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ROOM AT THE TOP

Power resides in the most unexpected of places in India. In an old man’s sulk, for example. Or maybe L.K. Advani was not sulking, but just making a creaky display of adjusting to his new position as a has-been leader in the new dispensation of the Bharatiya Janata Party when members of parliament were being sworn in. Everyone was made conscious that his room had been taken away. But the room in which he had been sitting for the last 10 years as acting chairperson of the National Democratic Alliance could only be called ‘his’ at a stretch. It was originally allotted to the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as the NDA chairperson, a role that the present prime minister now bears. Mr Vajpayee’s absence from Parliament House because of ill health left the room free for Mr Advani. True, he is a senior leader. Clarity is lacking with regard to the post of the BJP parliamentary party leader, but the post is a symbolic one, not constitutional. That, obviously, need not come in the way of the simple desire for at least some remaining appurtenances of power — the oozing self-importance of a separate room with his staff seated close by, for example.

Yet Mr Advani’s desire may be more comprehensible than the BJP’s desire to satisfy it. Mr Advani was given back his room, intact with new nameplate — although with the designation missing, naturally — and the parliamentary affairs minister, M. Venkaiah Naidu, even came visiting to check that all was ready for the sulky patriarch. The allocation can have no procedural excuse, neither has the BJP tried to make one. Since the new prime minister has elevated efficient governance into one of the cardinal virtues by sheer rhetoric, this surrender to unbusinesslike sentiment — since there is no other explanation — suggests that rhetorical strength is not always equivalent to action. More, the new government is obviously not averse to using its power to distribute privileges according to its wishes. That, perhaps, is the more worrying signal.