Thuglak returns to independent India (actually it is an impostor), wins the Lok Sabha election and becomes the prime minister with the support of all the 450 MPs. How? He makes them deputy prime ministers, buys their loyalty. The sarcasm couldn’t be more pronounced than what political satirist, the late Cho Ramaswamy, wrote in his 1969 Tamil play Muhammed Bin Thuglak. Cho’s inimitable take on the deputy PM’s post has found new meaning in the form of deputy chief ministers. India has more than two dozen of them currently; highest in its democratic history. The deputy CM’s post has no constitutional sanction. “The chief minister shall be appointed by the governor and the other ministers shall be appointed by the governor on the advice of the chief minister,” states Article 164(1) of the Constitution. So, he is another minister, an all-purpose lieutenant perhaps, but never the No. 1 even if the tag of chief minister is appended before his name. He remains prefixed with a “deputy”—the tag only providing more importance notionally than his cabinet colleagues.
In coalition governments, the deputy’s post is invariably a balancing act—Sushil Kumar Modi (13 years between 2005 and 2020) and Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi in the latest Nitish Kumar government in Bihar; Ajit Pawar in Maharashtra; Dushyant Chautala in Haryana. You need to keep the coalition partner happy, especially if you are short of a majority. So the chief minister is more accommodative of his deputy while keeping him on a tight leash. And in single-party governments, it is about keeping other chief ministerial aspirants and chieftains in check. Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has three deputy CMs. In Tamil Nadu, it is a power-sharing arrangement between chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam after the two factions of the AIADMK merged. Only in rare cases like in Delhi where Arvind Kejriwal chose not to hold any portfolios, his deputy Manish Sisodia virtually calls the shots of day-to-day administration. In cases like Andhra Pradesh, CM Jaganmohan Reddy appointed five deputy CMs to deflect criticism that his government was being controlled by the powerful Reddy community. In Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot recently discovered that being deputy CM and holding two powerful portfolios was no insurance against being sidelined, suspected of undercutting or being the target of a criminal investigation if the chief minister had his way.