Prime Ministers of India

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PRIME MINISTERS OF INDIA The prime minister is the leader of the ruling party in the national Parliament and the effective political head of the government of India, in contrast to the president of India, who is the constitutional head of state exercising the formal duties of government. The parallels are that of the prime minister and the crown in the British parliamentary system, which served as the model for the Indian political system. The prime minister, who oversees the functions of government, is assisted in this task by a Council of Ministers comprising cabinet ministers, ministers of state with independent charge, ministers of state who work with cabinet ministers, and deputy ministers. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister.

By constitutional arrangements, the president of India appoints as prime minister the leader of the party or alliance that enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament). If no single party or alliance has secured a majority of seats, the leader of the largest single party or alliance group is appointed prime minister. In these unclear circumstances, the appointed prime minister must demonstrate the party or coalition's ability to govern by securing a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha, that is, a majority of votes cast on the issue of governability.

The prime minister can be a member of either the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) or the Lok Sabha. As prime minister, he or she is the leader of the house to which he or she belongs. The prime minister is also the chairman of the Planning Commission of India. As head of the Council of Ministers, the prime minister oversees the work of all the ministries. He or she presides over Cabinet meetings, which are normally held in the Cabinet room of the prime minister's office. The Union Cabinet functions on the principle of "collective responsibility."

The prime minister's office (PMO) is located at South Block, Raisina Hill, in New Delhi. South Block is one of the two secretariat blocks (the other is known as North Block) that flank Rashtrapati Bhavan, the residence of the president of India. The PMO staff provides secretarial assistance to the prime minister. It is headed by the principal secretary to the prime minister and is staffed by other civil service officers and clerical staff. The PMO also includes the anticorruption unit and the public wing, which deals with grievances.

The range of subjects that the prime minister examines directly depends on the ministerial portfolios that the prime minister has chosen to keep under his responsibility. Other subjects are the responsibility of the cabinet minister or minister of state (independent charge) in charge of the ministry. Most subjects and issues are dealt with by the cabinet minister or minister of state-in-charge. All important policy issues that the minister in charge feels require the attention of the prime minister are sent to the PMO. The prime minister has traditionally been the minister-in-charge of the Departments of Space, Atomic Energy, and Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. The prime minister has traditionally been the chairman of the Planning Commission as well.


Prime MinisterPartyDates in Office
Defeated = ruling party or coalition defeated in elections Died = died in office Note: Gulzarilal Nanda was interim caretaker prime minister for a few weeks following the deaths of Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shashtri in January 1966. *Rajiv Gandhi's father was a Parsi Zorastrian although his religion is identified by that of his mother, Indira Gandhi.
Jawaharlal Nehru (North/Hindu) Congress August 1947–May 1964 (died)
Lal Bahadur Shastri (North/Hindu) Congress June 1964–January 1966 (died)
Indira Gandhi (North/Hindu) Congress January 1966–March 1977 (defeated)
Morarji Desai (North/Hindu) Janata March 1977–July 1979 (defeated)
Charan Singh (North/Hindu) Janata July 1979–January 1980 (defeated)
Indira Gandhi (North/Hindu) Congress January 1980–October 1984 (died)
Rajiv Gandhi (North/Hindu)* Congress October 1984–December 1989 (defeated)
Vishwanath P. Singh (North/Hindu) National Front Coalition December 1989–November 1990 (defeated)
Chandra Shekhar Samavadi (North/Hindu) Janata November 1990–June 1991 (defeated)
P. V. Narasimha Rao (South/Hindu) Congress January 1991–June 1996 (defeated)
H. D. Deve Gowda (South/Hindu)United Front CoalitionJune 1996–April 1997 (replaced)
Inder K. Gujral (North/Hindu)United Front CoalitionApril 1997–December 1997 (defeated)
Atal B. Vajpayee (North/Hindu)BJP-led CoalitionMarch 1998–April 1999 (lost vote of no confidence)
Atal B. Vajpayee (North/Hindu)BJP-led CoalitionOctober 1999–2004 (defeated)
Manmohan Singh (North/Sikh)Congress-led CoalitionMay 2004–

Important issues that usually require the Prime Minister's personal attention include the following:

  1. Important defense-related issues;
  2. Decorations, both civilian and defense, where presidential approval is required;
  3. All important policy issues;
  4. Proposals for appointment of Indian heads of missions abroad and requests for grant of agreement for foreign heads of missions posted to India;
  5. All important decisions relating to the Cabinet Secretariat;
  6. Appointments to State Administrative Tribunals and the Central Administrative Tribunal, Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Election Commission, appointment of members of statutory/constitutional committees, commissions attached to various ministries;
  7. All policy matters relating to the administration of the civil services and administrative reforms;
  8. Special packages announced by the prime minister for states are monitored in the PMO and periodical reports submitted to the prime minister; and
  9. All judicial appointments for which presidential approval is required.

