Home >Politics >Policy >Nitin Gadkari survives, but at what cost?

New Delhi: The principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has closed ranks behind Nitin Gadkari in an uneasy truce that acknowledged the difficulties of choosing a successor to the beleaguered party president at this time and to sidestep distractions ahead of the key state election in Gujarat next month.

But it’s still uncertain whether Gadkari, who had been facing demands that he step down following allegations of wrongdoing when he was a minister in the Maharashtra state government, would win another term at the helm of the BJP in party elections due in December.

While the cracks may have been papered over temporarily, the episode brought internal party differences over Gadkari’s continuation as president into the open and undermined the BJP’s claim to be a credible alternative to the ruling Congress party, which has faced several corruption scandals in its second term at the head of the United Progressive Alliance government.

“We have full faith in Gadkari’s leadership and the party is with him," BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said. “We appeal to party leaders and cadre to not to speak publicly."

The truce was reached after a series of meetings among senior leaders of the BJP and an hour-long discussion by the so-called core group that oversees party matters. However, L.K. Advani did not attend the core group meeting. The core group met at the insistence of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent, to counter the anti-Gadkari campaign, said a party politician.

“The allegations against Gadkari were not sticking and one does not remove the party president on the basis of a smear campaign. He will complete his term. Again no one can not predict his future as political scenarios change every hour," said this person on condition of anonymity.

Matters in the BJP reached crisis point earlier on Tuesday after senior party leader and Rajya Sabha member Ram Jethmalani wrote a letter to Advani saying that he and veteran colleagues Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and filmstar-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha wanted Gadkari to quit as party president.

Gadkari has faced accusations that he favoured a construction company when he was public works department minister in the Maharashtra government. The firm allegedly invested money in Gadkari’s Purti Group through dummy companies. Gadkari has denied the charges.

Party spokesman Prasad said the BJP had called financial analyst and chartered accountant S. Gurumurthy, who is close to the party, to look into the papers pertaining to Gadkari’s Purti Group.

“He went through the papers and made a presentation before the core committee and party general secretary. After the presentation, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have issued a joint statement. It says that there is no legal or moral wrongdoing by Gadkari. Party endorses Gurumurthy’s views," he said.

“Gurumurthy has also found out that Gadkari has nothing to do with those 18 companies that have invested in Purti Group," Prasad added.

Analysts said the BJP did not have any alternative to backing Gadkari because of the elections due in Gujarat in December and given the many aspirants for the post of president.

“The party has taken a correct stand. Sacking Gadkari or taking his resignation would have been strategic as well as a tactical mistake. Nobody does that. But the point here is that though the firefigthing has managed to kill present mutiny, the controversy will continue to simmer till 25 December. The matter has been put aside till Gujarat elections," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst.

“The second phase of the same problem will start after the Gujarat elections results and will continue till the time party declares its prime ministerial candidate. The election results could be an honourable exit for both Gadkari and the RSS, which openly supports him. Right now, the RSS role in the party is also at stake," said Rao, who closely tracks the BJP.

Gadkari faced fresh attacks from critics after he compared the intelligent quotients of Swami Vivekananda and gangster Dawood Ibrahim in remarks published by newspapers.

“I am deeply pained to note that my words have been taken out of context to create confusion," he said in a clarification on Tuesday. “I had absolutely no intention to project Swami Vivekananda in bad light. If my words about Swami Vivekananda have hurt the public sentiments in any manner, I express my sincere regrets," he said.

But his problems were further compounded when a criminal complaint was filed on Tuesday in a local court in Jamnagar in Gujarat seeking penal action against the BJP president for hurting the sentiments of the followers of Vivekananda.

The complaint has been filed by advocate Harshad Bhatt, who is also the spokesperson of Jamnagar district Congress. Chief judicial magistrate L.G. Chudasama, after hearing the complainant, reserved the order until 9 November.

Till a few weeks back, Gadkari had been expected to get a second term as president in December. Earlier the BJP’s national executive and council, which met in September, ratified a decision to pave the way for his re-election.

Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst, said infighting and individual ambitions of various party leaders made it difficult for the BJP to reach a consensus on a replacement for Gadkari.

“The game is wide open," he said. “The contenders could be Arun Jaitely and from L.K. Advani camp the dark horse could be Yashwant Sinha. From the RSS side, Shantha Kumar, Shivraj Chouhan and Manohar Parrikar could be an easy guesswork," he said.

Liz Mathew in New Delhi and Maulik Pathak in Ahmedabad contributed to this story.

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