When erstwhile Sangh hardliner AB Vajpayee became Prime Minister of India in the 1990s, he was passed off as someone who had mellowed down and a consensus candidate who would be acceptable to every section of India.
In fact KN Govindacharya of the Sangh old guard famously used the term “mukhauta” (mask) for him. While the mask was seen as a concept, what if we viewed it as a person? If that is the case, then that person could very well be Vajpayee’s principal secretary cum National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra.
Vajpayee-Mishra formed an odd couple. Vajpayee was an out and out Sangh hardliner and totally unacceptable to Lutyens Delhi. Mishra was the son of a Congress Chief Minister close to legendary Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
An IFS man, ambassador and a permanent representative to the United Nations, Mishra was the ultimate insider and had contacts that spanned the entire network of Lutyens Delhi. In fact while Vajpayee was looked with suspicion, Mishra was welcomed with open arms.
So successful was Mishra that most of Lutyens Delhi had totally got used to Vajpayee and backed another term for him by 2004. The surprise loss and the Vajpayee-Mishra exit made the BJP a pariah yet again.
In fact Mishra was an excellent mukhauta of Vajpayee and the two had become inseparable.
When another hardliner in the form of Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, people thought that he would be different and he wouldn’t need a mask. But a mask he took all the same. And that mukhauta was Arun Jaitley.
Jaitley, like Mishra, is the perfect Lutyens insider and everybody loves him. He can deal with the Congress and every other party. The media rarely attacks him and if #AdarshLiberals had to pick one BJP politician they would be willing to do business with, then it would probably be Jaitley.
Like Vajpayee-Mishra, Modi-Jaitley too formed the odd couple. Jaitley would make Modi acceptable and make deals with the Opposition and handle the Congress well. Or so most thought!
After two years, the partnership seems to have broken down. The Congress is on the warpath. Bills are not being passed. Modi is being attacked virulently (not Jaitley though). The Enforcement Directorate (under Finance Minister Jaitley) doesn’t seem to have looked much into cases like the National Herald.
BJP supporters are getting impatient as to how nobody, not even “private citizens” like Robert Vadra and Karti Chidambaram have been arrested despite the umpteen allegations floating against them in the media.
In fact Jaitley is powerful within the BJP, has good relations with the Congress, other parties and media. However, you only have to look to Twitter and see the rage against him where he is seen as an ineffectual figure too soft on the opposition.
The turning point seems to be the Delhi and Bihar Assembly polls where the BJP got absolutely plastered in the former and saw a loss of face in the latter. If you note closely, then that seemed to be the turning point.
Modi seems to have toughened his stand. The ED and other investigative bodies seemed to have suddenly become more active. BJP MPs are trying to go on the offensive instead of defending the party lamely.
The leaks have increased and it is no co-incidence that the Congress is getting one bad news after another with the latest being AgustaWestland. Nothing symbolizes the new attitude than maverick Subramanian Swamy who joined the BJP some time back and became a Rajya Sabha MP recently.
It seems the proverbial cat has been set among the pigeons. Swamy seems to have taken over the Rajya Sabha proceedings completely. Everything is about him. It’s either his speeches or attacks against him or his remarks which have been expunged.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar gave such a detailed point by point and factual account of AgustaWestland that the government finally seems serious in taking Congress President Sonia Gandhi head on.
Swamy also brought up controversial and hardline things like the Ram Mandir issue which seemed to be on the backburner to many BJP supporters. The BJP has changed and become more aggressive and the new face of this is definitely Swamy.
Swamy has even launched an attack indirectly on a mysterious person called “Sakuni” on Twitter which his supporters staunchly claim is Jaitley. It is difficult to see all this being done without the consent of Modi.
In fact another Jaitley baiter Navjot Singh Sidhu (allegedly upset at losing his Amritsar ticket to Jaitley) also entered the Rajya Sabha with Swamy. There are rumours of Modi considering a new Finance Minister. Jaitley’s role seems to have been much diminished in the Modi Raj.
From 1998-2004, Mishra was Vajpayee’s mukhauta.
From 2014-2016, Jaitley was Modi’s mukhauta.
So the question to be asked is: Is Swamy now Modi’s new mukhauta?
If that’s the case, then there is one major difference. While Mishra and Jaitley are moderates and Lutyens insiders, that is not the case with Swamy.
Swamy is more hardline than Modi. Swamy is more of an outsider than Modi. Swamy is hated more in Lutyens Delhi than Modi. Swamy is more attacking than Modi.
During the 2002 elections Modi made his famous “Hum paanch hamare pachees” barb against Muslims but got his act together after that. Look at all of Modi’s speeches from 2013 onwards and you will struggle to find things that will mark him as an RSS hardliner. It’s all about development and governance.
That is not the case with Swamy who speaks on Hinduism, Ayodhya, Uniform Civil Code, putting Sonia in jail etc more openly and strongly. In fact Swamy even called Mishra a Trojan horse for the Congress in a recent interview!
While hardline Vajpayee wore a moderate mask, it seems that hardline Modi has just taken on an ultra hardline mask! Either way, this marks a new turning point in Modi’s term. Watch this space closely!
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here