New Delhi: Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Rajnath Singh emerged Tuesday night as the front-runner to replace the embattled Nitin Gadkari as party president after the latter resigned and bowed out of the race for re-election.
This followed fresh resistance within India’s principal opposition to Gadkari continuing as party president for a second term. Leaders of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ideological parent, met Tuesday night to arrive at a compromise to resolve a deadlock over who would become party chief.
Rajnath Singh, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Gadkari’s predecessor as BJP chief, will most likely become party president again, said people from both the RSS and the BJP. The people didn’t want to be named because a formal announcement is yet to be made.
Gadkari’s stepping down will help the BJP preserve its tradition of having party presidents elected unopposed, the people said.
Gadkari’s bid for re-election had suffered a setback with income tax raids and his bete noire Yashwant Sinha planning to contest the election against him. Mahesh Jethmalani, who recently resigned from a party post after falling out with Gadkari, alleged that he had been denied a nomination paper for the election.
The RSS, which has traditionally decided who should be president of the BJP, had staunchly backed Gadkari despite charges of impropriety and income tax evasion against him. Party stalwart L.K. Advani opposed Gadkari’s re-election on grounds that it would weaken the BJP’s fight against the ruling Congress over corruption. Advani expressed his reservation by skipping a party meeting that gave Gadkari a clean chit and also by proposing Sushma Swaraj as a presidential candidate. “At a time when the party is gearing up for the national elections, it’s time for the party to get united and fight a determined Congress. At this juncture the party would have sent a good message to its cadre, had it built a consensus around the presidential candidate,” political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said.
Late on Tuesday evening, top BJP leaders had scrambled to discuss the crisis within the party and “work on the consensus candidate”.
“Since 1980s, there has been no fight for party president. The candidate so has been elected unopposed and we are working out on a consensus candidate. We would like to continue with the tradition. Swaraj has already denied (any desire) to become party president. Others leaders like Sinha and (Arun) Jaitley do not have much chances because they are not much preferred by the Sangh,”a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.
Earlier in the day, the income tax (I-T) conducted searches at the office of companies linked to Gadkari, who described them as “calculated, mischievous and politically motivated”.
“Coming as it does on the eve of his re-election as the BJP president for a second term, the IT department’s action smacks of the ruling UPA’s nefarious designs to create confusion in the BJP ranks,” according to a statement issued on Gadkari’s behalf by the BJP.
UPA is the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance, the ruling coalition.
In the statement announcing his resignation on Tuesday night, Gadkari reiterated this. “I have committed no wrong or any impropriety either directly or indirectly,” Gadkari said. “Yet the UPA government has been making an effort to spread disinformation about me in order to hurt me and my party. I have always said that I am willing for any independent enquiry. I shall fight these efforts of this government both politically and legally.”
Gadkari’s Purti Power and Sugar Ltd issued a statement saying that the IT department’s searches had nothing to do with the Purti group.
“As alleged, these companies are not part of Purti group. These companies (surveyed) have invested in some companies of Purti group. Purti group has nothing to do with the actions of IT department,” Sudhir Dive, managing director of the group, said in the statement.