The shadow cabinet or shadow ministry is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. Members of a shadow cabinet have no executive power. It is the shadow cabinet’s responsibility to scrutinise the policies and actions of the government, as well as to offer alternative policies. The shadow cabinet makes up the majority of the Official Opposition Frontbench. In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as a shadow minister. In the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and in New Zealand, the term spokesperson is used instead of shadow. In Canada, however, the term opposition critic is more common.
The shadow minister’s duties may give them considerable prominence in the party caucus hierarchy especially if it is a high-profile portfolio. Although the salary and benefits paid from the public treasury to shadow ministers remain the same as for a backbencher, some opposition parties provide an additional stipend in addition to the salary they receive as legislators while many at least reimburse shadow ministers for any additional expenses incurred that are not otherwise eligible for reimbursement out of public funds. Moreover, in most Westminster- style legislative bodies all recognized parliamentary parties are granted a block of public funding to help their elected members carry out their duties, often in addition to the budgets individual legislators receive to pay for constituency offices and other such expenses. There is typically a stipulation that such funds must be used for official parliamentary business, however within that restriction parties can usually distribute the funds among their elected lawmakers as they see fit and rhereby provide the money needed to staff and support shadow ministries.
One of the outstanding features of the British Parliamentary system is the shadow cabinet. The opposition party forms its own cabinet that would parallel that of the ruling party. They work under the Leader of Opposition and will have expert party workers or neutral members assisting them. Each cabinet minister and his team are matched with a shadow minister in the Opposition. Just as there would be unelected expert advisors in the cabinet minister’s team, the shadow minister also would have his own team. The shadow ministers neither have powers nor any extra payment, but they serve an important purpose. They get trained in governance while in the Opposition.
Each minister will have an in-depth knowledge of the portfolio he/she may be handling when his/her party gets power. The debates in the Parliament or Legislative Assemblies will become more informed instead of the cacophony Indian elected Houses are notorious for. This would make the life of the ruling party difficult in an informed and civilised way. The crux of democracy is that no government, whatever be the size of majority in the Parliament, can get away with autocratic and arbitrary decisions at the whims of its leader. Every act will have to be debated in the Parliament or Legislative Assembly. It is the debate that informs the public about the various aspects of any law that is being enacted.
Source: Wikipedia and The New Indian Express