I-T raid took moral stuffing out of RSS, saved BJP

Advani asserted the Nagpur man’s re-election would compromise party’s campaign against graft

ajay

Ajay Singh | January 23, 2013


Nitin Gadkari

The run-up to the election of the BJP president over the past six months had all the elements of a thriller. Nitin Gadkari’s re-election for the second term was considered a foregone conclusion; facilitated by his most powerful mentors in the RSS who seem hell-bent on micro-managing the BJP affairs. The front-ranking leadership of the party showed its characteristic timidity and almost surrendered before the RSS.

As the script seemed almost finalised and the stage was being set for Gadkari’s re-election on Tuesday, the RSS appeared to have forgotten the old adage that a day is long time in politics. By the evening, Gadkari was edged out and Rajnath Singh emerged as the consensus candidate for the party’s top post. On Wednesday, he was finally elected unopposed for the second time within three years.

What exactly transpired in those crucial 12 hours that sealed Gadkari’s fate? Those aware of the BJP politics knew it too well that Gadkari’s imposition as the party president was guided by a singular impulse of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat: to establish his hegemony over the party. Despite the fact that Gadkari’s unacceptability as the party head among the cadre was quite known, the RSS’s stubbornness to persist with its choice rankled a large section of the leadership.

This feeling of angst and uneasiness among the cadre was assessed silently by the party veteran LK Advani who gave an unambiguous message to the RSS that Gadkari’s continuation was simply untenable. Insiders say that Advani was quite categorical in his assertion that Gadkari’s continuation as the BJP chief would severely compromise the party’s position and blunt its campaign against corruption. Initially, the RSS tried to brush aside Advani’s objections as the old man’s ranting against it and Gadkari who grounded the veteran leader’s fascination to see himself as future prime minister.

Given Advani’s long experience in politics and his skills as a hard bargainer, the RSS soon realised that its underestimation of Advani’s strength was a mistake. This realisation became all the more evident when the income tax department conducted raids on Gadkari’s premises and stories about the mysterious death of a young girl in his car about three years ago in Nagpur started circulating in the media. For the first time, the RSS realised its position on morality and ethics vis-a-vis Advani and the BJP leadership was dubious. Insiders admit that after the I-T raids at Gadkari’s premises as well as Yashwant Sinha and Mahesh Jethmalani’s attempt to file nominations against Gadkari, Mohan Bhagwat realised for the first time his vulnerability in running the BJP affairs. Bhagwat blinked and gave up his insistence on Gadkari.

There are all indications that Rajnath Singh’s unanimous election was not without hiccups. Singh in his earlier stint as the BJP chief (2006-10) was seen as the RSS’s poster boy running against Advani and those perceived to be close to him. He was instrumental in removing Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from the party’s powerful decision-making body, the central parliamentary board (CPB), in 2007. Singh’s running feud with Arun Jaitley over inclusion of the Delhi businessman Sudhanshu Mittal in the party’s decision-making body was an open secret. By all accounts, Singh was known for kowtowing to the RSS’s diktats.

However, in the given circumstance, Singh’s antecedents appear to be a buried chapter as he assiduously cultivated his relations with Modi, Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, and showed adequate deference to Advani. At the same time, he played the role of a troubleshooter for the RSS and held discussions with all these leaders to neutralise their hostility against Gadkari. In the emerging scenario, he was equally at ease with the RSS as with the BJP leadership opposed to Gadkari. His “studied neutrality” in the whole affair stood him in good stead. Given his own stature as former UP chief minister and union minister, Singh is not a political lightweight either who can be dismissed easily.

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