Writing the series of articles on the Nehruvian legacy, I ventured to compile a list of the Prime Ministers we have had since 1947. Chronologically, the Republic of India has had, so far, eighteen Prime Ministers — beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru till the present incumbent, Narendra Modi — as per the following table compiled from the Government of India’s official websites.
List of Prime Ministers
# of Days
Lal Bahadur Shastri
P.V. Narasimha Rao
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
H.D. Deve Gowda
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
The above 18 include twice the name of Gulzarilal Nanda as per 2 and 4 as interim Prime Minister, which position is not recognized in the Constitution of India. This reduces the total number from 18 to 16.
Indira Gandhi and Atul Bihari Vajpayee are mentioned twice on account of their holding the office of Prime Minister in two spells.
This further reduces the total to 14
Were Also Prime Ministers — Five of them, namely, Choudhary Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H D Deve Gowda, and I K Gujral held office, on an average, for 278 days each.
Among these five, VP Singh’s tenure was the longest i.e., 343 days and Charan Singh’s, the shortest, i.e., 170 days. Charan Singh also had the unique distinction of being a Prime Minister who never faced the Parliament during his tenure.
I’ve grouped the above five as notional Prime Ministers and labeled them as Were Also Prime Ministers. I hope you’ll, dear readers, agree with this nomenclature. To qualify to be called a Prime Minister someone has to be in office for three to five years during which he takes certain policy decisions and implements the same rather than clearing routine files and biding his time. To be called a Prime Minister, as in case of Choudhary Charan Singh, for holding office for 170 days without ever facing the floor test in Parliament, is making a mockery of the political system.
Nonetheless, these five incumbents were entitled to draw pension as Prime Ministers, i.e.,
Rent-free accommodation for lifetime.
Medical facilities, 14 secretarial staff, office expenses against actual expenditure, six domestic executive-class flight tickets, and unlimited
free train travels for first five years.
SPG cover for one year
After five years: one personal assistant and peon, free air and train tickets and Rs. 6,000 for office expenses.
This is how are spent your taxes and mine.
So, if we leave the above five out of reckoning the total is only 9 as per the following table.
Real Prime Ministers
The following nine , therefore, were, in the real sense, Prime Ministers of the Republic
1. Jawaharlal Nehru
3. Lal Bahadur Shastri
6. Morarji Desai
5 & 8 Indira Ganhi
9. Rajiv Gandhi
12. P V Narasimha Rao
13 & 16 Atal Bihari Vajpayee
17. Manmohan Singh and
18. Narendra Modi
Here are a few more interesting facts about our Prime Ministers.
The longest lived Prime Minister was Gulzarilal Nanda, who lived to the age of 99 years, 195 days. Morarji Desai was the second-longest lived Prime Minister, and the longest lived permanent Prime Minister (Nanda was just a cabinet minister who acted as Prime Minister when Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri died in office). Desai lived to the age of 99 years, 40 days, only 155 days short of matching Nanda. The shortest lived Prime Minister was Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated at the age of 46 years, 274 days.
Narendra Modi (17 September 1950) will be the first Prime Minister of India to be born after the Independence of India. Rest all the former Prime Minister were born before Independence of India.
Compared to Others
Whoever first said “comparisons are odious” — perhaps the author of the book, entitled Debate between the horse, goose, and sheep — they are, ironically, necessary too to measure how we fared compared to others.
Take, first, the Western democracies. After 1945 the US has had 12 Presidents: UK, 15 Prime Ministers and the Federal Republic of Germany, 9 Chancellors. They have, however, their own traditions of democratic politics.
Isn’t it more relevant to compare our democratic experiment with other Asian democracies that emerged in the wake of the withdrawal of Western imperialism, more pertinently with our good neighbor Pakistan?
In 1947, both India and Pakistan were, as it were, “fraternal twins”. Both of them shared an overlapping genetic and linguistic heritage, a common struggle against colonialism, an imported state-bureaucratic system and, above all, a common Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence — a legacy of the departing British rulers.
Both India and Pakistan started off in quest of democracy. After six and a half decades, India is a democracy today simply because it was a democracy yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Each year of uninterrupted democracy has strengthened it. And as the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru strengthened the foundations of freedom and democracy in India, that had been laid by the Founding Fathers of the Constitution. (Indira Gandhi’s misguided adventure to rule by declaring the Emergency boomeranged.)
Pakistan, on the other hand, has, floundered almost from Day One on the rock of military-bureaucratic rule and autocracy. And that has made all the difference for the people of both the countries.
Above all, we owe the success of our democracy to the Indian Armed Forces scrupulously staying in barracks unless called by the civilian government of the day to repulse the enemies of India. Their counterparts in our neighborhood — in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh meddled in politics and severely undermined the foundations of their polities. The credit for this outstanding example of professionalism of our Armed Forces goes to the wise leadership of General Cariappa and General Manekshaw who instilled and strengthened the traditions of professionalism.
Finally, long live the Republic and its eighteen helmsmen – even if only eight really steered the Ship of the State while the ninth is on the driver seat now!