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Pramod Mahajan, who was the Information & Broadcasting Minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, was my best friend and colleague in the college. We belonged to different groups, but we went along nicely and formed an everlasting bond. He was active in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) as its tehsil secretary in 1970 but I chose to stay away from this organisation for quite some time. Finally, I became involved in the ABVP when my friends almost forced me to join in.

A year later, in 1971, I associated myself with the campaign of the Jana Sangh candidate in the Lok Sabha election in the Beed constituency. The candidate lost, but I had the first experience of election politics that proved invaluable to me during my career.

RSS Work : The turning point of my career was, however, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's Shiksha Varga (training camp) held in Pune that year. I was sent from Ambejogai for this camp which imbibed in me the values for which the RSS stands for: discipline, sacrifice, dedication to the cause of the nation and so on. As I joined the ILS Law College in Pune that year, my involvement in the activity of the RSS increased. I was put up in Motibaag, the city headquarters of the RSS for over a year.

The RSS leaders in Pune nominated me Mukhya Shikshak of Samaratha Shakha and later, Karyavah of the Chanakya Shakha. The three years after I came to Pune proved to be impressionable to me as I had the opportunity to listen to veterans like Golwalkar Guruji and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Shripati Shastriji and others influenced me in this period. I was entrusted with greater responsibilities in the activities of the Sangh. I soon became the Sambhajinagar Mandal Karyavah looking after half a dozen shakhas of the RSS, then in charge of its Pune City Students' Cell. Later I was made a member of the executive committee of the city RSS.

JP's Movement : January 1974 is an important milestone in my political career. It was a turbulent period in the country as Jaya Prakash Narayan had launched a movement for total revolution involving the youth to fight against Mrs. Indira Gandhi's misrule. I was the convenor of the City College Students' Committee that was keen to present him a scroll of honour during his visit to Pune. A Citizens' Committee comprising Socialists and other opposition party leaders went back on its word and had decided to deny us the opportunity to present our scroll to him at the grand public reception. We were determined to go ahead and forced ourselves at the railway station to greet him. Hundreds of college students brushed aside these elders at the station and read out the citation immediately after Jaya Prakashji alighted from the train. Ultimately, these elders gave me an exclusive audience with him late that night when he asked us students to devote ourselves to the cause of Total Revolution.

Imprisonment During Emergency : I was in the third year of the Law College when Mrs. Gandhi's Congress (I) government imposed Internal Emergency in the country in 1975. Jaya Prakashji and thousands of leaders and activists of the movement were put behind the bars. The Jana Sangh leaders, mainly Mr. Vasantrao Bhagwat and Mr. Pramod Mahajan, asked me to take a plunge into politics and sent me to Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad) to spread the movement. I led a Satyagraha on August 9 and was underground for two months to spread the message of total revolution and to organise the discontent among the people against the oppressive rule of the Congress (I). Just as I was in charge of Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad), Pramodji was overseeing the movement in the entire Marathwada region. We were arrested and sent to the Central Jail in Nashik.

Fight Against Oppression : The 16 months of imprisonment in the central jail was a turning point of my life. I was more determined than ever to work ceaselessly to overthrow the political system that was oppressive and corrupt. I had the opportunity to interact with about 2000 political prisoners in the jail, read books and participate in discussions initiated by our leaders like Mr. Mohan Dharia, Mr. Baba Bhide, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, and Mr.Bapu Kaldate. I was chosen to be the secretary of the Struggle Committee set up in the jail under the leadership of Dhariaji. Immediately after the Emergency was revoked, I became part of the movement launched by the newly formed Janata Party that challenged the might of the Congress monolith in Maharashtra, for the first time after Independence. I was the joint secretary of the party's state unit that took on the Congress. The Congress (I) was bruised in the Lok Sabha elections in 1977 that brought in the Janata Party government at the Centre. The Congress suffered later in the poll for the Maharashtra State assembly in 1978.

Unsuccessful Contest : The party asked me to contest from Renapur constituency in Beed district. I lost the election by a margin of only 1100 votes.

My opponents could not find a single good issue for the campaign against me. They, therefore, launched a whisper campaign among the tradition-bound village people spreading the word that I had an affair with a girl not belonging to my community. I had the courage to publicly announce in the election meetings that I indeed was in love with this girl and would marry her after the poll. This girl was Pradnya Mahajan, Pramodji's younger sister and I got married, as announced.

