A sharp strategist in mind, brilliant executive in action

By L.K. Advani   |   Wednesday, 02 May 2007

Tribute to Pramod Mahajan on his first death anniversary

It is difficult to believe that one year has passed. It is more difficult to believe, even after the passage of a full year, that Pramodji is no longer with us. Human beings have a weakness; we do not accept death as a part of life. But when death is untimely, comes unexpectedly and shockingly, and takes away someone who was always full of life, it becomes harder to submit to the finality of its deed. But submit we must. There is no escaping it.

Pramod Mahajan was in the prime of his life when he finally breathed his last on May 3 last year, after a long and determined battle for survival. His was a restless spirit. Defeats and setbacks did not fill him with despair and push him towards inaction. Similarly, although victories and successes made him happy (which political activist is immune to the joy of accomplishment?), they never made him complacent. His strategic mind would quickly start thinking of preparations for the next battle to be fought and the next hurdle to be crossed.

My last interaction

I vividly remember the last days of my interaction with him. When I launched, along with the Party President Shri Rajnath Singhji, the Bharat Suraksha Yatra in April last year, Pramodji was away in Assam. He had taken upon himself the onerous responsibility of guiding the Assam unit of the party for the assembly elections in the state. His level of commitment to the task may be gauged by the fact that he camped in Assam for nearly two months, and even took a band of young party activists from Maharashtra and other places to assist him. He toured the state extensively and gained an intimate knowledge of the issues, personalities and problems.

When my yatra reached Pune, Pramodji arrived there, straight from Assam, and joined me for the onward journey up to Sholapur. In between public meetings along the route, when we had some time to rest inside the rath, he started talking about his latest experiences in Assam: “Advaniji, many in the party may not acknowledge this, but I have to tell you that we have been neglecting the North-Eastern states for too long. None of your yatras so far have covered the seven states in the regions. It’s my desire that you take out an exclusive North-East Yatra soon after the conclusion of the budget session of Parliament. My stay in Assam this time has taught me a lot. Each of these states can boast of many great men and women in history, and many patriots who fought for India’s independence. But the rest of India neither knows them, nor recognizes them. You must pay tribute to them in the form a Yatra exclusively in the North-East.”

He then added, “Of course, you’ll need an aircraft to go from one state to another, and I’ll arrange for one. Leave the logistics to me.”

There was both concern and insistence in the way he spoke. I readily accepted his suggestion, which showed how Pramodji was always looking ahead.

BJP’s unique and proud leadership tradition

His rise to the top echelons of the BJP was solely on account of his hard work, dedication to the party’s ideology and goals, and his intrinsic leadership qualities. Ours is not a party where, unlike in the Congress, leadership is reserved in perpetuity for members of one family. Pramodji was born in a family of humble background, and his political ascent happened from the bottom upwards. The concept of political dynasty in a democracy is inimical to the BJP’s philosophy and culture. We reject it contemptuously. It is a great, unique and proud strength of the BJP that any activist, irrespective of his or her class, caste or community origins, but with the requisite merit and capabilities, can rise to the top in our party. We must zealously guard this tradition.

Pramodji’s dynamism was evident to me almost from the first time I met him. (The time and circumstance may be mentioned.) The youthful promise in him needed nobody’s recommendation for recognition. It was mirrored in the self-confident tone of his speech, his intimate knowledge of political developments and the strategic nature of his thinking. Since I wanted to infuse young blood into the BJP’s leadership resources, I decided to include him – along with Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi (?) and Govindacharya -- in my team of general secretaries of the party in 1986 (?). Since then there was no going back for him. He became my regular sounding board for decision-making in the party.

Ram Rath Yatra, Pramodji’s idea

It is appropriate to mention here that the idea of my Ram Rath Yatra in 1990 was Pramodji’s brain-child. I wanted to undertake a nationwide campaign to create awareness about the Ayodhya issue and mobilize mass support for the construction of a Ram Temple at Ramjanmabhoomi. My initial plan was to undertake a pad yatra. One day – it was in early September -- Pramodji happened to come to my house at Pandara Park and I broached the subject with him. He opined that pad yatra would not be suitable as it would take a lot of time and would not meet the deadline of October 30, when kar seva was scheduled to take place in Ayodhya. Then we discussed the idea of traveling in a jeep or a car. But I did not like it since it would not have given me the opportunity of mass contact.

Then, suddenly, Pramodji hit upon the concept of a Rath Yatra. “Since this is a yatra for the construction of a Ram Temple, why don’t you travel in a Rath? I’ll take the responsibility of getting it done.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Pramodji was not only brilliant in strategy, but also a perfectionist in execution. The 1996 Maha Adhiveshan of the BJP in Mumbai, which even today remains the largest ever countrywide mobilization for a meeting of the party’s national council, was a tribute to his organisational expertise. The BJP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which has remained intact even today, was a tribute to his political strategizing. Similarly, the lead he took in conceptualizing and constructing the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini near Mumbai was a tribute to his forward-looking vision for the BJP. It is indeed a matter of pride for us that no other political party in India has a training centre for its cadres and functionaries which is as large, as well-equipped, as professionally run, as frequently used, and boasts of as spectacular a location as the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini.

I was mentioning about the last days of my interaction with him. Our yatra was received with great ardor when it reached Sholapur. Pramodji spoke so well in his native Marathi that he left the audience craving for more. His oratory was in full flow. I, who spoke last, had to acknowledge that there was nothing left for me to speak on. The next day our yatra was scheduled to proceed to Karnataka. But it had to be halted in Sholapur itself when news came that Rajkumar, the doyen of Kannada cinema, had passed away.

Since we could not proceed to Karnataka, Pramodji suggested that we go back to Mumbai. But as we had some time at our disposal, he quickly arranged for my visits to three important temples in and around the city – the Siddheshwar Temple in Sholapur, the Bhavani Mata Temple at Tuljapur and the Vithal Temple in Pandharpur. I am ever grateful to him for this.

A disciplined soldier

I must mention one admirable quality in Pramodji. Despite his many shortcomings, he always cared for the party. He was candid and straightforward in speaking out his mind within party forums. He was deeply disturbed by certain undesirable developments within the party and the larger Sangh Parivar after the BJP’s unexpected defeat in the 2004 parliamentary elections. But he would not take inner-party debates to the media. He sometimes disagreed with me on certain issues, but when he got convinced that he was wrong he would unfailingly come to me and express regrets.

It happened so in the last days of his life -- during the period between Bharat Suraksha Yatra’s departure from Sholapur and its re-entry into Maharashtra in Vidarbha. During this period, Pramodji had gone to Delhi and given a television interview to Karan Thapar. In the course of the interview, he made a particularly critical remark about my Pakistan visit in 2005. The media gave a lot of publicity to it. Within a few days, Pramodji sent me a letter of apology, along with the full transcript of the interview, and said that, but for that one inadvertent remark, he had actually defended me against some persistently prickly questioning by the interviewer. He was right. Most parts of the interview were actually devoted to defending the BJP and me.

Nagpur was where I saw Pramodji for the last time. My yatra had reached there on April 20. But somehow he was lacklustre in Nagpur. His speech at the public meeting lacked verve and focus. I felt that something was bothering him. Just two days later, he became the target of a tragic gun attack at his Mumbai residence. He was only 57.

As we commemorate Pramod Mahajan’s first death anniversary, I appeal to all party workers to take a holistic view of his life and activities, and draw the right lessons and inspiration from him in dealing with the tasks we face today and tomorrow.