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Eligibility

According to Article 84 of the Constitution of India, which sets the principle qualification for member of Parliament, and Article 75 of the Constitution of India, which sets the qualifications for the minister in the Union Council of Ministers, and the argument that the position of Prime Minister has been described as primus inter pares (the first among equals),[78] A Prime Minister must:

  • be a citizen of India.
  • be a member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. If the person chosen as Prime Minister is neither a member of the Lok Sabha nor the Rajya Sabha at the time of selection, they must become a member of either of the houses within six months.
  • be above 25 years of age if they are a member of the Lok Sabha, or, above 30 years of age if they are a member of the Rajya Sabha.
  • not hold any office of profit under the government of India or the government of any state or under any local or other authority subject to the control of any of the said governments.

Once a candidate is elected as the prime minister, they must vacate their posts at any private or government companies and may take up the position only on completion of their term.

Source: Wiki

From the above, it seems that any citizen of India can, in principle, become the PM. This is unlike the case of the US, where the president must be a natural-born U.S. citizen of the United States and must be a resident in the United States for at least 14 years.

Is this information given in Wikipedia correct?

I remember years ago hearing that Sonia Gandhi, an Italian who became an indian citizen, could not become the PM due to not being a natural-born citizen and Dr. Manmohan Singh was instead nominated as the PM in her place. But after searching a bit, it seems she could have become PM technically, but she decided not to due to political protests that she was not an ethnic Indian. Is this correct?

Also, I did not understand the last point in the eligibility. What is an "office of profit under government"? For example, Ambani and Adani both are making a lot of profit, but they are not working under the government. But they do take a lot of contracts from the government. Are they eligible to become the PM? Also, take a person who does some government job (like a teacher or some IAS officer), is that considered an "office of profit under government"? Will you be ineligible even after resigning from an "office of profit under government"?

2 Answers 2

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There is nothing in the constitution requiring a "natural born" citizen, still less requiring any particular ethnicity.

The term "office of profit" is a hang-over from the British. After the restoration of the Monarchy in the 17th century, there was a fear that the King would try to take over parliament either by offering to pay MPs a wage, or by setting up placement and pensioners as MPs. So Parliament legislated that nobody that was being paid by the crown could be an MP.

Of course in the 18th and 19th century it became normal for Ministers to be chosen from parliament, so the law was changed to allow for this. And while there are still a few offices of profit which would disqualify someone from being an MP, they are oddities, without duties and with only nominal payment (such as "Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds")

Nowadays all MP are paid a salary and Ministers get additional payments on top of their pay as MPs.

But as with much of English law and custom, it was codified in the Indian Constitution. The purpose, I suppose, is still to prevent the President from using his or her office to pack Parliament with paid yes-men and rule by diktat. An office of profit is any position that that has any payment associated with holding the position.

But the law has strange consequences in India, for example Jaya Bachchan was found to be ineligible as and MP as she held the position of Chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Film Development Corporation And this was determined to be an Office of Profit.

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  • If a person took several contracts with the government (for example, Ambani, Adani etc lease ports from the government), can he become an MP even if the contracts are ongoing? Jul 9, 2023 at 21:35
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    In my understanding of the law, that would not be an "office". It is not a position within the executive.
    – James K
    Jul 9, 2023 at 21:54
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    @KasiReddySreemanReddy Do they lease the ports personally? Something done by a company that you own or work for is not something done by you, and wouldn’t count to disqualify you.
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 10, 2023 at 5:54
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Yes, the Indian constitution does not debar a foreign-born naturalised Indian citizen from becoming the Prime Minister of India. And Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, an Italian born citizen who became an Indian citizen, could have become the Prime Minister of India, if she so desired.

The reason why the Indian constitution does not bar a foreign-born naturalised Indian citizen from this post, unlike the US, is because India's political system is designed around the consensus based Westminster system that offer better safeguards:

  1. The Indian Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people of India and it is the Members of Parliament that elect the Prime Minister from among themselves.

  2. The Prime Minister of India cannot unilaterally make decisions and the source of all Executive decisions is the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet) to which the PM also belongs.

