Anyone who says politics is a game of novices and inexperienced people needs to get his/her facts right. Experience, management and negotiation skills are equally important. More than people’s mandate – behind the scene ability to swing the political mood is one of the most important traits required to adorn the highest political office. Whatever people may say, it is much beyond a simple number game and the ability to manage the flock of parliamentarians plays an equally big difference when it comes to deciding who adorns the PMs gaddi in democratic India.
Had it not been so Jawaharlal Nehru a relatively lightweight politician could not have overshadowed stalwarts like Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhash Chander Bose, Jayaprakash Narayan or Maulana Azad without much of support within the Indian National Congress. Nehru managed to bypass all the other prominent leaders and was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of India on 15 August 1947. He occupied the PM’s post for 16 years and 286 days until his death in 1964. Till date, he holds the record for being the longest-serving Prime Minister of India.
It is common knowledge that Maulana Azad, who had been Congress President for six years in 1940, was keen to be re-elected, but Mahatma Gandhi prevailed upon him to step down as CWC President. Similarly, even though 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress committees nominated Sardar Patel and not even one of the Pradesh Congress Committees voted in favour of Nehru, Gandhi managed to persuade Patel to withdraw and the rest is history. According to political pundits, Gandhi put his foot down and chose Nehru over Patel in 1929, 1936 and 1946 to pave the way for Nehru – a spoilt brat to be the Congress President and India’s first Prime Minister.
Michael Brecher an eminent political scientist and Yale University professor wrote, “If Gandhi had not intervened, Patel would have been the first de facto Premier of India, in 1946-7…. The Sardar was ‘robbed of the prize’ and it rankled deeply.” Expressing similar sentiments C. Rajagopalachari wrote, “Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister…”
After Nehru’s death Lal Bahadur Shastri—a former home minister stepped in as the Prime Minister but reportedly died of a heart attack after signing the Tashkent Declaration. He was succeeded by Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi — the first Woman Prime minister of India and grandson Rajiv Gandhi the youngest Prime minister of India. Indira Gandhi served for two terms 11 years, 59 days and 4 years, 291 days while her son Rajiv was PM for 5 years, 32 days. So to say the Nehru family collectively ruled India close to 37 years.
Looking back at the sequence of events in hindsight –all the 15 PMs elected by the people of India including Gulzarilal Nanda weren’t newcomers and had loads of experience in active politics. Before being appointed PM at least six of them — Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, P.V.Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda and Narendra Modi – had served as Chief Ministers of one or the other State before being selected for the top job.
Before being appointed as the 4th Prime Minister of India Morarji Ranchhodji Desai had served as the Home Minister, Finance Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister of India during his long stint in politics. Before moving to mainstream national politics, Desai had also served as the Revenue Minister and Home Minister of Bombay Presidency before taking over as the Chief Minister of Bombay State. He won the election under the umbrella of the Janata Party and became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India after the emergency was lifted in 1977. He happens to be the oldest person to hold the office of Prime Minister at the age of 81.
Charan Singh, who replaced Morarji Desai as the 5th Prime Minister of India (28 July 1979 and 14 January 1980) had served as Chief Minister of the undivided Uttar Pradesh (1967–1968 and again in 1970) before joining the Morarji government as Deputy Prime Minister in January 1979. However within a few months, the Morarji government was reduced to a minority and Charan Singh was sworn in as Prime Minister on 28 July 1979, with outside support of Congress (I) and the Congress (Socialist) party. However, he resigned after just 24 weeks in office when Congress (I) withdrew support to his government because he reportedly refused to withdraw the court cases against Indira Gandhi related to excesses during emergency. Singh advised President Neelam Sajiva Reddy to dissolve the Lok Sabha and continued as caretaker Prime Minister until January 1980. His term of 5 months, is the shortest in the history of the Prime Minister’s office.
V.P. Singh who became the 8th Prime Minister of India from 1989 to 1990 had served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. His term as CM of UP is known for the decimation and surrender of the Phoolan Devi gang. During his tenure in politics, he held various cabinet posts, including Minister of Finance and Minister of Defence in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet before quitting launching a political front called Jan Morcha after the Bofors and HDW submarine scandals came to light. He went on to be the Prime Minister of India but his term lasted just 343 days.
P.V. Narasimha Rao, who went on to be the 9th Prime Minister of India from 1991 to 1996 happened to be the first Prime Minister from South India. Before serving as PM he had been Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh between 1971–1973. He is referred to as the “Father of Indian Economic Reforms” to rescue the almost bankrupt nation from economic collapse. According to political analysts, Rao had given the green signal to APJ Abdul Kalam to conduct the nuclear tests in 1996 which could not be carried out as his government was voted out in the 1996 general elections. The tests were later conducted by the NDA government after he reportedly briefed his successor Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the strategic nuclear plans.
H.D. Deve Gowda who served as the 12th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997 was previously the 14th Chief Minister of Karnataka from 1994 to 1996. Gowda stepped down as Chief Minister and resigned as a member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly after he was named PM. However, his term as Prime Minister lasted for less than a year. After his Prime Ministerial tenure, he was elected to the 12th, 14th, 15th, and 16th Lok Sabha, as Member of Parliament for the Hassan Lok Sabha constituency.
Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in May 2014 and is serving as the 14th and current Prime Minister of India. Before this, he served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat for four times from 2001 to 2014. He is the first Prime Minister outside of the Indian National Congress to win two consecutive terms with a full majority and the second to complete more than five years in office after Atal Bihari Vajpayee
This is not all — at least four Presidents of India had sharpened their administrative skills while previously holding the office of CM in a state or Minister in the Union Cabinet.
These include Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who went on to be the sixth President of India after serving as the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (Oct 1956) and Union Minister (1964 to 1967). He served for two terms as Speaker of the Lok Sabha and union cabinet minister under Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi —before becoming the youngest-ever Indian President. Reddy worked with Prime Ministers Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Indira Gandhi as President.
Before being elected as the 7th President of India ( 1982-1987) Giani Zail Singh served as Chief Minister of Punjab (1972) and Union Home Minister (1982). He was the first Sikh to hold the office of President of India. His term as President was marked by Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
B.D. Jatti the fifth Vice President of India (1974 to 1979) was Chief Minister of Mysore (1958 -1962). He also served as the Lt Governor of Pondicherry, Governor of Odisha and became acting President for a brief period after the sudden death of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in 1977. In April 1977, when the Union Home Ministry decided to dissolve the assemblies in nine states, Jatti refused to sign the order. This was undoubtedly one of the rare occasions when the President acted against the advice of the Cabinet. Though he later rescinded and signed the order, Jatti set a clear precedent that the centre’s action should not only be politically and constitutionally correct but also appear to be proper.
Likewise before being elected ninth President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma served as the Chief Minister of Bhopal, Cabinet Minister and eighth Vice President of India.
Moral of the story: Experience counts