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Aditi Phadnis: Prakash Javadekar, the practical politician

His circumstances have changed, but Prakash Javadekar is still the same: a politician committed to practical solutions

Aditi Phadnis 

Aditi Phadnis

In 1992, Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and many politicians from the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had to be given police protection.

One such was Prakash Javadekar, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist and former officer in the Bank of Maharashtra. Although he had no direct involvement in the riots, because of his background, protection was given to him for his own safety.

In those days, Javadekar used to ride a Bajaj scooter. What to do with an armed guard when you have only a scooter? So he followed the only logical option. The guard would sit on his pillion and the two of them would zip merrily through the streets of Mumbai, the guard clutching at his gun with one hand and hanging on for dear life to the stepney of the scooter with the other.

His circumstances have changed, but as a person, Javadekar is still the same: a practical politician, committed to practical solutions.

In the BJP in Maharashtra, many politicians - including Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde and Javadekar - owe their rise to Vasantrao Bhagwat, organising secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the BJP. In fact, among those he has mentored, Bhagwat counted all three as his proteges. Javadekar's father was a printer and journalist and a strong supporter of the Hindu Mahasabha. The rivalry between the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha is well-known: so there was a time when Javadekar's father moved out of his son's house, citing ideological differences with Javadekar, who was an ardent ABVP supporter.

During the Emergency, Javadekar (Jr) was jailed along with many others, but he had a heart condition that needed immediate surgery and jail authorities refused permission to him to go to hospital. It took a strike by the entire jail to enable him to have an operation, which he survived - in those days, a miracle in itself. He was arrested while he was an officer in a public sector undertaking bank and was suspended: but the union was controlled by the BJP and his suspension was rescinded when the Emergency was lifted.

Javadekar and Kirit Somaiya, a chartered accountant, were inducted as full-timers in the BJP together. They became part of the BJP's core team in Maharashtra, along with Mahajan and Munde. But while Somaiya contested and won a Lok Sabha election, Javadekar stayed in state politics and was made a Member of the Legislative Council, when the BJP-Shiv Sena government came to power with Manohar Joshi as chief minister and Munde as deputy chief minister. He was made vice-chairman of the State Planning Board.

Being a Brahmin, he had limited mobility in Maharashtra politics. But he remained Mahajan's "shishya" and learned the art of making political friends and brokering alliances from Mahajan, who was the architect of the Shiv Sena-BJP relationship - a skill that Javadekar used with panache when he was entrusted with the job of brokering the electoral arrangement between the BJP and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh in the 2014 general elections.

L K Advani undertook his Bharat Uday Yatra in 2004. Javadekar was by his side throughout, making all the arrangements for the Maharashtra leg. He was moved to Delhi, became spokesman and eventually got a Rajya Sabha seat.

Javadekar is neither a mass politician, nor a brilliant thinker, nor an inspiring ideologue: but he works hard and learns fast. It was BJP's Hansraj Ahir who broke the coal block allocation scam first. Ahir gave Javadekar all the papers and briefed him: to the point where Javadekar became an encyclopaedia on coal block allocation. His speeches and interventions in the Rajya Sabha on the subject were informative and thorough.

He did not contest the 2014 election from Pune: although it was widely expected he would, leaving the seat to Anil Shirole of the BJP: possibly because he got cold feet. It is the absence of a mass base that has paradoxically helped him to take tough decisions: including submitting himself as a minister to a seven-day limit for clearance of files relating to forest and other environmental clearances - something that cost the United Progress Alliance government Rs 52,000 crore in delays. He has said that he wants to make systems so fool-proof that the Ministry of Environment and Forests becomes irrelevant. We need to see if he will keep his word.

He has also said he will allow FM radio to broadcast news, will empower the Film and Television Institute of India to become a better, more autonomous institution and will never agree to anything that will remotely fetter the media.

Whatever Narendra Modi might say, the honeymoon is still on. It is when reality strikes that Prakash Javadekar's mettle will be tested.

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First Published: Fri, July 04 2014. 22:46 IST