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Crossed Wires In RSS
By January-end, he would have not just won his own battle within the BJP but would also become the first BJP president to get a second consecutive term as party chief. With the RSS and BJP top leadership agreeing to throw their weight behind Nitin Gadkari, the decks are now clear for him to get a repeat three-year term after he was first appointed party president in December 2009. Highly-placed sources at the Sangh headquarters in Nagpur confirmed that Gadkari’s renomination is likely to be announced by the end of the month when all formalities for the move will have been completed.
How did he manage this despite the high-profile scandal involving him and the Purti Group? Sources say the decision to retain Gadkari as president was taken early this month after a series of consultations between the RSS top brass and veteran leader L.K. Advani in New Delhi. Plagued by accusations of stalling Gadkari’s removal from party presidentship after allegations of corruption surfaced against him, the Sangh in December 2012 had told the BJP that it would now leave the decision of choosing its president to them. Senior RSS leaders had met in Nagpur on December 4-5 and conveyed to the BJP that its presidentship was an internal matter and would have to be treated as such in the future.
Next, Advani suggested that a woman be made the president of the party. According to sources, he was taking a cue from the outpouring of support for the Delhi gangrape victim and believed that the mood in the country was just right for the BJP to anoint a woman party chief. Sources confirm that while Advani was in favour of the Leader of Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, two other names—of former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhararaje Scindia and the recently rehabilitated Uma Bharati—had also been sent to the RSS for consideration. While Swaraj reportedly turned down the offer on health grounds, the other names were dropped for lack of consensus.
The Sangh then stepped in again and through its emissary suggested that, given the lack of alternatives, the choice for president had to be between Gadkari and former party chief Rajnath Singh. Sources in the BJP confirm that, given the history of cold vibes between Advani and Rajnath, the former preferred Gadkari. This was a rare instance when Advani’s choice had the approval of, and was finally sealed by, RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat and Bhaiyyaji Joshi.
A senior leader in the BJP explains, “Over the last two months, it looked almost impossible for Gadkari to get a second term, but party leaders were told that, as in 2009, this time again the BJP had no alternative to choose from. In simple words, Gadkari is getting the benefit of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. What has also helped Gadkari is the ever prominent infighting among the top BJP leaders in Delhi, which makes it difficult for any one leader to be projected and promoted as party chief.”
While the Sangh and BJP leadership agreed to back Gadkari, senior leaders feared that suspended BJP MP Ram Jethmalani could prove to be a hurdle. Accordingly, sources reveal, a meeting was called at Advani’s residence last week, where Jethmalani and Gadkari were invited to work out a truce in the presence of Balbir Punj. Though his suspension has not been revoked, senior leaders believe Jethmalani has been ‘handled’ for now.
It could well be the beginning of Gadkari, Part II. But thereby hangs another tale: the manner in which the RSS chose not to consult BJP chief ministers over the choice. Narendra Modi, for instance. Till the time of writing, the third-time-in-a-row Gujarat chief minister had not been consulted.