Only one person in the history of India went straight from chief minister to prime minister – HD Deve Gowda.
But, although unique, Gowda's trajectory is not the stuff of inspiration. Barely anyone in India wants to be like Gowda, unwilling to move on from state politics a decade and a half after he had the country's top job.
Narendra Modi is making a push for 7, Race Course Road. We may support him. We may not. What we decide, however, has to be based on knowledge, perspective and understanding. Is Modi India's greatest ever chief minister? How does he compare with past chief ministers, of whom many were luminaries? Is it wise to think of a serving chief minister in terms of prime minister?
Let's look at the stats before we get to the meat of it.
India has had 344 chief ministers so far. This refers to the number of people and not the number of terms. For instance, a person may have served more than a term but that is not of relevance here. Also, we are looking at it from 15 August 1947.
State-wise, this is how they stack up. Andhra Pradesh - 20, Arunachal Pradesh - 7, Assam - 13, Bihar - 23, Chhattisgarh - 2, Delhi - 6, Goa - 11, Gujarat - 14, Haryana - 9, Himachal Pradesh - 5, Jammu & Kashmir - 11, Jharkhand - 5, Karnataka - 22, Kerala - 11, Madhya Pradesh - 19, Maharashtra - 19 [including 2 of Bombay state], Manipur - 12, Meghalaya - 11, Mizoram - 5, Nagaland - 9, Odisha - 14, Puducherry - 9, Punjab - 15, Rajasthan - 13, Sikkim - 5, Tamil Nadu - 12 [including 2 of Madras Presidency and 4 of Madras state], Tripura - 9, Uttar Pradesh - 20 [including one who was CM of two states], Uttarakhand - 5 and West Bengal - 8
Five of India's 13 full-fledged prime ministers were chief ministers previously – Morarji Desai [Bombay state], Charan Singh, VP Singh, PV Narasimha Rao and Gowda
Our measure of greatness
Mankind has periodically attempted to understand greatness. There is much exemplary work on the academics and philosophy of greatness. For the purposes of this article, let's take a few simple and practical yardsticks.
A great chief minister would:
- Place the greater good above his [or hers]
- Not divide by gender, caste, religion, region or wealth
- Respect all religions equally and keep policy free of religion
- Reach the weakest first; include all in progress
- Have a sense of the nation
- Embolden those who do right, terrify those who do wrong; and never the reverse
- Endure criticism without resentment [the Elbert Hubbard yardstick]
- Remake state wings where needed [like the police, civic services, etc.]
- Remake himself [or herself]
- Ensure the state causes no suffering; and only serves
- Achieve distinction; and have a defining act if possible
- Respond positively to happenings in life that appear to be totally unfair, unreasonable, and undeserved [the marvelous Marvin J Ashton yardstick]
Gender and length of tenure are not measures of greatness.
The top 10
Based on our benchmarks, the following are India's 10 greatest chief ministers....
Image: A general view of the Presidential Palace with lights switched on, before an Earth Hour event in New Delhi on March 23, 2013. (AFP)