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Virender Kapoor | February 01, 2003
Question: What cost Pramod Mahajan his job?
Answer: loyalty to Dhirubhai Ambani.
The post and telegraph department, which fell under Mahajan's purview, issued a stamp last month to honour the late tycoon, which the Union communications minister -- now, ex-minister -- released.
During the ceremony, Mahajan was so carried away by his glib-tongued peroration that while heaping praise on Ambani he ran down a host of legends in diverse fields, and, by implication, questioned Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's judgement.
Recalling Ambani's rags-to-riches story, Mahajan said the industrialist's contributions have not been appreciated enough by the powers that be. If "naachnewali aur gaanewali" [singers and dancers] can be given Bharat Ratnas, why not Ambani too, he wondered.
Mahajan did not stop at that. Ambani was a man who had made several people ministers, he said, and now he was being denied his due.
This was more than what Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and other BJP insiders could stomach. Especially as they knew Mahajan had made a strong pitch to get Ambani the Bharat Ratna.
Another reason for Mahajan's ouster was his role in the on-going tussle between cellular operators and providers of the wireless in local loop mobile phone service.
The Ambanis own WLL telephony, and Mahajan helped smoothen their entry in many ways as communications minister.
Apropos the ministerial reshuffle, it was conducted in full media glare.
The fact the decision-making was not concentrated in the prime minister's hands helped the media. But they got it slightly wrong about the two Aruns -- Jaitley and Shourie, that is.
At no stage was there any move to make Shourie a super minister, with the additional charges of communications and IT, even as he held on to divestment. It just happened.
Divestment was to be given to Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, and the department of company affairs, transferred to finance when Jana Krishnamurthy became law and justice minister, was to be returned to Arun Jaitley now that he was again law and justice minister.
But Singh pleaded with Vajpayee his hands were full. Which is how Shourie got to retain divestment besides getting communications and IT.
As for Jaitley, at one stage he was to get back company affairs from finance, but when it was decided to give him commerce and industry, and law and justice, the move to shift company affairs was put on hold.
Urban Welfare Minister Ananth Kumar survived yet another reshuffle. Again, his saviour was Advani.
And while star-turned-politician Vinod Khanna might be happy at his appointment as minister of state for external affairs, insiders say that post is jinxed.
None of Khanna's predecessors has survived for long. From Vasundhara Raje to Omar Abdullah to Digvijay Singh, all in the Vajpayee dispensation have had rather short innings.
Maybe the genial Khanna will break that jinx.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh