Role of Opposition in Parliamentary Democracy – Shadow Cabinet Explained

Sansar LochanConstitution of IndiaLeave a Comment

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In a democracy such as India the ruling parties or coalitions often do not represent absolute majority of voters and this means that a large number of voters have reposed trust in what constitutes the opposition upon the completion of election process. Thus, the onus of aggregating and articulating the view of people is equally a responsibility of the opposition as that of the ruling party/parties. The opposition in such a context plays following roles:

Supervision and scrutiny of the executive through Parliament

General debates on legislations, discussion of the general budget and motions of censure, are the avenues through which the opposition subjects the policies and actions of the government to constant criticism. Public Accounts Committee and chief related standing committees are traditionally presided by a senior opposition member. Opposition leaders are also members of the ad hoc committees that are constituted for scrutinizing specific cases like the 2G probe.

  • Interest aggregation: By projecting alternate preferences, values and ideologies in policy, legislation and the budget process, it presents a viable alternative to the incumbent government and secures the interest of minorities.
  • Electoral transparency: The Opposition works with mass media and civil society organizations to monitor and improve the quality of voter registration and ensures fair polling.
  • Appointments: Leader of opposition plays an important role in appointment of crucial posts like the CVC and the Lokpal.

Shadow Cabinet

The Shadow Cabinet is a notional cabinet created by the leader of the opposition from among the opposition members of parliament (MPs). Each member of the shadow cabinet deals with a certain section of administration as is the case with the original cabinet. India borrowed its parliamentary structure from the Westminster System of UK; however, it did not adopt Shadow Cabinet system. Potentially, our parliament can benefit from the system through the empowerment as well as accountability brought in by the shadow cabinet system in the following ways:

  • Accountability: shadow ministers take on the real ministers more effectively and hold them accountable for their actions and policies.
  • Meaningful debate on policies: India’s political discourse focuses very less on policy talk. Having assigned roles to particular members would ensure that policy issues are followed up by the opposition leaders with more commitment.
  • Legitimacy of opposition: It would also help voters evaluate the work of the opposition more meaningfully.
  • Ministers of future: The skills of shadow cabinet leaders continue to evolve as they focus on specific ministries. Therefore, they are often appointed as ministers when their party comes to power.

Conclusion

The implementation of the shadow cabinet can be seen in its nascent form in states like Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra. The idea to succeed would require adjusting to Indian democracy where the parliament has multiple parties representing diverse regions.

GS PAPER II Polity UPSC Mains Question

What is the role that opposition plays in a democracy like India? In this context, discuss whether our Parliament can benefit from a shadow cabinet.

Approach:

  • Discuss the role played by opposition in a parliamentary democracy.
  • Define shadow cabinet and explain how India can benefit from it.
  • Conclude by discussing its feasibility in India.

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