Royal fight in BJP: Modi shuts out Gadkari, boycotts UP

After Sanjay Joshi’s re-induction, Gujarat CM has not even taken party president’s phone call

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BV Rao | January 10, 2012




Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s Hindutva and development poster boy, is unlikely to campaign for the party in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election. In fact, there is a good chance that he will not campaign for the BJP in any of the five states going to polls.

There are many good reasons for Modi not to dirty his hands with the UP election. The BJP’s campaign there is a complete mess. There are too many cooks with no broth even to spoil. In a field of four the BJP is expected to end up fourth, maybe even a distant fourth.

Gadkari has pushed so many leaders – Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti, Kalraj Mishra, Sanjay Joshi and Surya Pratap Sahi, to name only five – to lead the campaign that the clash of egos and interests has turned it into the biggest campaign that was never launched. In fact, since defeat seems a certainty, each of these anointed leaders is desperate to give away credit to the others! Nobody from the central leadership wants to walk into this cauldron of competitive inaction.

These are good enough reasons for Modi to keep away from UP, but he has a more compelling reason: his bitter stand-off with party president Gadkari.

Relations have soured so much between Modi and Gadkari since the latter readmitted Sanjay Joshi into the party in August last year that the Gujarat chief minister has snapped all communication with the party president. It is said that Modi has not spoken to Gadkari for nearly six months, once even refusing to take a phone call from headquarters.

In fact, what was all along being portrayed in the national media as a row between Modi and LK Advani over the latter’s corruption rath yatra is actually a smokescreen created to hide this raging fight between Modi and Gadkari.

The BJP central campaign committee yesterday mechanically released a schedule for campaigning by senior leaders in UP. According to this list, even Modi is scheduled to campaign there. But the word from Gujarat is that that is wishful thinking. Modi is set to continue his non-cooperation movement against Gadkari and ignore the summons for out-of-state duty.

Modi had earlier embarrassed Gadkari by refusing to invite the latter for his Sadbhavana fast in October while inviting Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and a slew of other worthies. He drove the knife deeper by boycotting the party’s national executive in New Delhi immediately thereafter and twisted it by sending a ministerial representative to a meeting of BJP chief ministers called by Gadkari in December.

Now, Modi’s refusal to campaign, which is bound to grab national headlines, will reflect poorly on Gadkari’s ability to pull the party together for the 2014 battle. This battle of wits involving the party president on one side and the party’s only leader with national appeal on the other is playing out so fiercely that nobody in the parivar is willing to intervene.

This was not how it was supposed to play out when Gadkari, a second rung leader of Maharasthra, was picked by the RSS as party president. Nationally unknown, his political influence limited to the perimeter of Nagpur, well, maybe a little beyond into Vidarbha, Gadkari was a mystery to most even within the top echelons of the party he was thrust upon to lead. Nobody gave him a chance.
About six months into his term though, this lack of political stature was being talked of as being good for the party. The word in the party headquarters was that since Gadkari had no personal ambitions – having already risen to heights that he could never have imagined – he would put the party’s interest ahead of his own.

Either his peers read him wrong or Gadkari has changed since. In August last year, he shocked everybody by bringing in Modi-baiter Sanjay Joshi back into the party. The message was clear: he was going straight for Narendra Modi’s jugular. Though there are many prime ministerial candidates in the BJP, Modi is perhaps the only one who can back his claims for a national role with administrative experience and strong political base. By trying to take out the principal claimant to the prime ministership from within the party, Gadkari would have bought the other claimants’ silent support if not open approval.

Along the road, Gadkari picked up a spring in his step by helping the party raise funds like never before. For a party in the opposition for six years (in 2010) with no clear hope of an early comeback, Gadkari managed to multiply the coffers a few times over, matching and even beating the Congress in the game. Gadkari’s men don’t forget to underline that he raised these funds “without taking a dime from any BJP chief minister”. 

It is obvious Gadkari is playing for something bigger than the president of the party. Yesterday’s political pygmy now wants to stamp his political weight on the party while shedding the fat to look the part of a prime ministerial candidate. That is perhaps why he got into sudden action mode in UP and grandly welcomed Mayawati’s discarded minister Babu Singh Kushwaha notwithstanding huge howls of protests from Uma Bharti and others. Whoever told him that Kushwaha would suddenly swing the BJP’s fortunes obviously sold him a lemon but that only exposed Gadkari’s lack of political acumen or his understanding of the politics of the cowbelt.

Kushwaha’s staged self-suspension is hardly expected to fool the voters. If indeed the BJP ends up with less than its tally of 51 (2007) seats as is now expected, then Gadkari is likely to pay for his political tomfoolery by forfeiting claims for a second term as party president, a perfect perch from which to stymie Modi’s 2014 ambitions. If Gadkari survives that, then brace for a Gujarat election later this year where Modi will be fighting the opposition within as much the opposition without.

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