Prime Minister’s Office: The Fulcrum of Indian Administration

Date01 March 2019
Publication Date01 March 2019
AuthorRajani Ranjan Jha
Prime Minister’s Office:
The Fulcrum of Indian
Rajani Ranjan Jha1
Prime minister occupies a pivotal position in any parliamentary system of
government. At the time of India’s Independence, the prime minister’s office
(PMO) started working as a low profile non-constitutional and non-statutory
body. But within less than two decades, the PMO emerged as an institution
with a formidable influence in policymaking. It was sometimes labelled as the
parallel government. This article is a modest attempt to discuss the origin and
development of the PMO in India right from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
to PM Narendra Modi. In the process, it deals briefly with the organisational
structure of PMO and the role of the principal secretary to the PMO. Additionally,
the article examines how with every prime minister importance of the PMO
changes. This nerve centre of power basks in the reflected glory of its incumbent,
the Prime Minister of India.
PMO, parliamentary system, extraconstitutional body, principal secretary
In the parliamentary system of government, the position of the prime minister is
most important.1 His or her status has been described by political commentators in
various ways. The PM is the ‘first among the equals’, the ‘moon among the stars’
and the ‘sun around which the system revolves ’. In due course of time, the parlia-
mentary system gave way to the cabinet system in England and the post-Second
World War period witnessed the transformation of cabinet government into what
R.H.S Crossman, the British thinker and statesman, called prime ministerial govern-
ment. He further said that the role which the earlier cabinet used to do (that of a
Indian Journal of Public
65(1) 13–28, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556118822029
1 Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Corresponding author:
Rajani Ranjan Jha, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
221005, India.
14 Indian Journal of Public Administration 65(1)
hyphen and buckle that joins and fastens the legislative part of the state to the
executive) is now fulfilled by a single man, the PM. Thus, parliamentary supremacy
had become a myth and even cabinet government turned into an obsolete concept.
The PM alone stood at the apex of the pyramid of power. No wonder, in the contem-
porary era some of the analysts have preferred to name it as ‘Primedential system’
basically to refer a situation in which the PM uses the authority which is almost
analogous to the powers enjoyed by the American president supposed to be the most
powerful executive in the world. It is common knowledge that the position and role
of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) very much depend on the political thinking,
personality and the position of the PM in his party, his relations with his cabinet
colleagues and his popularity with the masses. The PMO receives its authority from
the PM and he alone decides how and in which way he wants to use his office.
Need for a PM’s Office
After Independence, India opted for parliamentary system of government. This
was the natural choice as most of its leaders were trained in this system which was
gradually introduced during the long period of long British rule in India. The
Constitution of India does not talk much about the position and powers of the
Prime Minister nor about his duties in detail. It is well known that he represents,
to borrow from the British context Walter Bagehot’s phrase, the ‘efficient’ part of
the constitutional system in India and all the executive powers listed in the name
of the President of India are virtually enjoyed by him. He is the real source of
power and authority which comes to him owing to the popular mandate that he
enjoys in full measure. The PM is the linchpin of the government. According to
British political scientist Dennis Kavanagh, ‘The Prime Minister is a political as
well as an ex ecutive leader’ (Kavanagh, 2000). In contemporary times, the PM has
a number of roles to perform: as the head of the government, as the head of the
council of ministers, as the leader of parliament, as the most important leader of
his party, as the authoritative chief spokesman of the country in international rela-
tions and so on. The cabinet system of government in India also has, over the
years, given rise to the prime ministerial form of government. Put briefly, a prime
ministerial system of government may be described as one in which the govern-
ment is headed by a dynamic, efficient and strong PM who wields enormous
powers by virtue of his/her personality and his control and command over govern-
ment and the party and his popularity with people. The structure of governance
becomes centralised and the leader/PM has strong control over decision-making.
This has been possible in India due to some developments in which increasingly
we find that the parliamentary elections have turned into the election of PM;
the PM is the real executive and has power to appoint and dismiss ministers
(they continue in office at the will of the PM), and he is the coordinator of govern-
ment policies; in that capacity the PM has the right to supervise the functioning of
all the departments and can intervene in the case of an emergent need.
Unlike some 40 years ago, the PM has to attend numerous summit-level meet-
ings of heads of governments on economic, strategic, environmental, diplomatic
and host of other issues. He has to remain in touch with most of the world leaders

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