zero Hour Discussion etc.
  • There is ready alternate government if no-confidence motion is passed against the ruling party.
  • It provides broad representation as the Executive consists of a variety of members

Demerits of the Parliamentary System

  • The government is unstable and stands at the mercy of Legislators.
  • There is no continuity of policies. When government changes, policies also change, which is bad for the economy.
  • The government can become autocratic if the ruling party enjoys an absolute majority.
  • It is against the Principle of Separation of Power.
  • It is not conducive to administrative efficiency as ministers are not experts in their fields.

Why did India Choose the Parliamentary System?

  • Historical Continuity: Familiarity with the system due to its presence in British India.
  • Emphasis on Responsibility: Preference was given to the system that prioritizes responsibility over stability.
  • Recognition of the need to avoid the Legislative-Executive divide, which was necessary for an immature democracy like that of India
  • Fear of an Overly Strong Executive: Constituent Assembly feared too strong Executive
  • Representation in a Diverse Society: In a diverse society like India, this system provides representation to more diverse groups in the Executive
  • Avoidance of Personality Cult: The alternative to the Parliamentary Executive was a Presidential form of government. However, the Presidential Executive puts much emphasis on the President. There is always danger of a personality cult.  

Indian System is different from British System

India Parliamentary SystemBritish Parliamentary System
Republican system Monarchial system
Parliament is not supreme and enjoys limited and  restricted powers due to the written constitution, judicial review and fundamental rights It is based on the Doctrine of Sovereignty of Parliament
PM can be a member of any of the two houses PM should be a member of the Lower house
Non-MP can be appointed as a Minister, but he has to acquire membership within 6 months MP alone can be appointed as Minister
There is no legal responsibility of the Minister The legal responsibility of the Minister is present
There is no Shadow Cabinet Shadow Cabinet is present

Features of the (American) Presidential System 

  • The President in the American Presidential System holds a dual role as both the head of state and head of government. 
  • President is elected by the electoral college for 4 years and can be removed by impeachment.
  • President governs with help of his secretaries who are not elected and are answerable to him only.
  • Advice of secretaries not binding on the President
  • The President and his secretaries are neither answerable to the Congress nor have any membership.
  • The American Presidential System operates on the fundamental principle of the separation of powers in which the executive, legislature & judiciary are independent & separate.

Should India switch over to Presidential System?

Question of changing over to Presidential System has been raised various times

1956 Nehru himself expressed his doubts about whether the Parliamentary System could meet the needs of the times and the complexities of modern administration.
1960s The desirability of a switch-over to the Presidential system was discussed & several eminent men, including a person like JRD Tata, advocated a Presidential system for India.
1967   After Nehru, Congress’s monopoly of power began to be eroded at the level of States. The Presidential model is described as a remedy for all of India’s ills.
Indira’s Reign Demand became the most prominent

Arguments against

  • This issue was sufficiently discussed in the Constituent Assembly, and it made an informed choice after considering both the British and American models.  
  • It would violate the ‘basic structure‘ of the Constitution.
  • Presidential system centralises power in one individual unlike the Parliamentary System, where Prime Minister is first among equals
  • A diverse country like India can only function with consensus-building. But the Presidential System works on a “winner takes it all” approach. 
  • ‘Outside’ talent can be brought into a parliamentary system, too. Examples: C.D. Deshmukh, T.A. Pai, Manmohan Singh etc. 

Arguments in flavor

  • There is no genuine separation of powers as the legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since the government wields the majority in the House. 
  • During the time of the coalition government, the government is unstable and stands at the mercy of MPs & MLAs
  • Cabinet posts would not be limited to those who are electable rather than able. Experts can become ministers/secretaries. 
  • Fear that an elected President could become a Caesar/Authoritarian is ill-founded since the President’s power would be balanced by the legislature (including Rajya Sabha) 
  • It is good for diverse country like India because to get Bills passed, President instead of facing a monolithic opposition, would have the opportunity to build issue-based coalitions on different issues.
  • The Parliamentary system was taken from Britain, but conditions similar to Britain do not exist in India. It requires the existence of clearly defined political parties, whereas, in India, a party is all too often a label of convenience. 

The Present Parliamentary System has been tried and tested for nearly 70 years. As a famous saying goes – Why fix a thing which isn’t broken? Rather than changing the system, we should reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes.

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