Is it all over for Nitin Gadkari? Or is he playing the wait and watch game, expecting to bounce back after the tide passes over? His moves over the last few days send confusing signals. After the initial spirited defence of his position on the alleged irregular financial dealings involving his industrial empire, Purti Group, he has virtually been out of the public space. He has started distancing himself from the party’s affairs too.
On Tuesday, he cancelled his campaign rallies in Himachal Pradesh. While the official explanation was that he was busy with legal work in connection with the alleged scandal, party sources said BJP leaders in the state did not want him to campaign as it could damage the prospects of the candidates he was canvassing for. The message: with his tainted image he was a liability, not an asset.
Later in the day, he again cancelled an important meeting with Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and BJP state unit chief KS Eshwarappa in New Delhi. He was supposed to take stock of the situation arising out of the threat of former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to form a new party next month in the pre-scheduled meeting. Yedyurappa seems intent on carrying out his threat and this could land the BJP in the state in an unprecedented crisis.
Instead of speaking to the leaders, Gadkari authorised senior party leader Arun Jaitley and general secretary in-charge of Karnataka Dharmendra Pradhan to discuss the Karnataka situation with them. The BJP’s statement said he was busy consulting legal experts in Nagpur and Mumbai. Sources close to him say he is preparing to sue a few media outlets for carrying defamatory reports against him.
However, it’s difficult to buy that. He has to be a very nervous man, despite the support from the RSS and his own party. With the government busy ferreting out every detail of his business deals with uncharacteristic energy - there were Income Tax raids on firms supposed to have pumped in money to the Purti Group today - and with strong chances that they will finally dig up incriminating evidence to nail him, he cannot take the support of his backers in the Sangh Parivar for granted for long.
His credibility in question and his national image in tatters, it does not help much if he decides to go back to his roots and establishes rapport with grassroots supporters. There are chances that he is sensing that the endgame is near and that he has to reconcile to being pushed to the margins of national politics. It is unlikely that he will get a clean chit on the allegations against him anytime soon - the government and his rivals within will try to milk these to the maximum and till as long as possible. After losing the perception game, he does not have anything to hold on to.
So what next for him? Can he brazen it out? No. He does not carry enough weight as a leader to make others in the party to be sympathetic to him forever. Moreover, many of them are his potential competitors for the prime minister’s or the party chief’s job. They will put up with him so long as he is not perceived to be a burden on the party or a threat to its prospects. They will make the RSS see reason and dump him before 2014 elections. They can argue that Gadkari’s presence weakens the party’s most important poll plank: corruption.
Gadkari does not have too many options on his hands. If more state units refuse to accept him as a campaigner, his standing in the party stands to get eroded. If takes important decisions for the party at this juncture, his stamp of authority will be weaker than before. The only option he has now to wait and watch.