In the identification and appointment of a Prime Minister, the President exercises full discretion. He does, however, have before him the well-established norm that the person selected to be Prime Minister should be able to secure the confidence of the House.
When no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the Head of State has, in India and elsewhere, given 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 House within a stipulated period of time. This procedure is not, however, an all-time formula because situations can arise when MPs not belonging to the single largest party or combination can, as a collective entity, outnumber the "single largest" claimant.
The President's choice of a Prime Minister is pivoted on the would-be Prime Minister's claims of commanding majority support.
The President has noted the following in regard to the 12th Lok Sabha:
One, no party or pre-election alliance of parties has won the number of seats required to give it a clear majority in the House;
Two, the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the single largest party, though short of a majority;
Three, the BJP-led pre-election combination of parties and individuals is also the single largest of such formations in the House;
Four, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been duly elected Leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Parliament.
Having regard to the foregoing, the President wrote to Shri Vajpayee on 10.3.1998, asking if he was able and willing to form a stable government which could secure the confidence of the House.
Shri Vajpayee called on the President at 8.00 pm on 10 March 1998 and submitted a letter indicating the support of 252 MPs. The President asked Shri Vajpayee to furnish documents in support of his claim from concerned political parties and individuals. Shri Vajapayee was able to furnish a list of 240 MPs on 12 March, 1998, backed with letters of support. This figure - 240 - was found to be short of the halfway mark in the House of 539. The President also noted that some of the BJP's allies had stated that their support would be "from outside".
While continuing his discussions with the BJP, the President thereupon held consultations with leaders of the Congress and the UF, including the General Secretaries of the CPI(M) and CPI. He also held discussions with former Prime Ministers, S/Shri Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda.
The President had a telephonic talk with Shri N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, who informed the President that the 12 Telugu Desam Party MPs in the 12th Lok Sabha would remain neutral, as between the Congress and the BJP.
The Congress and the UF leaders and the General Secretaries of the CPI(M) and CPI informed the President that they were in contact with one another on the possibility of a Congress-UF understanding on government formation. They however sought some time for this process, especially as the Congress Party in Parliament was yet to elect its leader. The Congress delegation led by Shri Sitaram Kesri informed the President that if, meanwhile, the BJP and its allies came to the President with the requisite numbers, the situation would change.
On 14.3.1998 afternoon, a letter was delivered to the President from Ms. J. Jayalalitha, General Secretary of the AIADMK pledging the "total and unconditional support" of the AIADMK's 18 MPs to the BJP to form the new government. The President also received letters from other Tamil Nadu parties and MPs who had contested the elections as electoral allies of the BJP. On 15.3.1998 afternoon, the President noted the announcement of the AIADMK General Secretary that the AIADMK and its alliance partners, the PMK and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress would participate in a BJP-led government. A subsequent communication addressed to the President from her confirmed this.
Smt. Sonia Gandhi who has taken over as the new President of the Congress on 14.3.1998 met the President at 5.00 pm on 15.3.1998. Talking to media persons shortly after her meeting with the President, Smt. Gandhi said Congress was not staking a claim as it did not have the numbers. This made it clear that a viable alternative to a BJP-led government would not be obtainable now.
The number of MPs supporting the formation of a government by the BJP now comes to 264. This number - 264 - remains short of the halfway mark in the total House of 539. However, when seen in the context of the TDP's decision as conveyed to the President by Shri Chandrababu Naidu, to remain neutral, the number of 264 does cross that mark.
The President has, under the circumstances, been pleased to appoint Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. He has requested Shri Vajpayee to advise him on the names of others to be appointed as members of his Council of Ministers. The President has also advised Shri Vajpayee to secure a vote of confidence on the floor of the House within ten days of his being sworn in .
Shri Vajpayee will be administered the oaths of office and secrecy at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday, 19 March 1998 in the forenoon.