"The (Narendra) Modi versus (Nitin) Gadkari debate is a typical devious RSS spin, as it cleverly messages a BJP win, even if terribly fractured. Don't be fooled. RSS is aware that a comprehensive defeat looms large" — Congress national spokesperson Sanjay Jha put in words something that had been on the minds of political leaders since Union minister Gadkari made statements that appeared to be veiled attacks at the BJP leadership.
The Gadkari for prime minister narrative took shape in mid-December after Kishore Tiwari, chairperson of the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission — a government organisation in Maharashtra — wrote to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), demanding that Gadkari be allowed to lead the BJP if it wants to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Tiwari had also said that Gadkari was "adequately qualified" for the post of prime minister.
In his letter to RSS chief, Tiwari, an influential farmers' leader, had written that the BJP's defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan was a result of "arrogant leaders" who had implemented demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax and raised fuel prices.
"Leaders who pursue an extremist and dictatorial attitude in the party and government are dangerous for the society and the country," Tiwari said in the letter. "This has been witnessed before and if history is not to be repeated, hand over the reins to [Nitin] Gadkari for the 2019 polls."
Days later, Gadkari made a seemingly indirect jibe at Amit Shah, saying that the "leadership should own up to defeats and failures", a statement that assumed significance as it came on the heels of the BJP's defeat in the Assembly elections in three Hindi heartland states. The Union minister, however, was quick to dismiss the remarks and lay the blame on "some Opposition parties and a section of the media". He claimed they had "twisted" his statements and had launched a "sinister campaign" against him.
Days later, Gadkari made another comment, adding fuel to the fire. "If I am the party president, and my MPs and MLAs are not doing well, then who is responsible? I am," he had said, clarifying soon after that he was referring to leadership in the banking sector and not the Shah-Modi duo.
Known to speak his mind, Gadkari has been in the news frequently of late because of his offhanded statements. When examined in the context of his close ties with the RSS, which strongly shaped his own ideology, it raises a few significant questions in the backdrop of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls — is the RSS', the ideological parent of the ruling BJP, trying to send a message to the Modi-Shah duo? Or is Gadkari projected himself as a potential competition to Modi?
Gadkari's statements from Sunday only serve to spark further speculation over what he really intends to convey. "People like (political) leaders who sell them dreams. But if these dreams are not realised, then they beat them up (politically), as well," the Union minister said, nearly echoing the Opposition's allegations that the BJP only resorts to "jumla" and does not fulfil the promises it makes to voters before elections. "I am not the one who only sells dreams. I 100 percent deliver what I talk about," he added.
Was this another veiled attack at Modi? Opposition leaders seem to think so.
Tagging the prime minister in a tweet, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said, "Gadkari is showing you the mirror, and in a very subtle way." The Madhya Pradesh Congress, too, speculated over whether this was a direct attack on Modi. "Modiji, the people are coming," it added.
That the BJP top brass doesn't take lightly to dissent is no secret, and Gadkari's statements of late have been a little too bold. Or, was Gadkari simply reminding the BJP leadership to fulfill its poll promise of ensuring the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya? The RSS had subtly reminded Modi of the Ayodhya dispute after his New Year's Day interview.
Modi and Shah are smarter than most politicians in the fray. They would be aware if the RSS is miffed with them. They'd also know that Gadkari is one leader who, though unapologetic about his leanings, strikes a rapport with even his rivals. When clubbed with his appeal to Sangh workers, it makes him the ideal man for the job and a potential replacement for Modi as the prime minister.
Furthermore, while Gadkari may have been quick to dismiss reports of any prime ministerial ambitions he may have been harbouring, he was not entirely convincing. For someone who has risen through the ranks — from being an RSS pracharak and then a BJP leader, to the party president and now a Union minister — it would not be too much of a stretch to believe that he may wish for the prime minister's seat at some time.
"I am happy where I am," Gadkari said, after Tiwari wrote to the RSS, seeking to have the Union minister handed the reins of the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But is he?
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2019 21:30:57 IST