Spoilt child

Published : Nov 30, 2012 00:00 IST

BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley at the party's National Executive meeting in Mumbai on May 24.-VIVEK BENDRE

BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley at the party's National Executive meeting in Mumbai on May 24.-VIVEK BENDRE

After a relatively easy climb to the top as the BJP president, the position in which he seemed unassailable, Nitin Gadkari is now looking down into an abyss.

Nitin Gadkari seems to be have become his own enemy. His recent comments in Bhopal in which he made the unfortunate mistake of equating the intelligence quotient of Dawood Ibrahim with that of Swami Vivekananda might have been all right in normal circumstances, but given that Gadkaris career is on the line it was akin to shooting himself in the foot.

In Gadkaris three-decade-old political career, the current year has been the toughest. It is not just the revelations by the activist organisation India Against Corruption that have been responsible for his fall from grace. Gadkari, it seems, has powerful people within his party who are against him.

First, Ram Jethmalani had said publicly that Gadkari must not be given a second term. Then, Gadkari was left out of the list of star Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigners for the Gujarat Assembly elections. Now one more salvo has been fired at him by Mahesh Jethmalani, who has resigned from the partys National Executive saying it would be morally wrong for him to continue as long as the allegations against Gadkari remained.

But, having said this, it has to be clarified that Gadkari is not yet down and out. He is on a slippery slope but has scrambled to a safe position for the moment. After a relatively easy climb to the top where he seemed unassailable, Gadkari is now looking down into an abyss. The slow slide actually started a while ago, and as a BJP functionary who is in the anti-Gadkari camp in Maharashtra succinctly said, His charmed life is coming to an end.

Gadkari had an early start in politics. From his twenties it was clear that he would become a professional politician, and indeed his early career in Maharashtra reflected this. His career really took off in 1995-99 when the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power in the State. Gadkari was appointed Minister for Public Works and was responsible for restructuring Mumbais road network by building more than 50 flyovers in the city. He also focussed on rural roads and was highly enthusiastic about private participation in infrastructure development. It was at this time that his company, Purti Power and Sugar Limited, also benefited.

During his term in the State government, he allegedly engineered deals with an infrastructure company (which at the time was relatively unknown but is now a multi-crore concern) in return for investments and loans given by the company to Purti. At the time, not much importance was attached to Gadkari as an individual. Leaders such as the late Pramod Mahajan and his brother-in-law Gopinath Munde were seen as the face of the BJP in the State. Though he kept a low profile throughout this time, Gadkari maintained strong ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and this paid off when the RSS put him up as its candidate for party president in 2009.

Though there was a great deal of resistance to Gadkaris appointment as party chief, the BJP put on a brave public face and tried to project all his disadvantages as advantages. As the youngest contender for the post, there were doubts whether he had the experience, but the party staved this off to insist that he would bring in fresh thinking. The same went for the criticism that he was a lightweight from Maharashtra.

Everything, from his safari-suited sartorial appearance to his openness to business conglomerates as well as non-governmental organisations, was projected as a breath of fresh air in the stuffy environment in the BJP.

He was seen, as his website likes to bill him, as a visionary performer. He, too, played to the gallery. In his initial days, he stayed away from public declamations of ideology, preferring instead to call on popular Hindi film songs in his speeches. Only one thing remained constant, and that was his zealous devotion to the RSS.

At his first party meeting, he extolled the RSS by saying that if he, an ordinary person who started off by pasting posters, could rise to the post of BJP president, then the sky was the limit for those who believed in the RSS. However, after taking over as party chief, Gadkari became a loose cannon. In 2010, he referred to Lalu Prasad as a dog. Before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh early this year, he went against party sentiments and admitted Babu Singh Kushwaha into the BJP. This despite the fact that senior leaders thought admitting a former Minister of the Bahujan Samaj Party dismissed on charges of graft was suicidal. As it turned out, Gadkaris judgment was wrong but it did not prevent him from committing more errors.

The BJP was keen on nominating S.S. Ahluwalia, who was Deputy Chairman in the Rajya Sabha, as a candidate for the Jharkhand elections. Gadkari was keen on a political unknown, a businessman called Anshuman Mishra, but here even the RSS drew the line. It saw the blunder in fielding an unknown candidate, and Gadkari was forced to accept Ahluwalia. But when Ahluwalia lost the election, Gadkari insisted on having his way and nominated Ajay Sancheti, an industrialist and close confidant, to the Rajya Sabha.

Gadkaris behaviour has been like that of a favoured child, says a source in the Maharashtra BJP, adding, Every time he did something that went against the advice of experienced leaders like Advaniji, he would ensure that he had the backing of the Sangh Parivar. After a point they were in the same position as parents who spoil their children and then pay for that mistake.

This is exactly what happenedthe RSS was put in a spot when allegations were made against its favoured child by the activists Anjali Damania and Arvind Kejriwal. The essence of the scam that was brought to light was that part of the land bought by the government to build dams actually went to Gadkaris business interests. This, and the source of funding for Gadkaris businesses (many of them shell companies), resulted in much embarrassment for the BJP, though seemingly not for its chief, who remained defiant. The public furore, however, was too much for the secretive Sangh Parivar, and it would not be off the mark to guess that when Gadkari flew down to Nagpur it was at the behest of RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat.

As a swayamsewak, Gadkaris loyalty to the mother ship has been candid and absolute. In return, the RSS has supported its poster boy. For the moment, Gadkari is back on the top of the pile but his position is shaky.


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