Nitin Gadkari, the new BJP president, is relatively unknown in Delhi. But he is slowly making his presence felt at the party’s headquarters, where it’s dawning on old-timers that Gadkari has his own business-like style. Visitors aspiring to be hangers-on are given a business card and told to contact him by e-mail. He dresses in shirt, pants, a jacket. No dhoti or kurta-pyjama for him. Unlike his predecessor, Rajnath Singh, whose chief aide, Sidhanshu Trivedi, was an astrologer known to look up the janampatris of leaders, Gadkari has no time for such practices. He has been evaluating party cells on performance and asking them for an “audit”.
He hands out copies of two books. One is about his term as pwd minister in Maharashtra, during which he is credited with creating a government body that constructed the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and 55 flyovers in Mumbai. The second book is titled ‘Politics for Development’ and is written by Gadkari himself. It combines motivational mantras with his views on road construction, the power sector and irrigation. He clearly sees himself as a doer, but reinventing the BJP could prove a herculean task. Gadkari is evasive about the new team he is putting together. It seems partymen will have to wait to find out more about the president and his team in Indore in mid-February, when his appointment as president will be ratified by the national council, following which his new team will be announced. The new president has already decided that BJP leaders will stay in tents, not hotels, for the Indore meet. Gadkari spoke to Saba Naqvi:
How are you settling into Delhi? There was a comment in the media that you will have to change your Mumbai style for national politics, perhaps switch to kurta-pyjamas?
(Smiles) No, no. I’ll change nothing in my dress and carriage. I am what I am and do not pretend to be anything else.
‘I’m related to the RSS but my appointment was certainly not by the RSS. That’s a myth in the media.’
You are said to be an RSS appointee.
I’m related to the RSS but my appointment is not by the RSS. That’s a media myth. I think you are aware Advaniji suggested my name for party president.
The BJP has been through one crisis after the other. What’s your vision?
I believe in the politics of development. I will research all the good schemes in the states and soon make a PowerPoint presentation about them. Those who get party posts will be expected to perform and their performance will be audited. Please go through my innings as pwd minister in Maharashtra. You will see that I am not someone who can be manipulated by anybody.
There is speculation about your new team. Is there a role for former presidents like Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu or Murli Manohar Joshi?
It would be a demotion for a former party president to accept a post under a new president and be included in the team. They will all guide us and be given responsibilities. We also hope to bring in young faces. We will be reaching out to the poor, tribals, Dalits, minorities.
Varun Gandhi made very anti-minority speeches during the Lok Sabha polls. What will the role of leaders like him be?
What needed to be said about Varun was said at that time.
‘It would be a demotion for an ex-party president to take a post under a new one. But they will all guide us.’
There have been remarks about you being surrounded by people from Maharashtra. One joke is that it is ‘Peshwa Raj’ in Delhi?
Please let us not think in terms of caste, community, religion. The basic task before me is to increase the BJP vote-share by 10 per cent. That will be the difference between victory and defeat.
There was recently a report in The Pioneer that Advaniji would lead the party in another yatra.
The media writes nonsense sometimes.
What role do you see for Advaniji?
He will always guide and inspire us.
Outlook spoke to well-placed sources to put together a list of possible office-bearers. There are many vacancies with a generation of leaders having called it quits. The most powerful posts are of the seven general secretaries. Here are the likely candidates for that and other posts
Piyush Goyal, 45: Son of former BJP national treasurer, the late Ved Prakash Goyal, he is a savvy, modern Mumbai-based CA and chairman of Flashnet Info Solutions. Has been treasurer of the party’s Maharashtra unit. Will shift to Delhi as national treasurer and is tipped to get an RS berth.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, 53: Director-general of the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, the campus-retreat on the outskirts of Mumbai that functions both as a training camp and think tank. A former journalist, he is an intellectual from the Hindu right who still writes regularly in the papers. Will function as an OSD-cum- think tanker.
Ananth Kumar, 55: Will continue to hold the gen secy’s post, as he has no other party post
Manohar Parrikar, 55: The former Goa CM will be on the team
Ravi Shankar Prasad, 55: Likely to be elevated to a key organisational post
Ram Lal: Contrary to some media reports, Ram Lal, the Sangh pracharak in charge of the BJP, will continue
Vasundhararaje, 57: Gadkari has made peace with Raje, who will continue to play a role in Rajasthan although a new Leader of Opposition will be chosen. She could take on the post of general secretary but may instead negotiate some responsibility for her son, Dushyant Singh.
Dharmendra Pradhan, 40: This Orissa BJP leader will have to be accommodated in the national team but may not make it as general secretary
Prabhat Jha, 53: Unknown nationally but important in Sangh circles. He is an RS MP from Madhya Pradesh. Friends in the RSS are lobbying for him to be elevated from secretary to general secretary.
Varun Gandhi, 30: Lobbying intensively but unlikely to be offered general secretary’s post as he has poor equations with BJP leaders. May be offered posts he has turned down in the past
Anurag Thakur, 36: MP from Himachal Pradesh and son of CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. He may lead the Yuva Morcha.
Muralidhar Rao, 46: Member of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and advisor to Rajnath Singh. He may be accommodated in some post in Gadkari's office.