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THE TROUBLESHOOTER

The past few months have been an eventful one for the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the spotlight of these events, is the man who has recently been appointed as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate – Narendra Modi. While the media obsesses over his rise, the less known details of his ascent are about the people who have made his anointment a possibility.

Unlike the dynastic Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party is a democratic organization where in any karyakarta with competence and capability can become a prime ministerial candidate. However, while democracy is hailed, it posses challenges of its own. There are bound to be differences in opinion and in such situations there is a need for consensus to be built. In the BJP, there is one man who has been entrusted with this job from the past 17 years—Ananthkumar.

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There was never a question as to whether or not Modi will be the Prime Ministerial candidate; the only difference in opinion was regarding the timing. While one camp felt it right to post-pone the decision to a later date (preferably after the upcoming assembly polls), a majority opinion prevailed that the announcement should be made now. So Ananthkumar was responsible for resolving the crisis — the result of which has been apparent in vocal support given by everyone in the BJP to the recent declaration of Modi as PM candidate. A difference in opinion also emerged when Modi was appointed the campaign committee chief. The party patriarch L.K Advani was upset with the way the appointment was done. Ananthkumar successfully resolved the conflict then too.

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Known for his cogent and persuasive manners, Ananthkumar has been managing many a crisis since 1996. Through his tenure in politics he has held prime responsibilities within the party and has had a distinguished role in the NDA led Government. His ample experience and knack for problem solving has earned him the role of the troubleshooter. Apart from which, his cordial relationship with the top brass of leaders from across the party spectrum has enabled him to be an efficient negotiator in the setup of coalition politics.

In 1996, the Bharatiya Janata Party became the single-largest political party in Parliament with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. Coalition politics took center stage and it was Ananthkumar along with Pramod Mahajan, who spearheaded negotiations with parties like the AIADMK, BSP and Shiv Sena. Although their attempt was unsuccessful as the Government fell in a mere 13 days, it gave rise to new possibilities and made way for the NDA coalition of 1999. From then on, the increasing importance of regional parties and coalition politics reinforced the requirement for political negotiations.

In Bihar, the BJP was in an alliance with the JD (U) from 2005 to 2013. It started off in October 2005, when a re-election was held since the previous election held in February of the same here presented a hung assembly. It was for Ananthkumar to head to Bihar and work out an agreement with the JD (U). In doing so, he set the ball rolling for an alliance that lasted till very recently. Subsequently, the alliance was formed in 2005 with BJP winning 55 of the 102 seats it contested and JD (U) winning 88 of the 139 seats it contested.

In 2005, when there was a change in guard in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Ananthkumar was instrumental in bringing about a smooth transition of power from Babulal Gaur (who headed a two-month-old Government) to Shivraj Singh Chauhan (who is now in his second term as Chief Minister). The decision to bring in Chauhan has been extremely beneficial, as he has proved to be an able administrator and an efficient and non-controversial leader. It is no surprise that he is seeking a third term this year. But it is not only Chauhan who has ushered stability in Madhya Pradesh. Ananthkumar’s impeccable decision making skills have been hailed in Madhya Pradesh and he has been in-charge of the state since 2005. No other party leader has been in-charge of a state for a long period of 8 years. That Ananthkumar holds this record only goes to show his brilliance in politics.

In 2007 and 2010, Arjun Munda of the BJP formed the Government in the state of Jharkhand. But this was only possible by forming an alliance with different coalition partners including Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and All India Jharkhand Students Union. Ananthkumar was at the forefront of negotiations and was instrumental in the formation of Government.

The 2008 Gurjar Andolan in Rajasthan was one such instance where Ananthkumar’s negotiating skills curtailed not just political crisis but was instrumental in saving lives. Violence erupted in the state of Rajasthan in May 2008, 15 protestors belonging to the Gurjar caste were killed. The Gurjars were demanding a lower ST (Scheduled Tribe) status in contrast to categorization under the higher OBC (Other Backward Classes) status. Ananthkumar was appointed by the party to aid the then Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje in resolving the crisis. He spent three entire days in Rajasthan and spoke to the concerned parties, the result of which there was peace in the state.

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Ananthkumar’s negotiation skills have been tested and proved efficient beyond the realm of party and coalition politics. During his tenure as the Civil Aviation Minister under the NDA Government in 1999, the country witnessed one of the worst aviation related strikes. 850 Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) across the country demanded a 100 per cent hike in their salary along with other fringe benefits such as free foreign travel allowance, priority housing, hike in educational allowance for children and a two per cent duty allowance per hour. ATCs play a crucial role in manning airports. Their work is important not just to domestic and international travellers but also to military transport in the country. The strike was risking lives and causing immense damage to the country and its economy.

The Ministry was stern in its view of not hiking salaries, as they were sure that giving into the demands of the ATC would only mean that other airport employees would make similar demands. Just a few years before this incident occurred, when the government increased the salaries of ground maintenance engineers, flight engineers went on strike, demanding higher wages than their colleagues on the ground. Later, pilots demanded higher salaries than flight engineers. Foreseeing such a reaction, the Ministry was against ceding to the demands of the ATC. Hence, they resorted to tough negotiations to control the crisis. Air force personnel were brought in to control the traffic in the airports. This act of replacement brought fear of unemployment in the ATCs, and forced those on strike to abandon their extravagant demands and settle for a reasonable hike in salary.

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For the people of Karnataka, Ananthkumar’s negotiating skill has been a matter of pride. The age-old Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu meant that there was a perpetual conflict between the two states. During the NDA government Ananthkumar played a crucial role in brining the leaders of both states for a one on one discussion on the issue. However, while efforts were being made by the state level leaders to solve the conflict, there was a need for someone in the national arena to vocally resound the views of Karnataka. Ananthkumar did just that and was hailed for his efforts by leaders from other political parties as well. In 1998, the then Chief Minister S.M Krishna lauded the efforts of Ananthkumar in handling the Cauvery crisis and rightly called him a ‘savior in troubled times’.

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“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” said John F. Kennedy while summing up the art of dialogue. Ananthkumar has not only taken to the negotiating table with a stern hand but has also always possessed clarity of thought. When asked as to why negotiations are so important in party politics, Ananthkumar replies without a second’s gap that it is always important to protect the party’s interest over that of any individual member. In his 26 year political career he has found that good negotiating skills comes from experience. He remarks “Understanding the pulse of the people and voicing the same in an efficient and honest manner can solve many a problem.”