The tragedy and the trend

Could it be that it did indeed come as a confirmation of a shift we saw beginning to happen a few years ago (see 'Yes, Chief Minister', National Interest, September 3, 2005, www.indianexpress.com/oldStory/ 77490/). I had then argued that a fundamental shift was taking place in our politics and governance whereby real power was shifting from the Centre to the states, making the chief minister the most powerful functionary in the new system.

It was partly because of the rise of coalition politics, and partly because of the strengthening of ground-level democracy caused, in turn, by a rising tide of expectation. People were impatient for change, progress, development, better quality of life and because "Dilli" was always so "door", had begun to look at their chief minister in an entirely new light. Certainly, the first beneficiaries of this change were regional party leaders. But this shift was too powerful, widespread and even virtuous for the big national parties to resist. The BJP accepted it first. Modi and Vasundhara Raje emerged as the party's first empowered chief ministers who did not particularly see the need to go to the "high command" for most of their decisions. They were to be left entirely unharmed as long as they kept on delivering electorally. Now even the relatively meek ones, like Yeddyurappa, Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan are getting there.

The Congress, as you would expect, was the last centrist, "high-command-ist" bastion. If you see how its central satraps still manage to treat its chief ministers in Maharashtra like a chaprassi you would know that this bastion has not yet fallen. But YSR breached it, and did so very gainfully, for himself as well as his party. He became the Congress party's first chief minister since 1969, that is, in four decades, to be able to seek votes in his own name, and win. That he managed to acquire that stature without getting his leadership suspicious — in fact, as you would have seen from Sonia Gandhi's emotional tributes, having them dote on him — is what made up for that remaining 50 per cent of a political phenomenon that was one of a kind.

... contd.

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