There's many a slip...               Virendra Kapoor
   July 9, 2002

A last-minute attempt to deny Home Minister L K Advani the deputy prime ministership was foiled by the Sangh Parivar. Claiming Atal Bihari Vajpayee's interest at heart, some people almost sabotaged Advani's official graduation to DPM status hours before the announcement was made by Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In tandem with a couple of Vajpayee hangerson, the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary, Brajesh Mishra, tried to stall Advani's official elevation to DPM status.

These individuals had never taken kindly to Advani's rise in the party and government. Even without the official DPM designation, they argued, Advani was already conducting himself as a virtual number two; granting him that status officially would not alter anything particularly when the Constitution had no provision for a DPM. The real reason behind this last-minute manoeuvre was the fear that Advani would now become a bigger parallel centre of power.

Panditji, as Mishra is called by people close to him, even had a friendly scribe report there were second thoughts on Advani being made DPM.

A furious Advani, who soon realised this was Mishra's handiwork, intimated the Sangh Parivar who, in turn, made it plain to Vajpayee that there could be no going back on this issue. Vajpayee was then on a visit to his parliamentary constituency in Lucknow. Never one to relish a confrontation, he caved in without resistance.

Mishra, as a result, had no option but to fall in line. The upshot? Advani was designated DPM ahead of the Cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion.

Meddlesome Mishra

Brajesh Mishra also made a desperate attempt to stall the transfer of the department of company affairs from the law ministry to the finance ministry. At one stage, he apparently barged into the meeting of the Big Five -- Vajpayee, Advani, Jaswant Singh, George Fernandes and Pramod Mahajan -- to advise against such a transfer. However, the decision to shift Singh to finance and transfer the DCA had already been taken.

Mishra wanted the DCA to continue under the law ministry so that he could continue to influence its functioning from the PMO. But, with Singh in charge of the DCA, Mishra will now have to adopt a hands-off attitude, however much his friends in business might wish otherwise. That Mishra and Singh are not on the friendliest of terms is no secret in the capital.

Party versus government

A clear business-like perspective did not herald the recent ministerial changes in New Delhi. Instead ad hocism, the bane of most governments, ruled the day.

Vajpayee and his newly-minted deputy did not see eye to eye on a variety of proposed changes which, as a consequence, had to be shelved. At one stage, Vajpayee had even given the go-ahead to bifurcate the information and broadcasting ministry. The idea was to allow the present incumbent, Sushma Swaraj, to retain information while broadcasting was to be given to Shatrughan Sinha. A none-too-happy Sushma enlisted Advani's support and the move was squashed immediately.

At another point, it was decided that Cabinet Minister Ananth Kumar -- who had told both Advani and Vajpayee he was ready to work for the party -- would quit the ministry and take up organisational work. When push came to shove, however, he got his mentor, Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan, to prevail upon the duo that this would not be such a good idea and it was better to wait for Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley to settle down in their new roles in the party before inducting another relatively young minister into the organisation.

The trusting twosome

Though Jaitley and Naidu had offered to work for the party more than three months ago, it was uncertain if they would be allowed to quit the government, particularly when both had performed exceedingly well in their respective ministries.

Among the names considered for BJP president were that of Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan. Both were willing to serve the party, but only as president.

The RSS bosses had reservations about Mahajan. As for Swaraj, RSS chief K Sudershan was keen to see her as BJP president (Swaraj was reinducted into the Cabinet following her disastrous stint as Delhi chief minister three years ago after Sudershan's intervention). But a problem arose when no one else of any consequence was willing to work with her in the party.

Vajpayee and Co were forced to fall back on the Naidu-Jaitley duo, since the two get along well and have no ego hassles or personal agendas of their own.

False alarm

Should Arun Jaitley be congratulated or commiserated with? This is the question many people are asking following his shift from the government to the party. Was he dropped or did he quit the government voluntarily to try and get a purchase on the party machine which, in the long run, will stand him in good stead?

In powercentric and cynical Delhi, barring Jaitley's family and immediate circle of friends, people find it hard to believe anyone would give up a ministership of his own accord to become the BJP's chief spokesman, even though Sangh Parivar bigwigs are fully appreciative of his decision. Fueling the rumour are one minister and her husband who say Jaitley has been dropped because of his support to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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