The only reason why Nitin Gadkari is openly rebelling against the Modi-Shah duo without inviting any strict action is a strong RSS backing.
“I will never be a PM candidate nor will I topple anybody. Modi has good potential to be BJP president and PM,” said Nitin Gadkari with a static face. The rumours had it that Nitin Gadkari has shown strong objection to Modi being made the PM candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party. And why wouldn’t anybody believe it given the edgy relation that the two shared? But his statement in an interview during a 2012 conclave organized by a mainline news channel put the rumours at rest. The statement also meant that the last obstacle between Modi and the PM Chair was cleared.
After the BJP’s landslide victory in 2014-most of which was credited to the “Modi Wave”-Nitin Gadkari was made the Minister of Highways and Road Transport and was given the charge of Shipping Ministry in the Modi cabinet. By this time Nitin Gadkari had already stepped down from party presidency and Modi’s close aide had taken over the reins of BJP from his predecessor Rajnath Singh. For the next four years after 2014, the entire BJP began revolving around the centralised leadership of Modi-Shah. The possibility of an alternative to Modi within BJP was considered laughable.
But four years later, the same possibility seems closer to reality. The undisputed rule of the Modi-Shah duo has been challenged and it comes from none but BJP’s senior guard Nitin Gadkari. And there are ample reasons to believe that.
Dissention between Modi and Gadkari:
“You can’t win elections only because you speak well. You might be a vidwan (learned) but people may not vote for you,” said Gadkari at an event in Delhi this week. It doesn’t take a political genius to understand to whom was it aimed. The buzz in Delhi’s political circle hints at Nitin Gadkari as a Prime Minister instead of Modi in 2019 and going by the recent headline-making statements, Gadkari has already started building the hype.
One may wonder, why would he remain low-profile for over four years and now suddenly emerge to give nightmares to Modi-Shah. However, the fact that there always was a sort of power tussle between Modi and Gadkari got washed away in the post-2014 Modi Wave.
The first out-in the public uneasiness of Modi and Gadkari was witnessed back in 2012 when Sanjay Joshi, a Modi adversary caused turbulence in the BJP camp. It was Nitin Gadkari, the then president of the BJP who brought Joshi back in the picture after he was forced out in 2005. Gadkari not only planned to make him the party coordinator for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election but also saw that he was inducted into the party’s national executive. For Narendra Modi, who was then emerging as a development-driven leader, Joshi’s induction came as a threat from Gadkari. After the party failed in the 2012 UP elections, Modi made his move.
He remained adamant on his demand to sack Sanjay Joshi from national executive otherwise he would boycott a national meeting of the BJP to be held in Mumbai and quit the party. Already suffering from the resistance of partymen, Gadkari ceded to the demand. As a result, Modi too supported Gadkari being given the second term as a party president.
But the cold war between them never ended. In a Caravan article, Son of the Sangh, Praveen Donthi highlights many such incidents behind closed doors of Delhi that suggest the friction between Modi and Gadkari continued even after the former became Prime Minister. One such incident, Donthi was told by a journalist close to Gadkari. Gadkari had taken over the Road and Transport Ministry and began moving the wheels in several pending projects. However, Modi became a hindrance in the path as Modi did not approve three of his initial projects. When the fourth file was also rejected, visibly upset Gadkari called up RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and said, “I can’t work like this, I would rather come back and remain a swayamsevak.” The same day Bhagwat rushed to Delhi and made a truce between the two. According to the journalist, Modi agreed to keep his nose out of Gadkari’s ministry on an assurance that Gadkari would never criticise Modi in or outside the party. This also explains why the latter takes veiled jibe when it comes to standing up to Modi and Shah.
When the BJP won Maharashtra Assembly elections, Gadkari’s name was at the forefront in the possible CM’s list. He was even backed by the NCP. But the party leadership instead chose Devendra Fadnavis- a religious follower of Narendra Modi. The move was taken to avoid any parallel PowerCenter.
Gadkari-The blue-eyed boy of Sangh:
Given the autocratic functioning of Modi and Shah within the party, the only reason why Nitin Gadkari is openly rebelling against the duo without inviting any strict action is that he has a strong RSS backing.
Born in Nagpur, home turf of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Gadkari grew up in the backyards of the RSS. His mother, an RSS worker had an influence on Gadkari who also became a religious Swayamsevak of RSS. He graduated from Nagpur’s GS College of Commerce and Economics and later joined the law college at Nagpur University. But he affiliated with the ABVP quite early and even participated during emergency protests when RSS threw its entire weight behind the JP movement.
Post-BJP’s formation, he quickly rose in ranks in the party’s city unit. Though Gadkari was Sangh’s preferred choice, most of the limelight was hogged by his contemporary Pramod Mahajan-a staunch Vajpayee supporter and Gopinath Munde. Gadkari- a Brahmin, was also sought to be out of the core team of the party as it was trying to harness the OBC and Maratha votes by aligning with Shiv Sena. However, it was the RSS that pressurised LK Advani to declare Gadkari the state party chief. Later, in 1996 he was also made a minister in PWD. The RSS also prevailed upon the decision to extend a second term to Gadkari in 2012. It was the first time when BJP’s constitution was amended to facilitate his re-election. His closeness to RSS is such that the Sangh had Prime Ministerial plans for him as early as in 2011.
Though, a Sangh disciple, Gadkari differentiates himself in the sea of politicians with RSS affiliations. He mixes well with corporate big-wigs and leaders from across the party lines alike. Maybe it is the quality that he picked up from the second generation Maharashtra politicians like Sharad Pawar. Despite keeping a low profile, he is best known for his performance delivery. His vast knowledge during the PWD days even impressed Atal Bihari Vajpayee who appointed him as the chairman of the National Rural Road Development Committee. Even today, he remains the top performer in Modi’s cabinet.
However, like every politician, he has his share of controversies tagged to him. The lavish weddings of his three children, especially his daughter’s wedding in the wake of demonetisation drew eyeballs. His firm Purti group was accused of financial irregularities while he himself was accused of favouring companies in government contract in which he had stakes. As these allegations came in the wake of Anti-graft movement raging in India, his credibility took a hit and after much resistance, on the decision of RSS had to resign from the Party President post.
Since then, Gadkari kept a low profile and shifted his focus on nurturing his Lok Sabha constituency. Four years later, he has now emerged as a dark horse. After the defeat in the recent assembly election, the sheen has worn off the Modi-Shah duo. The one-man army Narendra Modi seems to be in a weaker position for the first time in the last four years. Gadkari has sensed that it is the perfect time to take a shot. His Prime Ministerial aspirations were doused in the run-up to 2014, with the situation favourable now, will RSS fuel the fire for Gadkari again?