The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should send a thank you note to the Congress. But for the timely income tax raids organised on Nitin Gadkari’s firms – one presumes these raids had covert political sanction – the party might well have been reduced to defending the indefensible.
Even assuming Gadkari is completely innocent of the allegations being levelled against his Purti Group, the fact remains that the party would have spent the rest of the year defending its beleaguered boss instead of attacking the Congress. That’s a sure way to lose the next general elections.
If the Congress really wanted to damage the BJP, it should have asked the taxman to start his raids a few days after Gadkari’s second coronation. But this didn’t happen, and BJP was saved the blushes at the last minute. If the taxman had held back for just a day or two, the Congress could have tormented the BJP for the rest of the year, permanently taking the spotlight away from its own failures.
As things stand, no one is talking about 2G, CWG, Coalgate or Vadragate anymore. And it’s all largely thanks to Gadkari.
By scuttling Gadkari’s second term, the Congress inadvertently brought in a stronger man to the helm of its political rival – someone with age, political acumen and RSS blessings on his side. Rajnath Singh is not only crucial to the party’s chances in Uttar Pradesh, but would also serve as a useful organisational counterweight and support if Narendra Modi is ultimately projected as the party’s PM candidate.
The BJP now has four key potential players at the centre – Modi, Rajnath, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley - immensely strengthening the collective leadership in a crucial phase of the party’s challenge to the Congress. By broadbasing its collective leadership, the party will now be able to mount a real challenge in the coming months to the Congress.
Even though each member will have his or her own politics to play and will be wary of the others, this new quadrumvirate will lend the BJP great flexibility and gravitas in negotiating with allies in the run-up to the next elections. It is easier to visualise a Rajnath Singh negotiating a seat deal with Nitish Kumar in Bihar than a Modi.
Uttar Pradesh is crucial for the BJP if it is to project Modi in 2014. From a meagre 10-12 seats, the party has to increase its tally to at least 20-25, and there is no way this can happen without a strong UP strategy. Rajnath Singh, and the old warhorse, Kalyan Singh, who recently merged his party with the BJP after wandering in the wilderness for years, are critical to the BJP’s revival in this heartland state.
To be sure, we do not know how a Modi-Rajnath equation would work. But the truth is this: no leader can succeed or deliver on his own. Vajpayee needed an Advani to get him the gaddi and keep the party in line. Every mass leader who can bring in the vote needs an organisational man to serve both as a sounding-board and mediate between party and government. Neither can afford to be a paper tiger - which is what Gadkari would have been if he had overstayed his welcome.
Gadkari has been an unmitigated disaster for the BJP not only because of his Purti capers. As a lightweight politician (despite his obvious girth) who owed his position more to Mohan Bhagwat than intrinsic merit, he made blunder after blunder in the party and his mentors in Nagpur did not seem to mind.
Gadkari damaged the party in Karnataka by forcing BS Yeddyurappa out, when there could have been other options: a position in the state party that could have prevented a full-scale revolt by that Lingayat strongman. The party will pay a stiff price for his folly in this year’s Assembly election.
Gadkari messed up again in Uttar Pradesh last year, where he inducted tainted ministers such as Babu Singh Kushwaha before the assembly poll and dented the party’s anti-corruption stance. The last-minute induction of Uma Bharati, now a spent political force outside Madhya Pradesh, was not the kind of inspired decision-making the BJP expected of Gadkari.
He screwed up in Jharkhand, where he did an ignoble deal with tainted JMM chief Shibu Soren. His nominee Arjun Munda has now bitten the dust, with Soren’s party pulling the plug and the Governor placing the state under president’s rule.
The problem with Gadkari was simple: he was a technocrat, not a leader or strategist. His political instincts were weak, and this is probably why the RSS headquarters in Nagpur favoured him as their proxy in the party.
But political parties have their own compulsions. They have to respond to opportunities and threats as they arise, not stay static in orientation by kowtowing to a greater power. Put another way, Gadkari exhibited the same weakness to RSS pressure that Manmohan Singh displayed with Sonia Gandhi.
Till yesterday afternoon, the RSS was about to make the mistake of its lifetime by foolishly trying to back Gadkari’s renomination as party President.
Now that the crisis has been averted, maybe even the RSS, now labelled as an abettor of Hindu terror by the home minister, should thank the Congress for saving it from an error worse than terror: loss of its own clout with the BJP.