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Of politics and demotions

In the US, a one-time president can become a vice president – there is no bar in the Constitution, although it has never happened in history.

ATANU BISWAS | New Delhi |

It’s not often that a former Chief Minister becomes a deputy CM. Quite naturally, thus, such an action is bound to attract huge public attention. Is such an event a result of compulsion of ruthless realpolitik? Is the party’s internal equation instrumental for this? Or is this a stepping stone for a big future step – for the concerned party and the person? Sometimes, of course. Political demotions within a party’s internal structure are a common affair that occur routinely across all parties. However, in this discussion, we pay attention to the demotion of political leaders in public offices. Devendra Fadnavis is certainly not the first Chief Minister to serve a lower post subsequently. Veteran Gandhian Babubhai Jashbai Patel, who had been the Chief Minister of Gujarat twice earlier, accepted the specially created Narmada Development Ministry in the Chimanbhai Patel Cabinet in the 1990s.

Babulal Gaur, the ‘accidental chief minister’ of Madhya Pradesh during 2004- 2005, also served as a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh subsequently. There are examples in Maharashtra as well – even in the Uddhav Thackeray ministry. Yes, Congress leader Ashok Chavan, who was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra between 2008 and 2010, served as the PWD minister between 2019 and 2022 under Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. And there are other examples. Narayan Rane was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1999. Subsequently, he was a minister in Maharashtra between 2005 to 2010 before being inducted into the Union Cabinet in 2021. Of course, in India, there is no bar for even a former PM or president to become a chief minister, for example. And, in fact, there is a somewhat similar example in history.

In 1948, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was the Governor-General of India who was succeeded by Rajendra Prasad as the first president of the country. Rajaji, however, served as the Union Home Minister between 1950 and 1952 after the death of Vallabhbhai Patel. Subsequently, he also served as the Chief Minister of Madras state from 1952 to 1954. Thus, on one occasion, a Head of State became Chief Minister of a state! It could be interesting to recall the case of former Prime Minister, HD Deve Gowda. Deve Gowda became the Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1994 and he was at the peak of his political career in 1996 when Atal Behari Vajpayee resigned as prime minister.

The United Front leaders proposed Deve Gowda’s name as the prime minister. But he was quite reluctant – not without reason though. In his biography, ‘Furrows In A Field: The Unexplored Life of HD Deve Gowda’ by Sugata Srinivasaraju, Deve Gowda is quoted as requesting then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu: “Sir, I have been the Chief Minister for less than two years. My career will end abruptly. The Congress party will not let us run the government for long. I want to be like you. I want to rule Karnataka for many years.” And Deve Gowda could envisage the future clearly. Deve Gowda, of course, didn’t ever become the Chief Minister of Karnataka after his really brief – less than 11 months – primeministership.

What about other countries? In the US, a one-time president can become a vice president – there is no bar in the Constitution, although it has never happened in history. But a president who has served for two full terms cannot. The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution states: “…no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” And by the 22nd Amendment, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice”. A two-term President is thus constitutionally ineligible to be President again, and therefore also ineligible to be appointed as Vice President.

Why a queen on a chessboard accepts the role of a rook or a knight may be a matter of deep introspection. And there may not be a unique answer. Staying in public life and in the public eye is perhaps often more important than the vanity of not accepting a demotion. Political demotions are not quite common. This is true everywhere. While discussing political demotion, my favourite example, however, is that of Israel, where coalition politics is a compulsion. And historically a former prime minister usually doesn’t mind assuming a public office under another prime minister. Shimon Peres, for example, first became the Prime Minister of Israel in 1984 and continued up to 1986. Then, again he was the Prime Minister for about seven months during 1995- 1996. But Peres served as minister of different departments in between and afterwards also, under the leadership of other prime ministers.

He was the minister of Foreign Affairs under Yitzhak Shamir during 1986- 1988, under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during 1992-1995, under Ariel Sharon during 2001-2002, and also the minister of Finance under the premiership of Yitzhak Shamir during 1988-1990. What about Yitzhak Shamir then? Well, Shamir served as the Prime Minister during 1983-1984 and then acted as the minister of Foreign Affairs under the premiership of Shimon Peres before he again became the Prime Minister in 1986. Eventually, Shamir continued as the Prime Minister up to 1992 and he is the country’s third-longest-serving prime minister, after Benjamin Netanyahu and David Ben-Gurion. Thus, there may be hidden prospects within a so-called political demotion, sometimes. Who knows!