The PM’s ‘Blue-eyed Boy’
Union minister for Information Technology, telecommunications and parliamentary affairs, Mr. PRAMOD MAHAJAN, who had been turned down by the electorate in his constituency in Mumbai in the last general elections, today enjoys a plum position in the Union cabinet. Often described as the prime minister’s ‘blue-eyed boy’, Mr. Mahajan shares a unique rapport with the PM for his ability to often diffuse tension between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. He is also one of the youngest, coolest and most charismatic ministers to handle this portfolio. RENU MITTAL explores his charisma and clout in the NDA government.
THE suave and articulate Pramod Mahajan has a knack of finding himself in one controversy after another but with deft manoeuvres and a nimble footed approach he has managed to always extricate himself from difficult situations.
Considered to be one of the closest persons to prime minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, Mr. Mahajan seldom speaks his mind, be it at public rallies or brief reactions to the press, since more often he is required to project his master's (Vajpayee's) voice. Nevertheless, he has a firm opinion on every aspect of Indian politics, be it NCP president, Mr. Sharad Pawar's manoeuvres, Maharashtra politics, the Shiv Sena, the growing clout of the USA in the Vajpayee regime or other issues concerning the Union government.
This young minister, with his roots in Maharashtra, had a few years ago been just another BJP leader, though a promising one. However, it was his clear vision for the party, his cool temperament and his good communication skills that somewhat reserved the current portfolio for himself. And, he admits, that over the last few years he has indeed changed and adapted himself to fit the image of a television persona. Excerpts from an interview:
There has been considerable speculation that you wanted to dump the Shiv Sena and tie up with the NCP. How far has that got?
I do not think that it is an easy proposition though on the surface it may look like NCP-BJP-Shiv Sena would be a huge two-thirds majority. There are so many questions which don't have easy answers and, frankly, I am not even trying to find the answers.
But there is ongoing speculation that your relations with the Shiv Sena are not good and that you have been keen on parting ways?
Is it true that you were keen to bring in Sharad Pawar into the Central government?
How do you rate the performance of the Vilasrao Deshmukh government in Maharashtra? Do you keep a close watch on your home state?
Shifting focus to national politics, the BJP government is said to be using the US to pressurise General Musharraf to hand over Dawood Ibrahim as an issue which would help them in the coming UP assembly elections, any comment?
For the first time we have international opinion is against terrorism. Hence, we are creating a public opinion which is working, or at least showing some signs of working, that terrorism should be wiped out from the sub-continent. Handing over of Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon is one of those steps.
To come to your ministries, there is a feeling that under the convergence bill even the Information and Broadcasting ministry or the Information part of it would come under your umbrella. Is that scenario likely?
The only part which would come under convergence is the content regulation which was to come under the Broadcasting Council like the Press Council. We were in the process of making a Broadcasting Council but now we will not have a Broadcasting Council but the Communication Commission of India.
I brought IT and Communications together because IT was a very small ministry. But I don't think one minister can manage VSNL, MTNL, BSNL, Prasar Bharti, Doordarshan, All India Radio... I don't think the Information & Broadcasting Ministry at any given point in time, at least in the foreseeable future is going to combine with the communications ministry.
And the STD rates which have been slashed by you, is it working out to be a viable commercial proposition for the government?
There is a perception that you are a Jekyll and Hyde personality. There is an articulate minister on one hand and a harsh politician on the other. Recently, your speech in Hissar (in Haryana) was full of anti-Pakistan jargon. Is there a difference between the two personas of Pramod Mahajan?