Friday, 3 December, 2021

Prime Ministers Who Ruled The Longest

Nir Bahadur Karki

The post of prime minister as the highest executive position in most of the countries especially in parliamentary system is a coveted one loaded with enormous tasks. Lucrative as it is, the road to get such glamorous position by sidelining others in fray is not an easy task as the highest office-bearers must prove their mettle in safeguarding the national interest, maintaining law and order, expediting the country’s development and promoting her image abroad. This post was both evolved and created.

In Nepal and Britain, the post went on evolving over the time while in India it got created after independence from the British rule. The length of PM’s tenure is associated with effectiveness of leadership. Better the leadership, longer the tenure of PM. This article seeks to highlight the length of some of the much-talked about PMs’ of Nepal, Britain and India in brief. In Britain and Nepal the premiership evolved under monarchy while in India the post was directly created with the promulgation of a republican parliamentary constitution.

Bhimsen Thapa
The PM would be appointed in Nepal by the king from amongst the courtiers in recognition of his contributions and future potentiality to spearhead the governance. Bhimsen Thapa, Nepal’s first prime minister, ruled from 1806 to 1837. The premiership post evolved from the title of the Mukhtiyar, which literally means the chief authority. He earned reputation as a good ruler, reformer in agriculture, forestry, trade and commerce, judiciary, military, transport and communication; championed for slaves’ rights and showed diplomatic acumen. However, he met with a tragic death as a result of conspiracy of the courtiers.
Junga Bahadur Rana seized power by engineering a brutal massacre of his foes and ruled the country from 1846 to 1877 under king Surendra Shah’s reign, making the post of PM as a hereditary one that continued throughout the Rana rule.

Of nine Rana premiers, the four Rana PMs Junga Bahadur, Bir Shumsher who succeeded Ranodip Singh after his assassination, Chandra Shumsher and Juddha Sumsher ruled the country for nearly 90 years. The remaining 14 years was shared by rest of the five Ranas of which Dev Shumsher, the founder of the first state-owned newspaper Gorkhapatra, had the shorted tenure of 114 days before being ousted due to the family’s conspiracy.
Jung successfully manoeuvred domestic and external affairs, helped Britain to suppress the 1857 sepoy mutiny in India with the Nepali contingent and paid a state visit to England. Chandra Shumsher shrewdly brought many social and economic reforms, maintained amicable relation with and paid a state visit to Britain, assisted them with the Gorkha Army in the First World War. Juddha publicly had appealed to the people of all walks of life to advise him as to how the economic and social development could be geared up to benefit the people, initiated industrialisation, introduced bank and financial reform system, enhanced relations with Britain helping them in the Second World War. He is hailed for his post-earthquake recovery programmes in 1934. He gave up post on his own will.

Mohan Shumsher was the last Rana PM as well as the first PM of the post-Rana rule after the end of the 104 years autocratic rule following a revolt against the regime in 1951. He was succeeded by Matrika Prasad Koirala. Dr. K.I. Singh had only 110 days tenure as PM. The first democratically elected PM B.P. Koirala had 18 months tenure before the takeover of power by King Mahendra in December 1960. Mahendra introduced the Panchayat polity under which the PM would be appointed by the king.

Each political system has had six PMs, i.e. Matrika Koirala, B.P. Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, Sushil Koirala and the incumbent PM Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress. Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba have had longest tenure and frequency as PM. The suite of six PMs includes Man Mohan Adhikary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalananath Khanal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and KP Sharma Oli. Adhikary had nine months tenure. During the Panchayat system also, six PMs - Dr. Tulsi Giri, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Kirtinidhi Bista, Nagendra Prasad Rijal, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Marich Man Singh Shrestha held the top public post.

Britain’s PMs
Britain’s premiership stretches from Sir Robert Walpole to incumbent Boris Johnson. Walpole is considered to be the first PM in effect though never coined as a prime minister. The PM’s post went on evolving with the passage of time till 18th century. Prior to king George I, a German, unable to speak English, the sovereign would chair the cabinet meetings. Owing to lack of English, George delegated his authority to a senior most minister to chair cabinet meetings on his behalf called the first minister, chief minister or premier.

As Britain required sending prime minister to sign the Berlin Treaty in 1878 Benjamin Disraeli for the first time was titled as prime minister by an Act that got legally established under the Ministers of the Crown Act in 1937. The British PM is the hallmark of effectiveness of PM in other countries that has parliamentary system. Walpole has the longest tenure of 21 years (1721-1742) with George Canning just 119 days. Boris Johnson is the 77th UK premier but 55th in person. William Ewart Gladstone was the PM for four times totalling 12 years 126 days.

Indian prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri died while in office. They served the highest executive post for 16 years and 18 months respectively. Indira Gandhi was the PM with longest tenure after Nehru. Indira and her son Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated while as PM. Manmohan Singh served two consecutive terms of premiership while Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained PM during 1998-2004. Chaudhary Charan Singh was PM only for 170 days. The incumbent PM Narendra Modi is serving the second tenure.

Coincidently, the first PMs of Nepal, Britain and India, namely Bhimsen Thapa, Sir Robert Walpole and Jawaharlal Nehru had the longest tenure of 31, 21 and 16 years respectively, thanks to their capable leadership and historical circumstances that favoured them to govern their nations.

(The author is a freelancer and writes on political and development issues.