O Paneerselvam, who will handle chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s portfolios in her absence, joins the not-so-illustrious list of Indian politicians who — by some quirk of fate — have found themselves elevated as “stop-gap chief ministers”.
Some in the list have gone on to carve out a niche for themselves, while a majority of them have gone into oblivion after a bright spell under the political limelight.
■ Jitan Ram Manjhi
When Nitish Kumar chose tribal or “Mahadalit” leader Jitan Ram Manjhi after his party’s devastating defeat in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the latter was meant to have kept the seat warm until Kumar regained his political strength. Manjhi, however, had other ideas. He dismissed loyalists and ministers owing allegiance to his former mentor and started flirting with the BJP in pursuance of aims of emerging a dominant political leader in his own right. Manjhi was dismissed, and formed the Hindustan Awam Party (HUM) to fight the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine, but was humbled in the 2015 assembly elections. Manjhi has now reconciled to his former status as a mofussil leader, but as one who has had a brief but eventful presence in the political arc lights.
■ Rabri Devi
RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi was meant to have been the acting chief minister after Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam case of 1997. She not only completed the term as chief minister that her husband had started, but went on to reign over the state administration until 2005. After first assuming charge as chief minister in 1997, she addressed her first public speech. She was a regular at work and was even reported to have asked her husband to restrain from using the chief minister’s official residence for political meetings. Even so, she did not — and neither was it expected — develop a separate political identity for herself.
■ Jagdambika Pal
After then state governor Romesh Bhandari dismissed the Kalyan Singh government in 1998, Jagdambika Pal found himself plonked into political limelight. The major political players — BSP’s Mayawati and the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav — were seen fishing in troubled waters at that stage. Mulayam watched from the sidelines, while Mayawati actively supported moves to install a political non-entity like Jagdambika Pal as the chief minister. The governor’s decision was challenged and Pal’s term as chief minister lasted just two days — from February 21 to 23 in 1998. The term may have been short, but the experience taught Pal the art of political manoeuvring. After four decades in the Congress, he switched sides ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections to join the BJP and is today the saffron party’s MP from the Domariyaganj constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
■ Abdul Rehman Antulay
Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi actually spilt the applecart when she appointed political lightweight Abdul Rehman Antulay the Maharashtra chief minister in 1980. But Antulay — to his credit — went on to carve out an image for himself as a serious politician. After he resigned in 1982 following a financial scandal, Antulay was succeeded by another individual perceived as a stop-gap CM — Babasaheb Bhonsle. Bhonsle disappeared from the political limelight after a short blip.
■ Kalikho Pul
Kalikho Pul — who died a mysterious and tragic death — also had his hour of glory as the chief minister of the eastern state of Arunachal earlier this year. Pul broke away from the Congress and assumed charge as chief minister with the support of the BJP. Pul was largely seen as a stop-gap chief minister in the midst of a political storm involving the dominant political forces. But his regime ended in July, with the court overruling governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s decision in appointing Pul as chief minister.