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Pramod back, as charioteer
- BJP general secretary regains Advani favour and Ram rath yatra hot seat

New Delhi, March 3: In 1990, when L.K. Advani’s Ram rath rolled from Somnath towards Ayodhya, his key aide was Pramod Mahajan.

In 1996, stung by the implication in the hawala scam — which was not proved later — Advani set off on another rath yatra to “vindicate” himself in the people’s court but restricted its coverage to Gujarat, his political “karma bhoomi”.

This time Mahajan shared the spotlight with other emerging leaders like K.. Govindacharya, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi, who played a bigger role in the exercise than him.

In Advani’s last Swarna Jayanti rath odyssey across the country in 1997, Mahajan was missing. His space was usurped by Govindacharya, assisted by PMO official Sudheendra Kulkarni, then in the BJP. The highs and lows in the Advani-Mahajan equation, reflected through the rath yatras, coincided with the rise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Since 1996 — when Vajpayee had an aborted stint as Prime Minister — Mahajan was seen as “closer” to him than to Advani. While no one was willing to say if he had “shifted allegiance”, even the BJP, otherwise unwilling to even privately comment on the Atal-Advani power centres, noted how Mahajan was “cosier” with 7 Race Course Road than Advani.

After he was dropped from the cabinet and had to return to the party as a general secretary, Mahajan’s first endeavour was to regain his comfort level with Advani. In the BJP, it is understood, none can survive in the party apparatus without the deputy Prime Minister’s blessings.

A former president, K. Jana Krishnamurthy realised this late, after making wholescale changes without consulting Advani. By the time he did, he was booted out.

The first sign of Mahajan’s rehabilitation in the power structure was evident when he delivered Rajasthan in the last round of Assembly elections against perceived odds. His role in Chhattisgarh was also acknowledged. But even that did not appear “good enough” because at a luncheon hosted by former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana before the elections for Advani, Mahajan appeared isolated as the Naidu-Jaitley duo held sway.

BJP observers believe that by appointing him as the virtual in-charge of his Bharat Uday yatra, Advani has signalled his recognition for Mahajan’s organisational skills. When he was the BJP president, Advani was thought of as its best talent-spotter. Mahajan and Jaitley apart, the entire second phalanx, including Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Modi, Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh owe their ascendancy to him.

Vajpayee was thought to be “indifferent” to organisational matters, although as the Prime Minister he made it a point to be involved in every decision concerning party reshuffles and nomination of candidates even to byelections.

Over the years, Advani lost Govindacharya, his “one-member brain trust”, to oblivion and the others to the government. If Mahajan appeared keen to “make up” with Advani, party sources said the deputy Prime Minister seemed to have realised that he was his “best bet” if he were to come back to the political mainstage.

Naidu, sources said, could energise the cadre and entertain crowds with his one-liners, Jaitley was the “cerebral” face of the BJP and Sushma a crowd-puller. “Mahajan combines organisational skills with an understanding of ground realities and a mind for realpolitik. During an election, he is as critical for Advani as to Vajpayee,” they added.

The surest sign of Mahajan being on top of the BJP pack was the appointment of his nominee and party additional spokesman Prakash Javadekar as Advani’s “officer on special duty” during the yatra. Javadekar, known so long for his Fab India kurtas and sound bytes, is likely to be made a national secretary in the reconstituted party structure after the elections, said sources.

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