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Felled by superior tactics

Nitin Gadkari on 23 January was disallowed to have a second term in the office as the president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A little known leader at the national level, Gadkari was pitch forked into the hot seat by BJP’s ideological and social conscience keeper the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Then president of the party’s Maharashtra unit, Gadkari was little known outside what’s called in political parlance the Mumbai circuit.

A state level leader like Gadkari found himself at the helm of affairs at 11 Ashoka Road, the national headquarters of BJP, because the RSS doesn’t trust ‘national leadership’ of its political arm. The distrust between the two goes back to the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister but the wedge became acute after Lal Krishna Advani was dislodged as the party president.
     
The installation of Rajnath Singh was preceded by the incumbent president Nitin Gadkari caving into the pressure brought in by rival factions led by party veteran Advani, who opposed second term for Maharashtra leader tooth and nail. Advani has been involved in a nerve-wrecking battle the RSS since 2005, when the BJP senior leader was removed as party president following his visit to the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, during a trip to the neighbouring country.

This is Singh’s second term in office. He was drafted in 2005 to replace Advani and once again finds himself in the hot seat albeit this time as replacement for Nitin Gadkari. Singh during his first tenure at 11 Ashoka Road did not have a very comfortable time. He was at the receiving end of the protégées of Lal Krishna Advani, though he tried to provide a spirited leadership to the party leading it to forming the first government South of Vindhyas – under BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka. During his tenure the party won elections in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal and Gujarat but he was never given much credit for it.

For the loss of BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it was Singh who was made to pay the penalty as the leadership refused him another term as party president. Though Singh did not get the second term in 2009, RSS ensured that none from Advani’s team made it as they brought in the party’s Maharashtra unit leader, Gadkari.

From day one, the Nagpur-based leader worked in an environment of unease and suspicion in New Delhi. The senior leaders in the national capital, for whom RSS repeatedly expressed its distrust, found difficult to accept Gadkari as the party’s head honcho. The Maharashtra leader’s ‘politically incorrect’ diction and action, by New Delhi’s standards, came in for repeated derision within the leadership and thereon in the media, where several awaited to do command performance.

Gadkari’s palpable discomfort with his colleagues in Delhi made him the ‘most suitable’ candidate, from the RSS view point, to have a second term in the office. The first signs of power struggle became visible in end-September when the meeting of BJP’s national executive and council was held at Surajkund in Haryana late last year.

The undercurrent of the power struggle was visible in the presence of RSS leader Suresh Soni at the meeting and more importantly the presence of RSS supreme leader Mohan Bhagwat in Delhi at that time was indicative of the fact that BJP’s guardian angel was in no mood to suffer any roadblocks on the way of Nitin Gadkari getting a few more years in office.

The presence of RSS brass was necessitated because of the allegation levelled by a section of civil society-turned-political activists of Gadkari being involved in an irrigation scam in Maharashtra. The charges came just ahead of the executive meeting. Despite reports of his name being linked to Maharashtra irrigation scam, Gadkari on his part looked least bothered and oozed confidence all through the session as he knew that he enjoyed the unbridled support of the RSS.

This, however, proved to be the red rag for those opposed to his continuation in office and signal enough for the commencement of a proxy war between the RSS and BJP’s Delhi-centric leaders. What followed were a fusillade of reports about Gadkari’s business deals and the name of the company his family promoted – Purti – being dragged into repeated controversies.

Concurrently at the political level pitch for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as party’s leader was raised. A few Modi supporters like Ram Jethmalani went onto demand Gadkari’s resignation and also indicated that he enjoyed the support of some other MPs. After Gujarat polls, RSS again intervened to thrash out a compromise and it was nearly reached but for the old man, who kept up the pressure.
     
The threat was carried forward when Hazaribagh MP Yashwant Sinha indicated that he would not allow Gadkari’s re-election unopposed. Maharashtra leader’s Nagpur mentors in this battle of nerves proved to be weak opponent to time-tested political skills of Advani and blinked. They saved the day by bringing back Rajnath Singh to the office, which must have been much to the chagrin of the veteran leader but he accepted to establish his authority in public perception.

As some would put it, it has never been easy for the Marathas to hold on to power in Delhi. This has been true from the time of Peshwas that despite the Maratha army scoring comprehensive victories in Battle of Narela against Afghan invaders in 1757 and against the British in 1803 at Patparganj they could not establish their rule in Delhi. Time would say whether RSS will manage to wrest control of BJP from the Delhi-based leaders.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is  consulting editor, Millennium Post
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