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Virendra Kapoor | October 28, 2004
Before the defeat-scarred BJP reinducted L K Advani as its president for a record third time, senior Sangh Parivar leaders did mull over the possibility of replacing M Venkaiah Naidu with another relatively young leader.
But the 76-year-old leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha was obliged to take over the reins only because there was no agreement on anyone else.
Naidu had volunteered his resignation following the party's failure to wrest power from the Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra. The illness of his wife was added reason for him to step down well ahead of the completion of his five-year term.
In view of Naidu's insistence on quitting, the Sangh Parivar inner circle held consultations to find a suitable replacement. RSS leaders K S Sudarshan and Madan Dass Devi were not averse to the idea of another member of the younger lot, say, Sushma Swaraj, deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, being made the BJP chief.
But there was no agreement on her name with opposition coming from other second-rung leaders even though Advani himself favoured Swaraj.
The name of Murli Manohar Joshi, who is close to the RSS in general and Sudarshan in particular, was discussed and soon discarded given his none-too-happy performance when he was party chief in the early 1990s.
But what clinched the issue was Naidu's insistence that none other than Advani should replace him. Naidu told Advani it would be "cruel" to him, Naidu, if the latter did not become the party chief.
That Naidu never got the full cooperation of the so-called young leaders in the party was widely known in the Sangh Parivar. People like Pramod Mahajan were a law unto themselves, running things very much the way they liked, unmindful of the party chief.
With this failure to evolve a consensus on any other name, the mantle of leading the BJP at this critical juncture could not but fall on Advani.
Discord follows defeat
BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan clearly believes in the old trick, heads I win, tails you lose.
All through the Maharashtra election campaign, Mahajan had made it plain to senior party leaders that the state was his domain and he would deliver victory without anyone from the central leadership having to assist him.
Mahajan, doubtless, worked very hard. He changed his demeanour completely and went back to old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning, discarding the hi-tech, high-cost methodology he had adopted in the ruinous Lok Sabha campaign.
But now that voters in Maharashtra too have let him down, Mahajan is citing, among other things, the 'non-cooperation of senior leaders' as a factor for the party's debacle. Never mind that he himself had discouraged them from lending him a helping hand. Party chief Naidu addressed but a couple of meetings in the state. Ditto for General Secretary Arun Jaitley. Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed a lone rally in Mumbai while Advani too was in the state for only a couple of days.
Mahajan had consciously made it a one-man show. But now that the outcome has proved dismal, he wants the very colleagues whom he had kept at bay to share the blame.
Golden handshake at the AICC
The AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road are in for a makeover.
Reflecting the change in the Congress party's fortunes, office rooms are getting a costly upgrade with the latest gadgetry being installed for the benefit of senior office-bearers, along with new carpets, sofa sets, chairs, and other furnishings.
But not everyone is pleased with this turn of events. For, some of the older employees who have been with the AICC for decades are being retired with full benefits in keeping with the party's new self-image of a modern 21st century organisation.
The decision to dispense with the services of quite a few staffers has caused some heartburn, especially since they had come to believe that with the party's return to power at the Centre they too would get to partake of the concomitant gains. Not that they have all done badly for themselves. Some have exploited their connections to get lucrative petrol pump licences, or plum postings for their relatives and friends, or admissions for their wards in medical and engineering colleges.
Keeping the PAs in line
At the end of a recent Cabinet meeting, just as everyone was ready to leave, Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav raised the issue of the confidential reports of ministerial personal assistants and personal secretaries being written by the secretaries in charge of the respective ministries as against the ministers themselves, which was the norm till recently.
Yadav wanted the old procedure restored, insisting that a minister is the best judge of the performance of his personal staff. His concern noted, everyone trooped out.
But the objective of empowering the secretaries to write the annual CRs of the ministers' staff was to ensure that the latter conform to certain norms of behaviour, and do not become the proxies for their bosses' extra-curricular activities. So, the government has hit upon a compromise: both the ministers and the secretaries in charge will write the annual CRs of these PAs and PSs.
Of course, the new arrangement will still favour the secretaries because bureaucrats, while considering transfers and promotions of various ministerial staff, will rely on the secretaries' entries rather than those of their political masters.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh