The passing away of Pramod Mahajan after a ten-day struggle for life is more than just a tragic family saga with a tragic ending. That it certainly is, and only a heart made of stone would not reach out to his wife and children. But beyond his immediate family, another family has sustained a grievous blow and that is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parivar. It will be as tough for the first family as the second to fill the void left behind by the improbable turn of events. In 12 days flat, the face of two families has changed, beyond belief, beyond repair.
At one level, the BJP has lost its ultimate back-room boy. The party, with its Jan Sangh roots and Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva refrain, is justly seen as a regressive party that can only look backwards to get ahead. In that, Pramod Mahajan was an exception. He was the laptop toting, technology-friendly media manager cum image-maker cum fixer all rolled into one. Be it giving L.K. Advani’s rath yatra the right spin or plotting the India Shining ad blitz, Mahajan was the first among equals within the BJP. And he never really got all the credit he deserved.
More importantly, at another level, the BJP is lost its most acceptable second rung leader. Left to themselves, every single BJP leader after Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani considers himself as prime minister material—be it Narendra Modi or Uma Bharti, Rajnath Singh or Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitely. But in reality, most of them have inherent, inbuilt problems with their image which hinders and hampers their acceptance across the country, cutting across urban-rural, male-fame, old-young divides.
Mahajan, surprisingly for someone who lost many an election, was an exception to this and little wonder Vajpayee conceded as much and anointed him his ‘Lakshman’ in his address at the Mumbai session of the party earlier this year. Although this greatly shocked his partymen and women who have all been anxiously angling for the recognition, Mahajan, to his credit, was not shame-faced about wanting the PM’s job. “Who doesn’t want to be Prime Minister? Even a Miss World would want to be Prime Minister after being Mother Teresa,” he had told an interviewer recently.
That—a nice little sense of humour—is also something that will vanish with the death of Mahajan. Everybody in the BJP and the RSS takes his (or her) role far too seriously, barring Venkaiah Naidu’s farcical attempts at alliteration. As a man who understood the power of the media in creating images and impressions, Mahajan realized that this wouldn’t work. If today he is seen as a man who could have been PM, it is because of his face, that little grin that was permanently stuck on it that suggested that he knew what it took to get to the top.
Sure, there were controversies about his role in the Reliance Infocom deal. Sure, there were scandals about his alleged involvement with the murdered journalist Shivani Bhatnagar. Etcetera. But Indian politics is not quite the haven of hermits and sages and saints. Even Pramod Mahajan would have agreed with that—with a slight grin that would have said, 'biddu, so you think you know everything?'