India - Leadership

Considered an honest and capable man, Vajpayee is one of the country's most admired public figures. Many voters, otherwise suspicious of the BJP, appear to trust Vajpayee's responsible, flexible, and pragmatic political style. They regard him as best suited for the prime ministership. Vajpayee has revealed his preference for achieving consensus on major issues. Striking a conciliatory and reassuring tone, he has called for cooperation and expressed sensitivity to the concerns of India's ethnic and religious minorities. He has also rejected suggestions that he is a figurehead manipulated by RSS ideologues. Vajpayee's personal popularity is his greatest asset, but it may not provide him sufficient leverage against recalcitrant allies and unreconstructed hardliners in the BJP.

Vajpayee leads a patchwork coalition whose members have disparate and contradictory interests. To gain support, Vajpayee has made significant concessions and compromises—abandoning the BJP's cherished but contentious objectives. He has also awarded coalition partners plum ministerial portfolios and included consideration of their pet issues among the government's listed priorities. Vajpayee remains susceptible to pressures from allies and to resistance from disgruntled BJP hardliners. However, with his 1999 election victory, he no longer has to deal with a slim majority in Parliament and depend on the political calculations of a handful of MPs who, though allies, do not share the BJP's philosophy. Although still having to deal with a coalition (in which the BJP has a smaller share than in the previous government), Vajpayee is in a relatively stronger position. The main parliamentary opposition, Congress and the UF, was in disarray and unable to offer a credible alternative to the NDA government.

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