Most of India’s prime ministers were ‘accidental’; Why just pick Manmohan?

Shubham Ghosh

New Delhi, Jan 11: The much awaited Bollywood film 'The Accidental Prime Minister' got released on Friday. The film had already gained some publicity ahead of its release, thanks to the politically charged environment ahead of the 17th Lok Sabha election scheduled this year.

But although the film is named after the book by Sanjaya Baru, former prime minister Manmohan Singh's media advisor between 2004-2008, called "The Accidental Prime Minister", was Singh the only accidental prime minister that India has seen?

Manmohan Singh became the prime minister in 2004 as the second non-Gandhi to hold the position after PV Narasimha Rao after the then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi refused to become the premier citing "inner call". Singh ruled for a decade thereafter but was often ridiculed as a leader who was more of a rubberstamp of the 'first family' of Indian politics.

Baru's book was more of an observation of the man who saw the former prime minister from close quarters and it was all for himself to exercise his creative freedom to name his work the way he did, but does it mean that India had only one prime minister who held the post by accident?

If we see all the prime ministers that India has had since August 15, 1947, a handful of them were not by accident for politics in India is a tale which never has a pre-written script.

Nehru was not an accidental PM

India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was certainly a prime minister not by accident and was always looked upon as the worthy successor to Mahatma Gandhi. There was in fact no challenger to the man when he ruled. Towards the end of his reign which concluded in 1964 with his death, there was always the question "Who after Nehru?" since the leader had not finalised any successor.

Lal Bahadur Shastri was an accidental PM; so was Indira in 1966

After his death, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the prime minister and though he was an able leader, it could never be said that he assumed the top post as per a script. He was backed by the Congress for his socialist background that would be a check against the conservative Morarji Desai. Shastri did not survive too long as he died under mysterious conditions in January 1966 and it was the time for "Gungi Gudiya" Indira Gandhi to take over. The Congress syndicate had thought that she would remain under its control and also prevent Desai to become the premier but Indira proved everybody wrong (a similar situation like Manmohan but with a different result) by eclipsing everybody else. Indira was certainly not accidental prime minister when she won the term in 1971 and 1980 again but in 1966, she was certainly an accidental post holder.

Coalition-era prime ministers are always accidental

In 1977, India saw a fragile coalition taking charge as the first non-Congress government. The three-year government saw two prime ministers - Desai (1977-79) and Charan Singh (1979) but again those incumbents were more a result of a chaotic political system and even if 81-year-old Desai's rise to the PM's position was less accidental, that of Singh was more.

In 1984, Gandhi Rajiv was an accidental PM; so was VP Singh & Chandra Shekhar

In 1984, Indira's assassination again saw an accidental prime minister in the form of Rajiv Gandhi since he had no prior experience in politics. He lost the election in 1989, thanks to Bofors and India saw the advent of the coalition era. The men who took charge as the prime minister between 1989 and 1991 when a full-term government was back were Vishwanath Pratap Singh (1989-90) and Chandra Shekhar (1990-91) who were no less than accidental either in the churning of coalition drama.

PV Narasimha Rao was an accidental PM too

The next man Narasimha Rao was also accidental since the Congress was looking for a leader to fill the void created by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in the middle of the election. Rao, however, proved his mettle as the premier even though he never got his due recognition. The first non-Gandhi prime minister of the Congress, Rao survived as the leader of a minority government for five years and scripted the biggest story of India's economy: Liberalisation.

ABV's 13-month term, Deve Gowda, Gujral were all accidental

Rao's defeat in 1996 again saw India plunging into the uncertainties of coalition politics and till Atal Behari Vajpayee took up as the premier for a full tenure in 1999, India saw as many as three prime ministers. Vajpayee himself became the PM for 13 days in May-June 1996 and was succeeded by HD Deve Gowda (the JDS ruler himself conceded a few days ago that he too was an accidental prime minister) who was in office between June 1996-April 1997 and then it was Inder Kumar Gujral who served between April 1997-March 1998. It is needless to say that in the days of total coalition chaos, all incumbents that make the headlines are accidental.

Vajpayee returned to power for the second time in 1998 but only for 13 months and even though he was the face of the BJP then, his coalition government meant that his returning to the post of the top executive was nothing planned. In just over a year, Vajpayee government fell and he finally returned for a full term in 1999, heading yet another coalition government in which the BJP had the exact number of seats (182) as before.

Modi not an accidental PM

Vajpayee lost the Lok Sabha election in 2004 and Manmohan ruled for the next decade till Narendra Modi won a massive mandate in 2014. However, one must also remember that Singh was not an accidental prime minister in 2009 when the party had contested the general election with him to the fore. Modi was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate much ahead of the election and hence was not accidental.

Also Read:

Kolkata: Protest over screening of movie ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’

We need to make more political films, says ‘on-screen Sanjaya Baru’ Akshaye Khanna

BJP National Council meet: 'We will see a repeat of 2014,' says Amit Shah