Deputy Chief Ministers: India
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
As in 2018
Deputy Chief Ministers in Indian states, As in 2018
As in 2023
Following a four-day deadlock over the Chief Minister chair in Karnataka, the Congress central leadership on Thursday officially declared that Siddaramaiah will be the next Chief Minister of the state, while state unit president D K Shivakumar will be the only Deputy Chief Minister. But the party refused to reveal whether the agreement between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar involved a term-sharing pact.
Shivakumar, who was earlier insistent on a CM post, later settled for Deputy CM, but only on the condition that he be the sole one in the post, plus get important portfolios.
Like in Karnataka, the Deputy CM post has largely come to be seen as a compensatory or conciliatory measure, or as part of an arrangement, as parties try to balance several interests.
At present, at least 10 states (excluding Karnataka) have MLAs occupying the Deputy CM chair. In the Northeast, with multi-party coalition governments the norm, four of the seven states have Deputy CMs.
The Andhra Pradesh government has the highest number of Deputy CMs — five, including Rajanna Dora Peedika; Budi Mutyala Naidu; Kottu Sathyanarayana; K Narayana Swamy; and Amzath Bhasha Sheikh Bepari.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, with a 403-member House, there are two Deputy CMs — Keshab Prasad Maurya and Brajesh Pathak – seen as a balancing exercise to accommodate different communities, given that CM Yogi Adityanath holds complete sway over the administration.
Among the longest serving Deputy CMs in the country has been BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who served as JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar’s Deputy in Bihar for a decade, between November 2005 and June 2013 and from July 2017 to December 2020.
In Haryana, Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) leader Dushyant Chautala was accommodated as Deputy CM after the BJP fell short of a majority in the 90-member House at the time of the 2019 Assembly elections. The newly formed party won 10 MLAs, putting it in the kingmaker position.
The ties between the two parties, however, have lately been strained, with suggestions that they might not fight the next Assembly elections together.
In Maharashtra, a similar arrangement holds the government of Shinde Sena and BJP together. Here, while the BJP is the bigger party, it conceded the CM post to Eknath Shinde, as he did the improbable in breaking away a large part of the Shiv Sena to help the BJP topple and replace the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, who was seen as instrumental in the whole power change, had to be content with being Deputy CM. However, there are few doubts regarding who controls the reins of power in the state, especially with Shinde’s position as the paramount leader of the Shiv Sena (despite the Election Commission’s stamp on it) still shaky.
In Bihar, the arrangement is much the same, with the largest party of the Mahagathbandhan, RJD, taking the Deputy CM post to let JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar hold the chief ministership – at least for now. Here again, it was Nitish’s breaking of ties with the BJP that facilitated the Mahagathbandhan government, and the much-younger Tejashwi Yadav has deferred to his senior as Deputy CM.
Lately, hints have been emanating that Nitish is ready to move on to a Central role post-2024 polls, with Tejashwi finally moving into the hot seat.
In Nagaland, after the Nagaland Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and ally BJP secured an easy victory in the Assembly elections held earlier this year, the NDPP’s Neiphiu Rio returned as CM, while the party’s TR Zeilang became the deputy.
In the Himachal Pradesh election that the Congress won in December last year, the Congress faced the same dilemma as Karnataka over the CM post. The party took two days to finally zero in on Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as CM and the party’s Mukesh Agnihotri as his Deputy CM – which was a first for the hill state.
Problems of plenty
While Himachal has so far progressed smoothly for the Congress, it will be hoping Karnataka doesn’t turn out a repeat of Rajasthan where, after the 2018 elections, it took many anxious hours to settle between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot for the CM post. While Gehlot, like Siddaramaiah, was seen as more acceptable to MLAs and popular across the state, Pilot, like Shivakumar, saw himself as the truly deserving candidate for having rallied the party through his years as the state Congress president.
Deliberations stretched over two days, and Delhi and Jaipur, before Gehlot — who had by this point been a two-time CM — was picked.
