New Delhi, Jan. 30: Pramod Mahajan appeared crestfallen; M. Venkaiah Naidu a bit edgy; Arun Jaitley not quite as pleased as he could have been.
But a day after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s shuffle felled a heavyweight like Mahajan and enhanced Arun Shourie’s profile, the BJP’s second-rung leaders appeared to belong to a mutual admiration society.
The endeavour was to clear the perception that the shuffle had brought into open their eagerness to outsmart one another and book the third slot in the leadership.
Announcing Mahajan’s appointment as a general secretary and spokesman, Naidu spoke of him as “one of our most senior, dynamic and experienced leaders”. He said as the party president he felt “proud” when Mahajan gave up his ministership to take up party work.
“This is a testimony to the BJP as a party with a difference and a party with a mission. Mahajan has the experience, energy and dynamism to take up challenges. I regard him an asset to fulfil this mission.”
Mahajan underplayed the fact that he has to work under a junior Naidu. “I became the all-India secretary (of the then Jan Sangh) in 1983. That was two decades back when there were hundreds of leaders at the national level who were much senior to me… A party president is a party president and a general secretary is a general secretary. As a minister, I was appointed by the Prime Minister and reported to him. I was appointed a general secretary by the president and I will report to him. I don’t feel any discomfort in this.”
He slipped in a few kind words about Arun Jaitley who took the reverse path: from party to government. When the Janata Party was formed, veteran leader Nanaji Deshmukh had spotted Jaitley. Deshmukh wanted to induct him into the core group of the Jan Sangh which merged with the Janata Party but the ABVP, of which Jaitley was then a member, refused to spare him. “Had Jaitley joined then, he would have been one of our most senior leaders,” Mahajan said.
The two Aruns — Jaitley and Shourie — also did their share of back-slapping. Jaitley, who took over the commerce ministry, said his predecessor — Shourie was holding additional charge — was “doing exceedingly well and has the support of the Prime Minister. Whatever little I can do to support his cause, I will do”.
Shourie, who took charge of Mahajan’s ministries, said no “message” should be read in it and promised to carry on the “good work” of his predecessor who he described as a “dynamic leader”.