Practically, the many hurdles they need to cross (while also being politically vetted) to become the Prime Minister of India include:

  1. Becoming the leader of a political party (win the support of a large number of dedicated party workers).

  2. Getting elected as Member of Parliament (win the support of a large number of Indian citizens).

  3. Winning support from the majority of the MPs in Parliament.

  4. Earning enough trust to get continuous support of the Council of Ministers and the Parliament to govern the country.

Thus, these checks and balances provide enough protection to ensure that a foreign-born naturalised citizen, with nefarious intentions against the Indian state, cannot rise up the political ladder easily.

These political safeguards ensures that every citizen of India enjoys the same democratic rights, without any prejudice.

As for the second part of the question, "office of profit" means any position for which the government of India (or the government of any Indian state) pays any remuneration and / or bestows administrative and executive powers.

Article 102(1)(a) of the Indian constitution states the rules under under which a Member of Parliament can be disqualified, and holding an "office of profit" is one of them:

(1) A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament—

(a) if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder; ...

(Article 191 (1) of the Indian constitution places similar restrictions on Members of Legislative Assembly of all Indian states).

So yes, anyone with any government job - like a teacher or an IAS officer - cannot be a Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly unless they resign from their position. The idea behind this is to ensure that the Government in power (the executive) cannot bribe an MP or MLA with more pay or executive powers to influence them.

Since a Prime Minister has to be a Member of Parliament, any potential PM candidate holding an "office of profit" is automatically disqualified from being an MP (and thus also the PM post).

But, there is currently no bar on an individual or industrialist becoming an MP or MLA even if they have lucrative government contracts. In fact, this has been a cause of concern highlighted by many politicians and the media as industrialists entering the Indian Parliament have been increasingly lobbying to get into Parliamentary Committees that frame industrial policies, and have even managed to do so to influence it. A most glaring example of this is the bidi baron and BJP MP, Shyama Charan Gupta:

... a member of the parliamentary committee on health claimed that there were no health risks associated with tobacco use. The mainstream media laughed at this suggestion. However, his comments were consequential; he was Shyama Charan Gupta, a BJP MP, known as the “bidi baron,” with an annual turnover of Rs. 200–250 crore in the bidi business. The health ministry heeded the recommendation of the parliamentary health committee not to display a warning covering 85 percent of tobacco products.

(In fact, even industrialist Anil Ambani is a former Member of Parliament).

Suggestions have actually been made to Parliament that industrialists with vested interests should not be allowed in Parliament Committees, but they are yet to be implemented:

In 2008, the Deo Committee set up to inquire into parliamentary misconduct said: “The committee members are of the view that a provision may be made to the effect that if a member has a personal, pecuniary or direct interest on any subject/matter, he should not be nominated in the first place to the Departmentally Related Standing Committee, which normally examines such subjects/matters” (Second Report of the Deo Committee, 2008). Some of the recommendations of the committee were accepted by the Rajya Sabha but have been ignored by the Lok Sabha.

(This is obviously very similar to the "office of profit" clause but only applicable to Parliamentary Committees, and does not seek to debar them from Parliament itself).

Sources:

  1. Article 102(1)(a) of Indian Constitution

  2. Office of Profit In India

  3. How do so many industrialists get into the Rajya Sabha?

  4. How Business and Politics Intersect in India's Porous State

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  • If a person took several contracts with the government (for example, Ambani, Adani etc lease ports from the government), can he become an MP even if the contracts are ongoing? Jul 9, 2023 at 21:35
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    @KasiReddySreemanReddy Yes, they can. Please see my updated answer.
    – sfxedit
    Jul 10, 2023 at 5:46
  • "The Indian Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people of India": neither was the US president elected by the people of the United States at first.
    – phoog
    Jul 10, 2023 at 7:00
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    @phoog The Prime Minister being indirectly elected by Members of Parliament (other politicians) provides a further 'vetting' by experienced politician. The US tries to do something similar with the electoral college that elects the President but it is inferior.
    – sfxedit
    Jul 10, 2023 at 7:15
  • @sfxedit but the electoral college was originally chosen very differently from how it is chosen today. The constitutional convention spent a good deal of time and effort providing for indirect election of the president; the premise that they included the natural-born citizen qualification because they found their solution to be insufficiently indirect doesn't hold water, at least not without some evidence from the convention records.
    – phoog
    Jul 10, 2023 at 9:39

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