For the BJP, it’s a very simple logic. If it has to persist with its relentless onslaught against the Congress, the party president, Nitin Gadkari, will have to be politely shown the door. Corruption is now a battle being fought at the level of popular perception. After the sensational media disclosures and the equally serious charges levelled by India’s own Julian Assange, Arvind Kejriwal, Gadkari has nowhere to hide. The Nagpur politician’s mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may have sought the services of trouble-shooter S Gurumurthy to ensure that he gets a clean chit, but Gadkari is no longer perceived to be a leader without blemish. He can no longer masquerade as a social entrepreneur, his investments are too suspect and the Congress is suddenly not really feeling the heat. The likes of the garrulous Digvijaya Singh are relishing every moment of Gadkari’s prolonged discomfort.
Gadkari’s critics — including those who have not yet come out in the open unlike Ram Jethmalani — suggest that the party president has become an expensive proposition in the season of scams. The BJP had managed to put down the rebellion of a controversial BS Yeddyurappa. At the end of the day, the Lingayat boss is only a regional satrap and does not carry the prestige and authority of a party president. At a time when the Congress is reeling under Coalgate, revelations on the Robert Vadra Front, Salman Khursheed’s trust deficit and even an Annu Tandon’s “questionable” Swiss bank account, the BJP cannot afford to be led by a man whom the media accuses daily of committing improprieties. With him at the forefront, the party loses the level-playing field and appears handicapped. The irrefutable logic and the verbal sharpness of the attack targeting the Congress suddenly become blunt.
Apparently — though the media is not privy to his argument — Gurumurthy is convinced that Gadkari is innocent. Such a positive finding suits the RSS immensely because Gadkari is their chosen one, whose merit as a national leader was carefully assessed by the Nagpur saffron think tank when there were internecine wars among senior party leader immediately after the electoral defeat of 2009. Gadkari, till then, had been a significant political figure largely restricted to Maharashtra — his national identity yet to be carved out. The RSS catapulted him from a position of relative obscurity to the BJP throne in Delhi. And Gadkari has since led quietly, trying to please every section of the party, and has risen in stature, and has also begun harbouring ambitions of an even bigger role in the event of BJP’s future electoral success.
The RSS may continue to repose faith in him and refuse to admit the dangers posed by his overlapping identity of a businessman, but there are others in the BJP who believe that the much-talked-about business practices of the Purti group has made Gadkari a liability. And this band of critics is not a small one. The names go beyond a repelled Mahesh Jethmalani, or a disillusioned Jaswant Singh, Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha. True, there is a small group of senior leaders in the party who do not want to precipitate a crisis without being able to fully appreciate what concrete gain, what big advantage such a leadership change would deliver at their doorsteps. At the apex, there is the youthful LK Advani, forever unsure if he should resist that last temptation which will keep him in the race for 7 Race Course Road. Then there is Sushma Swaraj, suspicious of Narendra Modi, and is afraid of losing her chance to make a dash for the Prime Minister’s job.
But it is an ever-increasing flood of Modi followers who are reluctant to see Gadkari continue at the helm of the party and get a second term. They are more than convinced that the Gujarat election is only a significant punctuation mark before their leader takes the centre-stage in Delhi. And it will help him immensely if the BJP has the momentum at the time, if the Congress is pushed further against the wall. This apparent swell of Narendrabhai supporters among middle-level functionaries does not want their hero to be the party president. The Gujarat chief minister is not meant for managing the daily nitty-gritty. All that will be left in the hands of a docile but respectable party president who would not be ambitious and who would replace Gadkari. That will provide the rudimentary infrastructure of the BJP in the days to come, especially during the run-up to the 2014 polls.
It is this Modi wave, which threatens to drown Gadkari and the RSS in trying to retain the party president, that is going against the tide.
Diptosh Majumdar is national affairs editor of DNA