Aditi Phadnis: Gadkari - Second time lucky?

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 10, 2012 04:12 hrs

That Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari is facing the biggest political crisis of his career is an understatement. A powerful and resourceful figure in Maharashtra, he finds himself friendless in Delhi. And then, there are the conspiracies.

First, the background. When Gadkari took over as party president, the BJP constitution had already been amended to prevent a president from serving two consecutive three-year terms. It had to be re-amended recently to afford him a second term. Now, the BJP is questioning itself, if it did the right thing.

Gadkari’s first national executive was an assemblage of friends — giving no idea of his political trajectory. Sensing unstated hostility towards him in Delhi, he created a network of thinkers and facilitators. This band of young men and women, broadly pro-BJP but without any moorings inside the party, managed to lose more battles for Gadkari than win them for him.

The party lost election after election — in Uttarakhand, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because Gadkari persisted with Nishank as chief minister, despite charges of financial misconduct. The mood in the state was against the Congress because of high prices, the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) hike and other economic factors. Yet, the BJP was unable to leverage these to its advantage.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP lost everything comprehensively, mostly because of half-baked psephological advice (the BJP tally in the Assembly election came down from 51 to 47). Babu Singh Kushwaha, the former state health minister from the Bahujan Samaj Party, was taken into the party against the advice of several senior leaders. But the BJP found itself saddled with a non-performing asset that had corruption charges against it to boot.

The transition in Karnataka where the party was in power – from Yeddyurappa to Sadananda Gowda to Shettar – was so messy that the party, which was originally bifurcated, is now trifurcated, and maybe further.

The last round of Rajya Sabha nominations saw his authority undermined further. Businessman-lawyer Anshuman Mishra wrote a letter to senior leaders of the party after he was asked to stand down in the election, asking them to lead, follow or get out of the way because they were hampering Gadkari’s style. No marks for guessing who inspired the letter. That Gadkari chose Mishra over diehard BJP leaders like Ram Naik or Arun Shourie also tells its story.

And then came the coup de grace — the allegations of dodgy business practices. Gadkari did nothing that all businessmen don’t do. Those farmers who are shareholders of his company continue to swear by him. The landowners whose land Gadkari is supposed to have “gobbled up” are puzzled: they say their land is still held by them. But, the fact is, there is a crisis of credibility prompting a senior BJP leader to remark at an internal meeting that the BJP president had a “deep stigma” against him, which could harm the party as a whole. His statement (in Gadkari’s absence) was challenged by nobody.

So then, the question is: Will Gadkari get a second term? If not, who is the most likely president of the BJP in election year 2014? And, where does that put the BJP in the electoral sweepstakes? The answers are: Gadkari might not get a second term. The reasons are that nobody in the BJP is exerting themselves on his behalf and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – his principal backer – is torn in two about endorsing him.

Make no mistake. For the party cadres, the winning choice for the BJP will be Narendra Modi — he will make things just so much simpler for the workers. But the RSS has deep reservations about Modi as party president. It can see Modi as the chief of the campaign committee, for instance. But Modi’s tendency to be autocratic (he was BJP general secretary in charge of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and he ended up creating deep fissures in the party in both states) and his treatment of Sanjay Joshi has left the RSS profoundly troubled.

On the other hand, there is a small but marked generational change in the RSS: at the all-India level, age levels of office-bearers are coming down from an average of 55 to 45-50. This generation is more appreciative of the current context of politics: not just Hindutva, but also corruption, conduct and the moral authority of the RSS. In a limited sense, a new Sangh is in the making. From this viewpoint, Gadkari was fine for a “slog” over: the holding operation period from 2009 to 2012. But the next term is the prize. The Sangh is asking if Gadkari will still fit the bill.

So, who is it going to be? Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley? In which case, they will have to quit their posts as leader of the Opposition. Rajnath Singh? Or, a reshuffle in the party?

A million mutinies are breaking out in the BJP. The winners will be declared after December 20 when the Gujarat election results are announced.

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