If it was the Congress party till yesterday, it’s the turn of the BJP to start wondering what Arvind Kejriwal is going to throw at it tomorrow. India Against Corruption (IAC) is widely expected to focus on Nitin Gadkari, BJP President, in its forthcoming expose on corruption.
The Congress marshalled a large array of ministers to defend Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra, who had entered into cosy deals with DLF. A much smaller group of defenders spoke up for Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who was accused of misappropriating funds in an NGO run by him and his wife Louise, the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust.
The BJP has now clearly shifted its stand on Kejriwal, and is preparing to come out all guns blazing to defend Gadkari – depending on the nature of the allegations levelled against him by IAC. In preparation for downgrading Kejriwal’s next disclosure, the party made a relatively low-key response to the allegations against Khurshid. It chose to refer to the allegations as those made by a TV channel rather than Kejriwal.
The concern among party leaders is two-fold: first, it’s about the nature of the proposed expose, whether Kejriwal comes out with something unexpected and substantive or he merely paraphrases the earlier allegations levelled against Gadkari by another IAC activist Anjali Damania.
Second, there’s the timing of it, which brings the internal conspiracy theory to the fore. Gadkari’s supporters find him being targeted from some quarters ahead of the formal announcement of his being “re-elected” for a second consecutive term as BJP president. His present term of three years will end in the fourth week of December, around the time the Gujarat and Himachal election results will be known. In September-end, the BJP National Council ratified an amendment to the party constitution to give two consecutive terms to the party chief, from the national to the district levels.
The constitution was amended at the behest of the RSS with the singular purpose of renominating Gadkari for a second term in office. A section of senior BJP leaders, which had certain reservations on the issue earlier, has by now largely reconciled itself to this change. But then, there is always the proverbial slip between cup and lip. That makes the “December” (formal re-election) issue alive, though authoritative sources in the BJP say there is no issue left here. It’s a done deal.
Doubters remain: when did Anjali Damania make her charges against Gadkari? The answer is: on the eve of the BJP National Executive meeting at Surajkund in September, where the conclave was to ratify the resolution to amend the Constitution and make Gadkari a direct and first beneficiary.
But if the issue is settled, do the internal conspiracy theories still hold? One argument is that if the BJP is to play the probity card, it can’t afford to have a president against whom allegations have been made. After Navratra, the focus will shift to the Himachal and Gujarat elections and the media will focus more on Narendra Modi and PK Dhumal instead of being obsessed with Arvind Kejriwal’s “hit and run” tactics, one insider said.
Talk of conspiracy hints at the possibility of Kejriwal playing a role in BJP’s internal politics on behalf of one of the contenders. But, from Kejriwal’s own perspective, going after Gadkari will help him establish his equidistance from both Congress and BJP.
But whatever Kejriwal comes up with tomorrow, the party wants to be seen as standing united since it sees expects to benefit from the Congress’ follies. “We can’t let it just wither away at this stage,” a party leader said.
BJP leaders are broadly working on three or four possibilities on the basis of hints dropped by the Kejriwal team.
One line of IAC attack could be Gadkari’s proximity to businessman Ajay Sancheti, now a BJP Rajya Sabha MP, something that Gadkari has faced constant accusations on. The second possibility could be the Maharashtra irrigation scam, various aspects of which have been in the public domain for some time. Anjali Damania has already made an issue of her “meetings” with Gadkari. He has sent a legal notice to Damania on the subject and even dragged Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh to court for calling Sancheti his business partner.
The third possibility could relate to something pertaining to the period when Gadkari was PWD minister in Maharashtra in the mid-1990s during the Sena-BJP government. The last alternative could be his personal business venture, Purti.
The party will have its defence prepared for tomorrow. But if Kejriwal brings something more or unexpected against him, it would take a while for the BJP to regroup. After all, it took them some time to realise that Kejriwal was not building an anti-Congress mood for nothing; he has also been planning to eat into the BJP’s space and opposition constituency.
The party has no illusions on this score anymore.