Watching the developments in the aftermath of Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, I am intrigued at the craze of allying parties for the position of Deputy Chief Minister (Dy CM). The demand for inducting a leader as Dy CM is so firmly rooted that the party with the larger mandate but just short of majority finds forming the state government a hard nut to crack.
This is because this demand has the potential to make or break the joint venture, to decide the fortunes of other elected representatives and above all, to swing the state government in either way. When there is a coalition of winning parties, forming a cabinet in compliance to the Constitution is a tough task, demanding high degree of management of men, political acumen, and persuasion skills to make other aspirants accept what is available. The deft handling of a coalition government by former PM P V Narasimha Rao, who got elected with a slender majority and whose term witnessed upheavals such as the Babri Masjid demolition, is, even today, an example of how numbers and a cabinet can be made to work while balancing on a thin rope.
A Dy PM or CM is not enshrined in our Constitution; its framers felt that since the position of PM/CM is of vital importance, then naturally, only the fit (by both, merit and health) could be appointed. However, in the event of sickness or inability to discharge functions, it is for the incumbent PM/CM to identify the senior-most in the Council of Ministers whom they trust and hand over the responsibilities to him/her till they are fit to resume work. The discretion in identifying their deputy is their own, and it cannot be challenged.
This contrasts with, for instance, the American political system in which the candidate for Vice Presidency is selected by the contestants and declared publicly before Presidential elections. In the US, the Vice President has a decisive role and is the one in line for succession during the term should the President become unable to run the office for whatever reasons. During the term, the Vice President is given as much protection as the President is, so much so that he/she does not travel out of the country, with Foreign Affairs being looked after by the President and Secretary of State.
Absence of such a robust arrangement in the Indian system has, many times, given rise to political vacuum. The most notable one was the time after PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when for nearly seven hours, the country was without a leader. The oath-taking ceremony of Chaudhary Devi Lal as the Dy PM is the ugliest event country has witnessed since Independence, which, thanks to the politeness of the then president R Venkatraman, was taken care of. In all other instances in State and Centre, it was the decision of the leader at helm that prevailed.
Even when Arun Jaitley was critically ill, it was PM Modi who made him Minister without Portfolio and assigned Piyush Goyal the task of presenting the budget over the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance. Assuming we have a constitutionally permitted Dy CM, he/she is bound to be based in the state capital. Given that most affairs would, logically, be looked after by the designated minister or the CM, it is difficult to comprehend the value addition of this post.
Yet if the demand is fulfilled, the occupant will remain a lame duck enjoying the privileges of power and position, but with little benefit to the people who have elected him/her with great aspirations.
The Other Option
Robin Sharma in his book “The Leader Who Had No title” has called upon leaders to assume ownership and responsibility, raise the bar and begin to perform. However, in a short span of time, leaders typically find their power, name and fame radiating more than ever before.
The quest to enjoy this power blurs the vision of development. A Dy CM would become a productive force if he/she drives development and improvement in selected geographies and fields, in a dedicated manner. For example, Maharashtra’s Dy CM could focus on improving conditions in Vidarbha, which faces acute heat and water scarcity, or neighbouring Marathwada, which has agricultural lands but suffers from highest rate of farmer suicides, and further developing cultivation of oranges and cotton, strong points of Vidarbha and Marathwada respectively.
The aspiring Dy CM can also work towards improving living standards in Vidarbha and Marathwada by addressing problems which bog them down, by personally supervising development schemes and projects implemented there. By rooting themselves in the region and with the backing of the CM, they can reach out to stakeholders, coordinate directly with the government to get approvals, implement corrective actions and remedial measures at the grassroots level, and ensure quality and reach of the results. This is leading, without a title.
Five years are sufficient to deliver much needed results which can be further cemented with a concerted effort from the start, which will bring clear visibility and evolve a roadmap for development. The local population is bound to support this overwhelmingly, and both, the leader and the people will be rewarded in terms of time, effort, funds and above all, better quality of life. The leader, particularly, will be able to face voters with greater confidence, authority and friendliness in the next election and expect to win, with a bigger margin, by the virtue of work done. It is an easy way to silence opposition as well.
By converting their clamour for a plum post into an opportunity of serving the people better and improve their ratings, aspiring Dy CMs stand a better chance of securing their civic and political future. Ultimately, what matters at the end of term is achievement, not perennial expectation and sometimes, in a gentle and different way, one can attract leadership of the people without gaining a title.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
S Raghavan is a Renewable Energy analyst and Scribe - fields of interest being Politics, Women welfare and development, Rural Development and Climate Change.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.