“Visay ye hai ki kya hame adyaksh ko sajana hai ya use bachana hai (The issue is what kind of president do we want, someone whom we can decorate or someone whom we will have to defend),” a senior BJP leader told Firstpost when a series of meetings and phone calls were being made on Tuesday evening to take the final call on Nitin Gadkari’s fate and name Rajnath Singh as his successor to the BJP presidency.
BJP leaders had become tired of having to bear the cross for the dubious business deals of Nitin Gadkari's Purti Group since the charges first surfaced in October. The charges had dented the party’s image and leaders were acutely conscious of this. They gave expression to murmurs of disquiet in private, but at public forums they felt constrained to defend him. After all, Gadkari had been hand-picked by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to get Gadkari in place, even compelling BJP leaders to amend the party constitution to allow a second consecutive term as president. That unprecedented move was intended only to ensure that the RSS’ control over the BJP continued in perpetuity, allowing Nagpur to micro-manage affairs at 11 Ashoka Road, the BJP headquarters in New Delhi.
The final decision to bar Nitin Gadkari from seeking renomination to the post of BJP president and appoint Rajnath Singh in his pace was widely welcomed within the party, but it was as a rude shock to Gadkari’s loyalists who had banked excessively on Bhagwat’s unflinching support. And although the final decision comes with the clear approval of the RSS top brass, the events of Tuesday certainly alter the contours of the patron-client relationship between the RSS and the BJP.
It also sends a message to its sympathisers and to the people at large that the party and the Parivar was not insensitive to popular opinion. The party will now seek to take the high moral ground on corruption against the Congress, something that the BJP had been hobbled from doing since the charges against Gadkari's Purti group came out in the open. Forced on the defensive by the charges against its own party president, the BJP could not target Congress with any vigour, particularly in respect of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra's 'sweetheart deal' with real estate giant DLF. With Gadkari out of the leadership position and given Rajnath Singh’s clean image, the BJP will now be looking to rework on its strategy to take on the Congress on corruption.
Sources said Bhagwat had had a belated realisation that he had exposed himself far too much in protecting Gadkari; increasingly, Bhagwat's own reputation - and that of the RSS - were at stake. There was a growing disenchantment within the ranks of the Sangh Parivar over the questionable funding of the Gadkari-promoted Purti Group, and this was eroding the RSS’s claims to being committed to nation-building.
An overwhelming number of BJP leaders were unhappy about the farcical consensus that was engineered to prime Gadkari for re-election, but they did not give voice to their frustration for fear of a backlash from Nagpur. In the end, what changed the situation on the ground was senior leader LK Advani's firm opposition to Gadkari’s re-election, right up until the eve of the election of the party president, and the forthright manner in which he communicated this to the RSS.
Advani's stature and moral authority meant that his opposition could not be dismissed lightly. As someone who has been in public life for 60 years, Advani is in many ways senior to all the Sangh Parivar functionaries. Additionally, it was under Advani's watch that the party was built up from scratch - and soared to a paraliamentary high. Despite pressure from various quarters, Advani refused to yield ground - since he did not want to be seen to have compromised on the issue of probity in public life. Advani's state of mind was discernible in his body language: on Tuesday, he shared the dias with Gadkari at a public event in Mumbai, but he appeared very stiff.
Additionally, the fresh investigative surveys by Income Tax sleuths on Tuesday on seven companies linked with the Purti Group blew the lid off the discontent in the BJP and forced it out into the open. It compelled leaders to acknowledge that it was probably wiser to come up with an alternative name for the post of BJP president. Advani too shed his initial reservations against Rajnath Singh’s name. Rajnath Singh had been the RSS' alternative choice to head the BJP. Other senior BJP leaders - Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj , M Venkaiah Naidu and Narendra Modi - were consulted.
Ironically, till around 4 pm on Tuesday, Gadkari felt sure that he would be renominated. Barely five minutes earlier, the party central party headquarters in-charge OP Kohli had issued a statement condemning the Income Tax raids on seven companies linked with the Purti Group. The statement, issued on Gadkari's behalf and with his approval, said: “Coming as it does on the eve of his re-election as BJP President for a second term, the IT department’s action smacks of the ruling UPA’s nefarious designs to create confusion in the BJP ranks.”
From then on, things then started to move at a fast pace. A series of phone calls and small meetings took place. It resulted in a “corrected” statement being issued at 4.40 pm, in which the reference to his “re-election as BJP president for a second term” was changed to “on the eve of election of BJP president”.
That revision was the first hint that Gadkari couldn't be so sure about his “re-election”. By the time Gadkari took off from Mumbai for Delhi later on Tuesday evening, he realised that the tide of affairs had turned against him. His relationship with Delhi durbar politics was at a defining moment. Initially, he did not like Delhi; now, it appeared, Delhi had shown its dislike for him.
Gadkari's statement, issued within minutes of landing in Delhi, blamed the UPA government's “disinformation” for his current undoing. But then he was also surrendered to the reality of the moment. “I do not wish that this should in any way adversely affect the interest of the BJP. I have therefore decided not to seek a second term as the president of the BJP. I am extremely grateful to all my colleagues and the cadres of the BJP who have cooperated with me during my term as a president. I shall continue to serve my party in as a committed worker. I have conveyed my decision to my colleagues,” Gadkari concluded.
With those words, the door had slammed shut on Nitin Gadkari.
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