EDITORIAL 1 / RIVALS IN ARMS
Read more below
The move from de facto to de jure is often a small but significant one. In politics, such a shift inevitably gives rise to questions relating to reasons, motives, pressures and so on. Thus neither the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, nor Mr L.K.Advani should resent the discussion that follows the latter's elevation to the post of deputy prime minister. It was known to everyone that Mr Advani was number two in the Union cabinet. The announcement by the prime minister that Mr Advani is now officially his deputy merely puts a stamp on the existing pecking order. But the timing and the implications of this announcement are open to interpretation. The record of previous deputy prime ministers will also inevitably add spice to any interpretation or speculation. All previous deputies to the premier were at loggerheads with the person who held the top job. The intensity of the rivalry and the hostility may have varied according to the personalities involved but the relationship was never without friction. There are good precedents to assume that the relationship between the present prime minister and his deputy will not be any different. Such an assumption is also grounded on the general perception that Mr Vajpayee's relationship with Mr Advani has never been particularly cordial. But there are more important issues involved here than the relationship of two individuals. The timing of this decision is important. It cannot but fuel speculation about the prime minister's grip on affairs and about the succession. Mr Vajpayee cannot blame anybody if Mr Advani's elevation fails to inspire confidence in his own control over proceedings. Unless, of course, this is a deft move by a very shrewd prime minister to win over a powerful rival to his side. Such an act of appropriation will find Mr Advani in the unenviable position of sitting on an important but irrelevant chair. A possible curtailment of Mr Advani's influence can be anticipated from the resignation of one efficient and articulate minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, known as an Advani supporter. On the other hand, Mr Vajpayee may find himself a trifle hamstrung with the presence of Mr Advani as the latter is perceived as more saffron than the prime minister. The power equation within the cabinet and within the Bharatiya Janata Party will ultimately hinge on who is seen as a better vote-catcher in the next elections. The BJP is low on morale at the moment. Mr Advani has a track record of boosting organizational morale whereas Mr Vajpayee is the more acceptable public face. The future is thus open. But for the nonce and within the cabinet, Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani may belie apprehensions of friction and rivalry and act as complements to each other. After all, whatever be their differences, they serve the same flag.