The role of President while Appointing Prime Minister in a Hung Parliament in India

The author here discusses the role of President while Appointing Prime Minister in a Hung Parliament in India and a hung parliament is a term used when no single political party has won enough seats in the parliament (Lok Sabha) to form the government after the elections in a democracy.

Democracy is a term derived from the Greek word, demokratia, which was coined from the terms demos (people) and kratos (rule), therefore, democracy literally means ‘rule by the people’.[1] The British Oxford dictionary defines democracy as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”. Over the years various countries have adopted the democratic form of government, India being one of them. India is the second-most populous country in the world with the world’s largest constitution. India was ruled by the British for 190 years. It finally got its independence on 15th August 1947, and since then it has adopted the democratic form of government with a multi-party federal parliament, where the President is the head of the State and the Prime Minister is the head of the Government. The Election Commission of India (ECI) conducts its general elections every five years in the country, as allowed by the Constitution of India. In the present day, for a political party to form the government of India at the union level, it has to secure 272 seats out of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, i.e. House of people or the Lower house. The minimum number of seats required to secure in the state legislatures various from state to state. In Indian history, not every time a party could secure the minimum requirement of seats leading to a situation of Hung Parliament. A hung parliament is a term used when no single political party has won enough seats in the parliament (Lok Sabha) to form the government after the elections in a democracy. The situation of a hung parliament is occasional, but when it does occur, the President of India has a very important role to play.

History of Hung Parliaments in India

The ECI conducted its general elections between 22nd and 26th November in the year 1989 to elect its 9th Lok Sabha. This was the first hung parliament of the post-independence India. This situation was believed to have been arisen due to the increase in numbers of regional political parties in the country.[2]The number of seats secured by the top political parties was as follows:

  • Indian National Congress (INC) – 197
  • Janata Dal (JD) – 143
  • Bharat Janata Party (BJP) – 85

A party required a minimum of 263 seats in the Lok Sabha to form the government then, but none of the political parties could meet the requirement that year. In such a scenario, the then President, Shri Ramaswamy Venkataraman, played a significant role in forming the government. Shri R. Venkatraman was selected as the President of India in July 1987. Following the hung parliament in 1989, he proposed a rule of invitation in the order of the strength of the political parties because he believed that to be the wisest and non-debatable decision. According to his views, once the leader of the strongest party is invited, the President should not look at the quantum of support at the time of invitation, rather it should be demonstrated by the leader’s supporters in the Lok Sabha.[3] He applied this rule by inviting Vishwanath Pratap Singh, the then leader of Janata Dal party, as he believed that to be the strongest party due to too many post-election controversies against the Congress party. The President asked him to demonstrate his support in the Lok Sabha to form the government and become the Prime Minister of India. Again in 1991 when the elections were held, the results showed a hung parliament. Congress managed to secure 232 seats becoming the single largest party.[4] Then Shri R. Venkatraman re-applied his rule in the year 1991 when he invited Narasimha Rao, the then leader of the Congress party to form the government and become the Prime Minister of India.[5]

Also Read  Cannibalism: Custom a valid Justification?

The year 1996 saw the second hung parliament in India:

  • BJP – 161
  • INC – 140
  • JD – 46

The general election was conducted to elect its 11th Lok Sabha. The then President, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma, unlike Shri R. Venkataraman, invited the single largest party’s leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to form the government. A similar event arose in the year 1998 as well, during the Presidential term of Shri K.R.Narayanan. The results were as follows:

  • BJP – 182
  • INC – 141
  • Communist Party of India (CPI) – 32

President K.R. Narayanan invited BJP’s leader to form the government by proving his support in the Lok Sabha within a stipulated period, as it was the largest single party. Shri K.R. Narayanan further laid down some guidelines for handling hung parliaments in the future, he stated, “When no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the head of State, in India and elsewhere, must give the first opportunity to the leader of the party or combination of parties that has won the largest number of seats, subject to the Prime Minister so appointed obtaining majority support on the floor of the Lok Sabha within a stipulated time”.[6] The 14th Lok Sabha election in 2004 again showed a hung parliament. Congress was the single largest party with 145 seats and assured support from left parties, so was invited by the then President,Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, to form the government after showing sufficient support from other parties in the Lok Sabha within the stipulated time.[7] The hung parliament scenarios in India show how the serving Presidents had a very vital role to play in forming a government that would not create any problem and would be acceptable by the public. They had to take into account various conditions and had to put a lot of thought into deciding which party leader to invite for forming the government. The lack of structured laws, rules or guidelines for a hung parliament in India, made the job of the Presidents even more difficult. They were required to interpret their roles and powers from the guidelines laid down in the Indian Constitution, a few judicial decisions and the reports of established commissions, and function accordingly.

Laws and Guidelines for Hung Parliament

Article 75(1) of the Constitution of India states,“The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.”From this article, it could be interpreted that the President must appoint the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. It is the convention that the leader of the majority party in Lok Sabha should be appointed as the Prime Minister.[8]Therefore, in a hung parliament as well, the President must appoint a Prime Minister following the law and procedure. Similarly, article 164(1) of the Constitution of India provides, “The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.” Like the President appoints the Prime Minister in the Union level, the Governors have to appoint the Chief Ministers in their respective states. Hung parliaments are very common in state legislatures, and like the President, the Governors play an important role at the state level to form the state governments.

Also Read  When can an order to release on probation of good conduct be granted by a court?

