The next three days are going to be critical for deciding Nitin Gadkari’s fate – whether he gets another three years and a second consecutive term as BJP President. Given the direct and assertive support of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the dice is heavily loaded in his favour, but sources in the BJP and the RSS are not yet ruling out a surprise.
Ironically, almost all senior BJP leaders are privately unhappy with Gadkari and do not want him being given a second term, especially after what the party feels it suffered in terms of image after the Purti controversy. However, no one dares to tell the RSS about this, barring perhaps LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. This is largely because the younger leaders do not want to sour their relationship with the RSS, when they have longer careers ahead.
"Advani and Joshi have seniority and stature. Also, they don’t have many personal issues at stake. So they can speak. But given the current tight control of the RSS, no else would like to be singled out for not bowing to the wishes of Nagpur”, a BJP leader told Firstpost.
All eyes will thus be on Advani’s meeting with RSS leaders in the next two-three days. How much he will he be able to convince the Sangh brass of the need to replace Gadkari is the big question. Advani himself is not happy with the RSS decision to let Gadkari continue for another three years, particularly when the party needs a well-oiled machinery and internal structures to face crucial assembly elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, and possibly Jharkhand, in the months ahead, followed by parliamentary elections in the next 14 months.
Sources said efforts were being made at various levels by the RSS to make Advani agreeable to Gadkari’s nomination, and, if that does not happen, at least tone down the extent of his opposition. The meeting between suspended party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani and Gadkari at Advani’s residence on Friday is seen to be a “positive move” in this direction. To some others, it is sign of the party patriarch backing off from clear opposition to Gadkari. Their argument is that he would not have met the party president and arranged for a truce with Jethmalani if he was going to oppose Gadkari's extension over the weekend.
Murli Manohar Joshi is another leader who is strongly opposed to Gadkari’s renomination and is set to convey it firmly to the RSS brass. But his opinion may not matter much if the others don’t rally round him.
“The issue will be clinched by Monday, 14 January, and after that the party will announce the poll schedule for the election of the President. Everything will be made official in another week’s time”, a senior leader said. His expectation is that Gadkari will get an extension, since he has the unflinching support of the RSS chief. A change is possible if a “miracle” happens. But no one is realistically expecting one.
A decision should come over the next couple of days since the RSS brass have started arriving in Delhi and the final round of informal consultations has begun. Mohan Bhagwat arrived in Delhi last Monday to participate in a function to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. RSS General Secretary Bhaiyaji Joshi will be coming on Sunday, and so will be Joint General Secretary Suresh Soni and Dattareya Hosabale.
While officially Bhagwat has avoided meeting BJP leaders at this stage, he is keeping close tabs on developments and is being posted of all communication between BJP and RSS leaders. “It's already a well established fact that Gadkari is his nominee and through him he controls the BJP by proxy. So unlike the last time, this time around he is conscious not to hold negotiations directly. He has authorised Bhaiyaji Joshi to do it on his behalf and settle the issue in the next few days”, a source said.
There will be no structured meetings between BJP and RSS leaders. These will always remain informal, since the official RSS line is that it "does not interfere in BJP matters.” The RSS will firmly state its preference for Gadkari and ask BJP leaders for their opinion. An important party functionary reasoned it out in rather simple words: “Why would all top RSS leaders be coming to Delhi in strength if they have to hear a `No’. They only want to maintain the veneer of keeping consultations going. They don’t want to loosen their control. It's only going to be tighter, no matter what the public thinks and what happens in the elections.”
The so-called consultation process involves talking to Advani, Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi.
Rajnath Singh is the RSS's alternate choice, but only if it comes to the crunch. He has kept his cool, and improved his relations with leaders in the party and the Sangh. He is rated very highly in the RSS. Sushma has gained in the Sangh’s scheme of things as she took the right cues from Nagpur by consistently supporting Gadkari in times of crisis. Modi’s opinion will matter the most but it is unlikely that he would like to open his cards at this stage. When he will decide to play his cards and how is the big debate.