First Election Victories : My first electoral success was in 1978 when the party asked me to contest the Zilla Parishad election in my home Beed district. I trounced my opponent with a margin that was the highest in the state. The stint with the Zilla Parishad was brief, but it prepared me for larger political battles later in my life. Two years later, in 1980, I contested and won the Renapur State Assembly seat

Yuva Morcha : The Janata Party by this time had split and the Bharatiya Janata Party founded by the leaders the erstwhile Jana Sangh had come into existence. I was made President of the Maharashtra unit of the BJP's youth wing, Bharatiya Yuva Morcha. We took up the cause of the youth in the state and organised a movement for the demands of the unemployed.

Youngest State President of a Political Party : As the secretary of the BJP in Maharashtra in 1982, I began organising the party work in every district of the state. Two years later, I was promoted to the General Secretary of the state unit. I had the honour to be the youngest state president of any political party in the country, when the BJP asked me to lead its Maharashtra unit in 1986. I was honoured to be handpicked by Shri Uttamrao Patil who was my predecessor in BJP and earlier Jana Sangh for a 30-year stretch. I devoted my time and energy to take up the cause of farmers and drought-affected villagers in the state. I spearheaded mammoth rallies in Mumbai and Nagpur to press the demand for loan waivers for the farmers. We raised the voice for Adivasis, Dalits and women as we fanned out to all the 30 districts in the state in a 30-day vigorous campaign.

BJP State President Once Again : I was re-elected president of the state unit of the party in 1988. We mobilised public opinion to rename the Marathwada University after Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. We took out regional yatras, from Tulajapur to Ghrishneshwar, Ramtek to Mumbai, and Uran to Banda to focus the attention of the governments to people's issues in these regions. I thus visited each and every tehsil of the state during the four years and could establish rapport with the people.

BJP Leader in State Assembly : When I was elected to the State Assembly once again in 1990, the party asked me to lead the 42-member group of the BJP. A year later, on December 12, 1992, I was elected the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly. We used all the democratic means, including no confidence motion, to raise people's issues in the house and took the Congress (I) government to task.

Fight Against Criminalisation of Politics : One of the highlights of my achievements during these days was the attention I drew to the criminalisation of politics. I raised the issue of nexus between politicians and criminalisation not only at the state level, but even at the national forum. The BJP session in Bangalore adopted a resolution to oppose criminalisation of politics. Later the joint session of Parliament in 1997, convened in connection with the Golden Jubilee of India's Independence, witnessed leaders of all parties agreeing to deny election tickets to criminals.

Two Pronged Strategy : The BJP in Maharashtra adopted a two-pronged strategy to expose the corrupt and inefficient government of the Congress (I); use parliamentary means in both the legislative houses and take to streets to create awareness among the common people. The 71-day yatra from Shivneri in Pune district to Shiv Teertha in Mumbai, covering all the 300 tehsils in the state was received by the masses with overwhelming response everywhere. By this time, I was confident that the Congress (I) would be dethroned in Maharashtra even when critics ridiculed my prediction in this respect. I was among the BJP leaders who drew out a strategy to form an alliance with the Shiv Sena to take on the Congress (I) in the 1995 elections to the State Assembly. The strategy worked and the Congress (I) was humbled in the state to usher in the first real non-Congress (I) government in the state.

Congress humbled :We succeeded in exploding the myth that Mr. Sharad Pawar, his cooperative sugar lobby and the Congress (I) were invincible in Maharashtra. The BJP (65) and Shiv Sena (73) won 148 seats in the 288 member-state assembly and unfurled the Saffron flag atop Mantralaya. We won the confidence of about two dozen Independent MLAs who had left the Congress (I) on the eve of the election. They offered their whole-hearted support to the Shivshahi in the state. ( Party position in State Assembly: Bharatiya Janata Party 65, Shiv Sena 73, Congress-I 80, Communist Party of India 2, Independents 45, Janata Dal 11, Nagvidarbha Andolan 1, Peasants and Workers' Party 6. Samajwadi Janata Party 3, Maharashtrawadi Vikas Party 3, Others 1 )







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