Once a hung parliament is declared the President takes the further responsibilities to form the government at the union level. Generally, the President invites the leader of the largest single party to form the government. If that is not possible, then the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance is invited to form the government. Again if that option does not seem right then the leader of the largest post-poll alliance is called by the President to form the government by showing his/her support in the Lok Sabha within the stipulated time. If the leader of the single largest party may be ruled out if it is clear that he/she would not be able to secure enough support from the other parties in Lok Sabha. In that case, the President is required to use his judgement as to who would be able to form and maintain a stable government and become the Prime Minister. It is completely the President’s discretion to assess the situation, consult others if required and finally invite a leader who will be capable to form a stable government with enough support from the other parties. The President then calls for a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha as soon as he decides on whom to invite. If the party or the coalition can prove majority, they form the government and the chosen leader becomes the Prime Minister. However, after the formation of a government, if it does not function as expected and may cause chaos, then the Parliament is dissolved and fresh elections are held. The President’s rule may be imposed in case no party or coalition can form a stable government. However, this can be done for a maximum of six months, after which fresh elections must be held.[9]

In the year 1983, the Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a commission, known as the Sarkaria Commission, under the Chairmanship of Justice R.S. Sarkaria,with Shri B. Sivaraman and Dr S.R. Sen as its members. The commission was set up to “examine and review the working of the existing arrangements between the Union and States regarding powers, functions and responsibilities in all spheres and recommend such changes or other measures as may be appropriate”.[10] The Commission after conducting several studies, eliciting information, holding discussions and after detailed deliberations submitted its 1600-page report in January 1988. The report contains 247 recommendations spreading over 19 Chapters.

In Chapter 4 of its report, the commission recommended, “Soon after an election when a single party or a coalition emerges as the largest single party or group, there is no difficulty in the selection and appointment of a Chief Minister. However, where no single party or group command an absolute majority, the Governor has to exercise his discretion in the selection of Chief Minister. In such a situation, the leader of the party or group which, in so far as the Governor is able to ascertain, has the largest support in the legislative Assembly, may be called upon to form the Government, leaving it to the Assembly to determine the question of confidence. This procedure leaves little scope for any allegation of unfairness or partisanship on the part of the Governor in the use of his discretion. Such a situation may also arise when a Ministry resigns after being defeated in the Assembly or because it finds itself in a minority”.[11]

Also Read  Defamation, an Injury to Reputation: An Offence?

Concerning a hung parliament, the commission recommendations affirmed in the case of Rameshwar Prasad v. Union of India[12]by the Supreme Court bench could be seen to have made the following mandates for the President and the Governors to follow:

  1. The first preference is to be given to a pre-poll alliance commanding a majority in the House.
  2. Thesecondpreferenceistobegiventothesinglelargestpartywithoutamajorityofits own.
  3. The third preference is to be given to a post-election alliance with all partners joining the government.
  4. The fourth, and last, preference is to be given to an alliance wherein some may join the government and others’ provide outside support.

Although the commission specified its reference to the formation of the state governments in India, their suggestions are equally significant to the President as well to form the national government during the crisis of a hung parliament.

Conclusion

It has been almost 73 years since India got its Independence. Since then, to meet by society’s dynamic nature, there have been continuous amendments in the Indian Constitution. India since its independence has been constantly facing ups and downs in its political scenario. Hung parliaments being one of the difficult political situations to deal with completely rests on the President to form a stable government. As seen in the history of Indian hung parliaments, the Presidents have been playing a very essential role by taking decisions such as which party leader to invite to form the government. Unfortunately, they did fail sometimes in their decisions, but have learnt from every decision of theirs, and assisted their successors by making their job more affluent in the times of crisis. Even the state governors fulfilled their duties by ensuring the formation of stable governments in case of hung parliaments in their states. Fortunately, the previous two elections conducted in the year 2014 and 2019, BJP succeeded in securing the majority of seats and forming the national government hazel free.

Also read A Tug of War Between Parliament and Judiciary: A Constructive Appraisal to the Game of Supremacy


[1] Robert A. Dahl, Democracy (February 19 2020), https://www.britannica.com/topic/democracy

[2]T.R. Andhyarujina, Hung House? It’s over to the President (May 13, 2002, 04.46 IST), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Hung-House-Its-over-to-the-President/articleshow/4522795.cms

[3]Ibid.

[4]History of Indian General Elections (Lok Sabha), https://www.indiamacroadvisors.com/page/category/politics/history-of-general-elections/

[5]T.R. Andhyarujina, Hung House? It’s over to the President (May 13, 2002, 04.46 IST), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Hung-House-Its-over-to-the-President/articleshow/4522795.cms

[6]Ibid.

[7]T.R. Andhyarujina, President and Precedent (May 16, 2014, 12.05 am), https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/president-and-precedent/

[8]P. B. Mukharj, The Critical Problems of Indian Constitution, 155 (1967)

[9]Shreyashi Roy and Manya Kochhar, LS Elections: What Happens When No Party Gets the Magical Number? (April 11, 2019, 08:46 am), https://www.thequint.com/explainers/hung-parliament-explained

[10]Sarkaria Commission, http://interstatecouncil.nic.in/sarkaria-commission/

[11]Chapter IV, Role of the Governor, http://interstatecouncil.nic.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/CHAPTERIV.pdf

[12]AIR 2006 SC 980