However, the acrimony since, and Pilot’s unsettled ambitions have been a constant irritant for the Congress government. A latest battle is waging now – months to go for the next Assembly elections, where the Congress is expecting a tough fight against the BJP.
The post’s legal standing
Unlike CM and minister posts, the deputy CM post is not a constitutional post. It is equivalent to the rank of a Cabinet minister (in the state) and enjoys pay and perks that a Cabinet minister is entitled to.
The same applies to the post of Deputy Prime Minister, which was first held by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, while Jawaharlal Nehru was PM, representatives of different streams of political thought in the Congress party.
The deputy PM or CM posts are not mentioned in Article 75 – that deals with appointment of the Union Council of ministers – and Article 164 that deals with the appointment of state Council of Ministers.
In 1989, when Haryana heavyweight Devi Lal Chaudhary was made the Deputy PM – to V P Singh’s PM – after the coalition Janata Dal government was formed, his appointment was challenged in court on the ground that “the oath administered to him as such was not the oath in accordance with the prescription of the Constitution”.
Finally, in the K M Sharma vs Devi Lal and Ors case, the Supreme Court upheld Devi Lal’s appointment, saying that it was doing so “in view of the clear statement. made by the learned Attorney General that Respondent No. 1 is just a Minister like other members of the Council of Ministers, though he has been described as Deputy Prime Minister… the description of him as Deputy Prime Minister does not confer on him any powers of the Prime Minister”.
The legal position of Deputy PM/ CM
Nitin Patel’s oath as Gujarat deputy chief minister, a post not mentioned in the Constitution, has revived the old controversy whether the oath was constitutionally valid and whether the post gave him part responsibility as CM.
The controversy arose in 1989 when Devi Lal took oath as deputy PM in the V P Singh government, audaciously altering the oath for Cabinet minister being administered by then President R Venkataraman.
A book ‘Commissions and Omissions of Indian Presidents’ quoted Venkataraman: “I asked my secretary to convey to V P Singh that Devi Lal could be sworn in as a minister and designated later as deputy PM. But before anything could be finalised, the swearing-in ceremony commenced and V P Singh was sworn in as PM. Then Devi Lal was presented and when I administered oath as ‘mantri’, he insisted on reading it as ‘upa pradhan mantri’. I corrected him saying ‘mantri’ again but the second time too he read it as ‘upa pradhan mantri’. It was fully displayed in the live telecast of the proceedings. I did not want to create an ugly scene and therefore allowed Devi Lal to proceed as he wished.”
Though Devi Lal made it appear as if he took oath as deputy PM, the post was held earlier by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, Choudhary Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram without taking oath as such. In 1989, Devi Lal’s oath was challenged in the Supreme Court by one K M Sharma alleging that the Haryana leader had not taken oath as prescribed in the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
Then attorney general Soli J Sorabjee told the SC that since the PM was also a member of the council of ministers, he took the same oath as the other ministers, the only difference being the word PM in place of minister. He said, “Describing Devi Lal as deputy PM is descriptive only and for all purposes, he is a minister and there is no constitutional sanction for a deputy PM.”
The SC on January 9, 1990, accepted the argument and said since the AG had termed Devi Lal to be just a minister though he was described as deputy PM, “the post did not confer on him (Devi Lal) any powers of the PM”. So, even though Nitin Patel took oath as deputy CM, he will function only as a minister.
The trend of creating the post of ‘deputy’ CM caught the political imagination after Devi Lal’s act and Karnataka took the lead. In 1992, the state had a deputy CM in S M Krishna (Congress). In 1994, it was J H Patel (Janata Dal). In 2004, a coalition under N Dharam Singh took the reins and Siddaramaiah was appointed deputy CM. In the succeeding coalition led by H D Kumaraswamy, B S Yeddyurappa was deputy CM. In 2012, two deputy CMs — K S Eshwarappa and R Ashok — took oath. Deputy CMs came to be a feature in most states thereafter.