As Nitin Gadkari takes overall control of the BJP, the moot question everyone is asking is not whether he is capable of turning the party around but whether he will be allowed to be successful.
BJP watchers remember how even former UP CM and ex-Union Minister Rajnath Singh, a hard-boiled politician in the BJP tradition, was not allowed a free hand in running the affairs of the party by the camps in the saffron party. Working under the shadow of BJP’s present-day biggest leader LK Advani was no mean task for the UP Thakur.
With the crown of thorns on Gadkari now, the weary party is hoping desperately to revive itself following two successive Lok Sabha election debacles and setbacks in many states–Jharkhand being the latest in that list. Gadkari, however, appears to have started on a promising note. To begin with, he does not carry any baggage at the national stage. He is little known outside Maharashtra and therefore the expectations are rather low. Not many see him as a man with a magic wand—a great relief for persons occupying such daunting and challenging positions. Also, being an RSS appointee, he carries a stamp of authority many in the BJP do not possess. Senior leaders in Delhi as well as in states like Rajasthan, Karnataka and Uttarakhand have caused enough embarrassment for the party washing their dirty linen in public in their overambition. Gadkari’s first task, therefore, is cut out for him—bring an end to the several power centres, which have been calling the shots much to the chagrin of central leadership. This,
however, is not going to be an easy task at all if the cutthroat ambitions of these lobby-leaders are anything to go by. But, by virtue of being an outsider, he also enjoys the advantage of not being part of Delhi’s camp politics and thus can take decisions, whether the satraps like them or not.
Upset over public display of factionalism within the party that peaked during Rajnath Singh’s time, and the way Gadkari’s appointment has been done, RSS signals that it no longer is coy and wants to play an upfront role in the affairs of BJP. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has openly talked of bringing the BJP on the right path and the appointment of Maharashtra Brahmin from Nagpur where the RSS is headquartered is a step in that direction.
Gadkari, one should not mistake, can hardly be a political pushover. In the past too, he held his ground despite a daunting challenge from the late Pramod Mahajan-Gopinath Munde combine. Even before the bigwigs could take a swig of him, he has set the cat among the pigeons by saying in his early interview as BJP chief that he would like the old guards like Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh and KN Govindacharya to return to the party. While he has clearly played to the fault lines in the party, none can raise a finger against him as he claims this is an effort to bring about greater ideological unity in the party. Perhaps, as a consequence, Govindacharya called on Advani at his residence, the first meeting of the two in a decade. Govindacharya, who had a bitter falling-out, made interesting comments that reflect the current unease in the present leadership about changes in the BJP. “Yes, I met him… it was our first meeting after 1999, the year when I last went to his residence. I had biscuits, a yogurt-based drink, and that is all,” he told mediapersons.
Led-by Atal Behari Vajpayee and supported by Advani, the NDA coalition had become an unimaginable behemoth. This was attributed to secular and centrist projections by the duo that brought many avowedly secular parties like JD(U) to its fold. Gadkari’s elevation in BJP presently has made these allies jittery. JD(U) is especially nervous as Bihar under Nitish Kumar goes to the polls next year itself.
The kind of mess that BJP finds itself, requires sweeping changes. Whether Gadkari will stand up to the challenges or lose an opportunity is like a pregnant pause in the party’s historic march from oblivion to the mainstream. If RSS ideologue MG Vaidya’s suggestion is anything to go, he must be bracing for a new constitution for the BJP. In his column in Sangh mouthpiece Tarun Bharat, he asked Gadkari to appoint a committee to study and draft the party’s new constitution after studying Jan Sangh’s charter. While diametrically opposite in the ideological matrix, he even cited the example of the CPI(M), whose party head does not contest elections but focuses on party affairs and policy matters.
Gadkari seems to have got the hint and has already stated that he would not contest elections for the next three years, the total tenure of his presidentship. “There will be no ideological change (in the party) because of my arrival. Nationalism will remain the ideological foundation… The BJP remains committed to genuine secularism, not vote-bank secularism,” Gadkari said in his first press conference as BJP president. He said BJP’s stand on Article 370 (special status to Jammu and Kashmir), Ram temple at Ayodhya and Uniform Civil Code would continue to be the same.
But the dangers of riding RSS hobby horses of the hardline Hindutva ideology are just too many. The question is: How long will he be able to oblige RSS and also sustain the party begging for revival? The challenge before him is also to prove that he has his own mind and is not merely a puppet happy to play the part RSS wishes him to. That is not all. Writing off Advani would be premature. His vice-like grip on the parliamentary party still remains with the appointment of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley as leaders of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. Therefore, he not only has to bow to the RSS but also has to manage his affairs in balance while Advani’s shadow looms large over him.
If past is anything to go by, he has a chequered political career. He is also identified as a politician who indulges in politics of bijli-sadak-pani, which may easily strike a chord with the common man besides a ‘doer’ image that he enjoys in Maharashtra. The BJP needs a different kind of leadership from the one that it has gone through in recent years but will the party allow him to have his way to take the party to glory? This is one million dollar bet no one is ready to risk.
By Shweta Roy