The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fall of the first among equals

New Delhi, Jan. 29: Pramod Mahajan’s fall from grace was apparent the moment he was kept out of the confabulations on the latest Cabinet shuffle.

The last time a similar exercise took place he was the fourth player in the quartet of A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh. The buzz in the BJP circuit then was that Mahajan’s inputs shaped the decision to send M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley from the government to the party after he reportedly resisted a Vajpayee-inspired move to make him party president.

Seven months later, the boot is on the other foot. Not only has he lost the honorific of being the “superstar” of the Cabinet by virtue of holding three important portfolios — communications, IT and parliamentary affairs — he will now have to function as a general secretary under Naidu. When the BJP was in Opposition, Naidu was a secretary and Mahajan already a general secretary.

The leadership line-up in the BJP has been a little muddled after Vajpayee and Advani. Mahajan, Naidu, Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and now Narendra Modi are all thought of as prospective prime ministers by their followers. But given Mahajan’s “importance” in the government, he was deemed to be the “first among equals”.

Cracks appeared in that status when the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case came into focus and he was named by the wife of the main accused, R.K. Sharma, as being involved. The case is coming up for hearing shortly.

Mahajan never quite regained his chutzpah after that. He kept a low profile and might have continued that way had the controversy over the limited mobility phone service not exploded.

For someone who was regarded as one of the government’s prime trouble-shooters, Mahajan never seemed to be on top of the telecom controversy.

Mahajan watchers say he has a knack of converting adversity into opportunity. Claiming to offer an insight into his personality, they cite a poster in his office of Dennis the Menace where the blurb says: “No defeat is final until you stop trying.”

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