The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP gets power shift pangs

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The consolidation of the Narendra Modi-Arun Jaitley combine after the Gujarat victory has heralded the start of a generational power shift in the BJP, party sources said.

If Modi was the public face of Hindutva in Gujarat and the BJP’s prime strategist, Jaitley was the backroom manager and Modi’s interface with the high command, repairing his relations with the Delhi bosses and smoothing ruffled feathers in Gandhinagar.

Sources said the two-day national executive, beginning on December 23, would take place under the shadow of this generation change, which they added, might cause more problems for the BJP than solve them. “So far, the supremacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani was unquestioned. There was speculation on the friction between the two but as far as we were concerned, they had a perfect understanding,” a source said.

The “perfect understanding” was manifest when Vajpayee “gracefully” took a backseat during the Hindutva wave unleashed by Advani’s Ram rath yatra and Advani named Vajpayee the prime ministerial candidate in 1995 when it looked like the BJP was within striking distance of power but would not make it without the help of other parties. Vajpayee’s “liberal” face was acknowledged as the “need of the hour” by Advani.

But the emergence of the Modi-Jaitley combine, BJP leaders admitted, has a different dimension because “there are too many contenders in the second line-up who fancy themselves as prospective prime ministers”.

Union minister Pramod Mahajan was perceived by a large section as the “most effective counter” to Modi and Jaitley. On his part, Mahajan, it is believed, wasted no time in fashioning his own constituency within the BJP just before the Gujarat polls when the contours of the new power equations started appearing.

Mahajan has roped in established and emerging regional leaders: Vasundhara Raje, Uma Bharti, Sanjay Paswan, Ananth Kumar and Gujarat MPs like Chandresh Patel.

He helped a diffident Vasundhara after she took over as Rajasthan party president by campaigning hard in the three byelections which the BJP won. The win set the pace for Raje and the Rajasthan unit, which was in the doldrums after the 1997 rout and state strongman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s shift to Delhi as Vice-President.

Mahajan is learnt to be persuading coal and mines minister Uma Bharti to focus on Madhya Pradesh before the 2003 elections, while efforts are on to send minister of state for infotech and communications Sanjay Paswan as president of the Bihar BJP. Urban development minister Ananth Kumar is being considered for Karnataka.

But the sources said in the battle for oneupmanship in the BJP’s second rung, Jaitley has a slight edge over Mahajan.

“Mahajan had rolled out a script according to which he would have led the party by 2009, presuming that the BJP would have lost the next Lok Sabha polls and would have been forced back into the Opposition slot. Mahajan was counted among the most effective strategists and organisers. But Modi’s ascendancy as the new Hindutva mascot has caused the script to go astray. Unless Modi thinks of a political career beyond Gujarat, his candidate Jaitley is strong in Delhi,” a source said.

In the incipient power struggle, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu — who receded slightly into the background during the Gujarat polls — is reportedly doing the balancing act, keeping Modi-Jaitley and Mahajan on his side.

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