BJP misses master strategist Pramod Mahajan
At a bookshop in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in Delhi, the one item that sells like hot cakes is a CD on how to make a speech by the late Pramod Mahajan - a former minister, an astute strategist, funds manager and troubleshooter whom the party will sorely miss in these elections.delhi Updated: Apr 01, 2009 12:00 IST
At a bookshop in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in Delhi, the one item that sells like hot cakes is a CD on how to make a speech by the late Pramod Mahajan - a former minister, an astute strategist, funds manager and troubleshooter whom the party will sorely miss in these elections.
Pointing to the CD at the shop, a party worker quipped: "Varun (Gandhi) could have taken lessons from this."
Many in the BJP say had Mahajan been around, he would have helped handle sticky situations better - among them Varun Gandhi's reported hate speeches, breakups with key allies, and the spat between the party's poll managers.
The 15th Lok Sabha polls will be the first in over 30 years without Mahajan, who was shot to death by his own brother nearly three years ago at the age of 56.
"We remember Pramodji very often, but what can we do? It is destiny," BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar, who also belongs to Maharashtra, the state Mahajan hailed from, said.
Asked if the party missed him, he said: "Definitely... definitely. I am sitting with (leading industrialist) Rahul Bajaj; we were talking the same thing."
Many party leaders say that minus Mahajan, there is no one to sweet talk friends and foes alike and help the party from impending disasters.
If the BJP headed over 20 partners in its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for over five years, Mahajan played a vital backroom role in keeping the flock together. Many of these allies have now quit the NDA.
In Maharashtra, key alliance partner Shiv Sena has been giving the party sleepless nights over ticket distribution.
"When Mahajan was around, he maintained daily personal contact with all top party office-bearers, not only of the Sena but also other constituents of the NDA," said a Shiv Sena leader on condition of anonymity.
He would drop in unannounced and meet top leaders in their home or party office, exchange ideas over tea or meals without any specific agenda. "That's how he could sniff out an upcoming problem even before it surfaced and take steps to resolve it."
The Shiv Sena lamented that since Mahajan's departure, nobody from the BJP had maintained regular contact with the Sena or other allies.
A former Mumbai BJP office-bearer, who worked closely with him during the 1990s, said Mahajan had an uncanny knack for anticipating problems.
"He could identify minor issues that could degenerate into crises and resolve them immediately to the satisfaction of all," said the leader who is now with the Congress.
Though the NDA's 2004 election campaign called India Shining chalked out by Mahajan flopped, people still talk of him as a master strategist.
He was not only an effective troubleshooter but could also see "opportunities that others believed were not available", said state party general secretary Vinod Tawde.
Tawde said Mahajan, whom many in the party and outside called a street-smart operator, never suffered from attitude problems while soothing the ruffled egos of political friends or foes.
Tawde said resources were never a problem with him around. "His confidence level was so high that leaders would just say - tell Pramod, he will do the needful - and everybody's tensions were over," Tawde said.
A student of journalism and political science, Mahajan started as a student activist and became general secretary of Maharashtra's BJP unit in 1986 before moving to New Delhi.
He was at home in English, Hindi and Marathi. He was rated as a good speaker, both in parliament and outside. He was among the few in the BJP who openly differ with BJP star L K Advani -- and get away with it.
His doting daughter Poonam Rao keeps hearing about her father's contribution.
"My party colleagues tell me how my father used to advise and train them in the art of realpolitik and building up the organisation," Poonam, the Maharashtra BJP youth wing chief, said.
Poonam has been denied the BJP ticket from Mumbai Northeast, from where her father was once elected to the Lok Sabha. There is talk of her joining the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Perhaps, as the BJP realises, no one has been able to step into Mahajan's shoes yet.