THERE has been a very perceptible power shift in India. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee no longer minds the store as it were, the job having been virtually snatched from him by his designated Number Two, Lal Kishan Advani.
Whether it is in the government or in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, major decisions are taken by Advani with Vajpayee stoically going along with his Deputy Prime Minister.
The fact of the quiet power shift from Vajpayee to Advani was fully borne out by the recent reshuffle of the Central Ministry. Though by rights it was the prerogative of the Prime Minster to fashion his Cabinet according to his own lights, actually it was Advani who called the shots and decided as to who would be dropped from the Ministry and who included.
Left to himself, for example, Vajpayee would not have sacked the controversial Minister for Information and Technology and Communications, Pramod Mahajan. But Advani insisted on dropping him in view of reports that Mahajan had gone out of his way to favour a particular industrial house at the cost of a host of cellular telephone operators.
Again, it was Advani who forced the return of the BJP General Secretary, Arun Jaitley, to the Cabinet. Only seven months ago, Vajpayee had dropped Jaitley on the ground that his services were needed in the party organisation. Advani ensured the return of Jaitley and, what was more, besides restoring to him his old portfolio of Law and Justice also gave him the concurrent charge of the equally important ministries of Commerce and Industry.
It was, however, the Advani decision to sack Mahajan which conclusively proved that Vajpayee’s Number Two was far more assertive than at anytime before. Admittedly, Mahajan had been a controversial minister throughout, but he had proved very useful since he was an important bridge between the Government and the big business and could always be relied upon to raise funds for the party at election time.
Mahajan did have a terrible image what with his name being linked to a woman journalist who was murdered two years ago, allegedly at the instance of her paramour police officer who was now in jail awaiting trial.
Vajpayee was keen to retain Mahajan in his Cabinet and reportedly offered him the relatively lighter charge of Information and Broadcasting Ministry. But Advani insisted on sending Mahajan out of the Government.
However to soften the blow, he accommodated Mahajan in the BJP set-up as one of the four national general secretaries. Quite apart from Mahajan, it was Advani who took the final decision on all the ministerial comings and goings. In all, eight BJP ministers were dropped and an equal number drafted into the government at the behest of Advani.
There were other signs of the power shift at the top in the Government. Seven months ago, Vajpayee had come under pressure from the Sanghparivar, as the RSS-BJP and its various off-shoots had come to be called in recent years, and was obliged to officially designate Advani as Deputy Prime Minister, a move he had hitherto resisted.
On his part, till his promotion Advani had confined himself to the running of his own Home Ministry. He took little interest in matters concerning other ministries. But once he was made DPM, Advani overnight became far more assertive, calling senior ministers and giving directions on vital policy matters.
Vajpayee was a reluctant party to the rise and rise of Advani. They had been colleagues in the BJP for over half a century and without doubt it was widely acknowledged that Advani was the junior of the two.
Though both had been claimed by the RSS while still in their pre-teens, the 78-year-old Vajpayee and the 76-year-old Advani had espoused soft and hard Hindu ideolology all along as the two most important leaders of the BJP.
Advani was unapologetic, for example, about the campaign to build a temple in Ayodhya on the disputed site where the Babri mosque had stood till its demolition in 1992 by a huge mob led by him. Vajpayee, on the other hand, was against the BJP associating openly with the campaign to build a Ram temple at the disputed site. But as is his wont Vajpayee did not make a fuss when Advani officially led the BJP headlong into the temple movement.
The two leaders could not be more different in their life styles as well. The liberal Vajpayee is cast in the old Nehruvian mould. Vajpayee does not deny that India’s first Prime Minister had inspired him though in his lifetime he had been Jawaharalal Nehru’s most vociferous critic. An outgoing person, Vajpayee enjoys all the good things of life.
On the other hand Advani’s sole inspiration was the RSS and its controversial pro-Hinduideology. In private life too Advani remains a simple and uncomplicated man. He married late and has two children.
But without doubt where Vajpayee scores over Advani is in public speaking. Vajpayee is easily the best public speaker in Hindi that India has had since the birth of the republic. His silver-tongued oratory has mesmerized successive generations of Indians and even now occasionally his old brilliance comes across in flashes in Parliament and outside on various public platforms.
For the record, Advani has always acknowledged Vajpayee as his senior colleague, though this has not prevented him to carve the party, and now the Government, in his own light. The recent changes in the BJP set-up with Venkaiah Naidu taking over as the president of the party bore the Advani stamp.
The party rank and file looks up to Advani for leadership and inspiration. Vajpayee, on the other hand, is the liberal, acceptable face of the BJP for attracting the floating votes. That way Advani and Vajpayee complement each other.
Without Vajpayee, the BJP could not have won national acceptability and without Advani the BJP could not have grown into a powerful organisation which it is now.
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