Parliament questions relating to the ministries and departments of which the prime minister is the ministerin-charge are first examined and answered by his civil service staff of experts, then submitted to the prime minister for his judgments and views, and then presented to Parliament by the prime minister himself.

Prime Ministers since 1947

Jawaharlal Nehru (1947–1964)

The first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru held office for seventeen years, the longest thus far of any Indian prime minister. He was born in 1889. An intellectual, he laid the foundations of India's secular democracy and is the author of the monumental The Discovery of India, a personal interpretation of Indian history and politics, much of which was written while he was jailed during the freedom struggle against the British. He died in office in 1964.

Gulzari Lal Nanda (May–June 1964, acting; 11–24 January 1966, acting)

A follower of Mahatma Gandhi's movement, Gulzari Lal Nanda was born in 1898. A veteran labor leader, he was a long-time Congress Party member, and he held several portfolios in the Union Cabinet. He died in 1998.

Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964–1966)

Known for showing resolve during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, Lal Bahadur Shastri negotiated the subsequent Indo-Pakistani agreement at Tashkent with Pakistani president General Ayub Khan. He was born in 1904 and died in 1966.

Indira Gandhi (1966–1977; 1980–1984)

The daughter and only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was born in 1917. The second-longest ruling prime minister after her father, she held office for fifteen years in two separate terms. Her son Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister following her assassination in 1984. A strong, outspoken leader with an independent mind, she negotiated the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971, and then led India to victory in the December 1971 war against Pakistan.

Morarji Desai (1977–1979)

The first non-Congress Party prime minister of India, Morarji Desai was born in 1896. He was a member of the Congress Party for decades, serving as finance minister and deputy prime minister, until he defected from the Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. He served as chief minister of Maharashtra from 1952 to 1956. A staunch Gandhian and naturalist, he died in 1995.

Charan Singh (1979–1980)

Born in 1902, Charan Singh occupied the position of president of the Lok Dal for many years. He was the deputy prime minister during the Janata regime from 1977 to 1979. He died in 1987.

Rajiv Gandhi (1984–1989)

The son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi was born in 1944. A commercial pilot turned politician, he was assassinated during an election campaign in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Vishwanath Prathap Singh (1989–1990)

A Union minister in the Janata Party government from 1977 to 1980, Vishwanath Prathap Singh was a senior leader of Janata Dal. Born in 1931 into a North Indian princely family, Singh was a renowned painter. He served as prime minister of a coalition government from 1989 to 1990.

Chandra Shekhar Samavadi (1990–1991)

Born in 1927, Chandra Shekhar Samavadi was a parliamentarian and a socialist. He served as president of the socialist Janata Party from 1977.

P. V. Narasimha Rao (1991–1996)

Born in 1921, P. V. Narasimha Rao served as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh from 1971 to 1973, external affairs minister, defense minister, and human resources minister in the Congress government from 1980 onward, then as prime minister.

H. D. Deve Gowda (1996–1997)

Born in 1933, H. D. Deve Gowda was the former chief minister of Karnataka and a Janata Dal leader.

Inder K. Gujral (1997–1998)

Born in 1919, Inder K. Gujral was formerly a minister in the Union Cabinet from 1967 to 1976 and from 1989 to 1990, minister of external affairs (1989–1990, 1996–1997), and ambassador to the Soviet Union (1976–1980).

Atal B. Vajpayee (1998–1999, 1999–2004)

A longtime Jana Sangh and later Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in 1924. A poet, journalist, and social worker with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he was a founding member of the Hindu nationalist party, the Jan Sangh, and the former president of the BJP. He was the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha in 1993 as a member of the BJP.

Dr. Manmohan Singh (22 May 2004–)

Born in 1932, Manmohan Singh is best known as the "father of Indian reforms" for his role in the economic reforms of 1991, when he served as finance minister of the Congress Party government. An academician by profession, he has taught in several universities and also has held various positions in government service.

Raju G. C. Thomas

See alsoGandhi, Indira ; Gandhi, Rajiv ; Nehru, Jawaharlal ; Political System ; Singh, Manmohan ; Vajpayee, Atal Bihari


Gupta, M. G. The Prime Ministers of India. New Delhi: M. G. Publishers, 1989.

Hardgrave, Robert, Jr., and Stanley A. Kochanek. India: Government and Politics in a Developing Nation. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000.

Manor, James, ed. Nehru to the Nineties: The Changing Office of Prime Minister in India. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994.

Mehta, Ved. Family Affair: India under Three Prime Ministers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Seshan, N. K. With Three Prime Ministers: Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. New Delhi: Wiley Eastern Ltd., 1993.

Thakur, Janardhan. Prime Ministers. New Delhi: BPI (India) Ltd., 2002.